Sunday, January 18, 2015

Handicapping the race for mayor of Houston

If you want to read about the money involved, this won't be the post or the place.  I'm going to leave that to those who want continuing access to the consultantocracy, which is at the opposite end of the spectrum from where I am.  I want the money OUT of ALL of our politics, and that goal is not served by constantly speculating about or documenting the details and building up the importance of fundraising.

Money is the reason we can't have a nice democracy in this country, in this state, and in this city.  Too much money is why we don't have enough progressive, populist Democrats as it is.  Money -- specifically Super PAC money and shadowy corporate money -- is in fact one of the main reasons why Democrats are conflated with Republicans, and by extension one of the many reasons why they cannot get the people who used to vote for them to the polls any longer.  I hope Democrats wise up and figure this out sooner than later, but if they don't, there's always the political party that has, and they will be fielding candidates for city elections in 2015.  Competition on the basis of beliefs and not bucks simply produces better politicians.

Update: As the Notorious RBG has so clearly stated: "Why should elections be determined by how much a candidate can spend and why should candidates spend most of their time these days raising the funds so that they will prevail in the next election?"

Having said that...

1. In the pole position is Rep. Sylvester Turner.  It's been twelve years, so it's time for his third bid for the center seat in the horseshoe (he ran in 1991, losing in a close runoff to the late Bob Lanier, and finished third in 2003, to eventual mayor Bill White and Orlando Sanchez).  He's already been in the race for nearly a year.

Turner's legislative, parliamentarian, and legal prowess is unmatched.  It's his well-hidden agenda that's always a little suspect.  In 1999, when the Democrats still held the Texas House, he was just as hard to read for his motivations as he was in 2013.  Turner's populist bonafides are similarly unquestioned, but his skills at compromise have clouded any reputation as a progressive.  As of today, he's the prohibitive favorite.

2-3. It's difficult to pick who among the declareds might be running second, so let's call the co-leaders Stephen Costello and Chris Bell.  Costello is a term-limited at-large council member best described as the most moderate a Republican can be while still being in the GOP.  This is completely unsatisfactory to the vast majority of conservative voters, however, which may actually be helpful in the mayor's tilt.  Costello is a River Oaks Republican; that's valuable in this race despite what the freakiest-of-freak-right think.  (He would have trouble mollifying the HERO-phobes anyway.)

I posted about Costello's various and extremely lucrative city contracts when he first ran for council in 2009 here and in 2011 here, and Open Source Dem posted about Renew Houston, the initiative Costello headed to have dedicated municipal funds to flood control.  He'll have all the cash he needs to run big, his own and other people's.  If Republicans vote for someone besides Costello, it won't be because of what they sneeringly refer to as the "rain tax".

Bell's Democratic credentials are without question.  He also ran for mayor previously in 2001, an ill-fated bid against Lee Brown.  Since leaving City Hall in 2002, he has served in Congress and been tubed by Tom DeLay, then ran for governor in 2006, pounding the hapless incumbent in the last gubernatorial debate held in Texas until 2014 -- but coming in second, 39-30%.  He also lost a bid for state Senate in 2008 after a Republican-backed stalking horse named Stephanie Simmons forced him into a runoff with now-Sen. Joan Huffman, exposing some of the more unpleasant racial tensions that have dogged his public service.  Bell will have plenty of support among Houston Anglo Democrats; they're the largest voting bloc in the city.  He just needs to find a way to get more black and brown votes.  Bell's Wiki says he is a border surge proponent, which would limit support from Latinos, but in a recent conversation since last summer's child crisis, he's recognized that a greater degree of compassion is needed to solve the state's immigrant concerns.

(There is a tremendous opportunity for someone to speak up about issues of social justice such as the criminalizing of food-sharing -- if Kubosh can do it, surely some liberal can -- human trafficking, police abuse, and the plight of neighborhoods like Manchester that find themselves at the sharp end of the environmental spear while Valero gets yet another tax break.  I'll watch and see who might emerge in that regard.  It will certainly beat having to listen to the incessant caterwauling of the gay-haters.)

Bell's signature issue throughout his political career has been ethics reform, and specifically the regulation of what we used to quaintly call soft donor money.  This legacy is part of why he's suing Turner over how the contributions to the Representative's legislative coffers might be transferred to a mayoral run.

Considering the various constituencies who won't support him in any circumstance, Bell has a high bar to clear to make the runoff.  That could change if...

4-7. ... some of these conservatives can find traction and split the R vote: Ben Hall (of course he's a Republican, silly rabbit), Bill King, Oliver Pennington, and Orlando Sanchez.  Hall is raring to go again with his peculiar coalition of holy warriors aligned against the city's non-discrimination ordinance (black pastors, their flocks, and TeaBaggers).  People who look at early polling of the mayor's race see some strength for Hall.  I'm not party to those polls and wouldn't place much stock in them if I were.  He's just got too much baggage to carry from two years ago.  But it's fair to say that Hall's early support is not nothing, and he's still got the wallet to make it work.  My perception is that the Af-Am vote is already committed to Turner and that the far right can find a more palatable candidate in Pennington.  He's going to try to be the most conservative guy in the race, and that unfortunately might count for something.  King's just too much like Costello without the Houston ballot name recognition.  Sanchez, as with another Latino mulling the race, needs to commit before I can factor him into the exotic parlays.

8-12.  The already-also-rans, including some who are still 'maybes', include Metro board chairman Gilbert Garcia, former United Airlines executive Joe Ferreira, businessman Marty McVey, attorney Sean Roberts, and most doubtful of all, Council Member Jack Christie, who's lately saying more about not running.  Garcia's brother, Roland, is a high-powered attorney and an important behind-the-scenes player in the Parker administration.  Gilbert has started and managed a variety of high-profile financial firms and and hosted bloggers as part of Metro's PR push.  He was also active in Sylvia Garcia (no relation)'s campaign for state senator in 2012.  Garcia would make a fascinating entrant, but he's tipping that he's not running.  Roberts is a black Dem and known to me well as a decent fellow.  McVey was recently interviewed on urban radio about the events of Ferguson and Staten Island.  Ferreira is a political novice and somewhat of a cipher.  Only conservative Christie has held elected office, and he defeated  progressive darling Jolanda Jones just four years ago.  There's no reason to think any of these folks stand much of a chance, and that's irrespective of name recognition or funds or stances on issues.

The wildest of cards is, of course, Adrian Garcia.  He moves to the head of the class if he stops playing coy.  He's not talking about quitting the sheriff's department and jumping in because he can't, and this piece says he's not raising much money, but then there's this (from just before last Election Day).

Some donors and political allies say Garcia has sent every signal he will run for mayor. Others consider him genuinely undecided.

Nothing has prevented Garcia from raising big dollars. A fundraiser hosted by prominent trial attorney Tony Buzbee at his River Oaks home raked in more than $100,000 for him last month, and the popular politician raised $217,000 in the first half of 2014.

When introducing Garcia, Buzbee made it clear to the crowd that they stood in his home not to just bolster the coffers of the sheriff, but to build the fundraising base of the next mayor.

"I know you can't declare for mayor, and you can't declare you want to run for mayor, but, by golly, I wish you would look around this room and see who wants you to do so," Buzbee told Garcia.

Garcia told the 120 donors that he was focused solely on his current job.

Yeah.  And I promised I wouldn't blog about fundraising.

Everybody remembers why Buzbee has been in the news, right?  A Democrat once mentioned as a candidate for statewide office who is now quite solidly a Republican?  That almost precisely describes Adrian Garcia.

As previously mentioned, I wouldn't support him if he ran for dogcatcher, but my speaking against him won't keep him from making the runoff if he gets in.  He's the ultimate pandering, middle-of-the-road Blue Dog on his best day, and now I'm convinced he has had conversations with Buzbee about switching parties.  Forget his handing the position of Harris County Sheriff back to the GOP; he's a DINO long established.  If Adrian Garcia's ultimate ambition is to get elected to statewide office, then he will have to declare himself a Republican.  Should be just a matter of playing the card, as he's already there philosophically.

He's out until he's in, though, so rank it Turner, Costello, Bell, and some other conservative -- one of Hall or Pennington -- as of today.  If/when Sheriff AG pulls the trigger, it turns into a real scramble, with he and Turner and some Republican (I'd say probably a Caucasian one) as best bets to make the top two.  O Sanchez would be the biggest loser in this development.

What's your take?

No comments: