Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Ninety days from Election Day: assessing the Houston mayor's race

That poll from six weeks ago (there's more polling happening right now, though we may not see it before Labor Day), the negation of the city's equal rights ordinance by the Texas Supreme Court, and a dozen or so candidate fora now under our belts should give us a clearer picture of where the contest to be the next mayor of Houston stands today.

Except none of them really do.  So let's try to get a better handle on things, starting with a couple of Rebecca Elliott's recent articles from the Chron, the first one being the HGLBT Caucus' divided loyalties this time around.

As Houston's first openly gay mayor enters her sunset months in office, the city council campaign between two GLBT candidates is gearing up, and all of this year's progressive mayoral hopefuls are actively seeking the support of the gay community.

The once-marginalized group at the heart of the city's fight for gay rights, the GLBT Political Caucus, is now facing an unexpected test of its establishment appeal.

Last week, three months after the city began enforcing its equal rights ordinance, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that City Council must repeal the law or put it on the November ballot.

Should City Council place it before voters, the equal rights ordinance known as HERO widely is expected to boost turnout and draw in national money, setting the stage for a bitter campaign between the city's progressives and social conservatives.

Sylvester Turner and Chris Bell probably share the lead in terms of earning the Caucus' endorsement, to be voted on by members this Saturday, August 8.  Dr. Richard Murray's assessment -- I have questioned his premises before, and even bet against his prediction once and lost, it should be noted -- is unusually harsh with respect to the prospects for Bell's campaign should he not get it.

The issue is particularly acute for Bell, a longtime ally of the gay community -- one of the few that consistently votes in Houston's municipal races -- as he currently has less money in the bank than any of the top-tier candidates. 

"If he doesn't get the endorsement, that may cause a reassessment of his campaign," said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston. 

I'm going to bet against Dr. Murray here again, and not just because he's evaluating candidate viability based on fundraising prowess.  I'm confident Bell will be in the race all the way to the end.  Without a Green or Socialist mayoral candidate filed in the race, he stands as the most progressive choice, and that's in spite of Ray Hill's vituperation.  Turner gets touted as such by his supporters, but those folks think the same thing about Hillary Clinton.  As mentioned before, Sylvester arrived a little late to the straight-but-not-narrow coming-out party.

But the gist of the story here is not so much about who wins the Caucus endorsement as it is whether or not they can mobilize the larger community of supporters of their cause to turn out and vote to uphold HERO.  And it's not just the electoral strength of the HGLBTC at stake; it's also Mayor Annise Parker's legacy.  To that end, she is going to pour all of her resources into saving the ordinance and forgo efforts to lift the revenue cap or change term limits.  Just three weeks ago, those were at the top of her last to-do list.  Not any more.

"It was my full expectation that I'd be spending my remaining campaign funds and my personal time advocating for these two good-government items, but because of the presence of HERO (the Houston equal rights ordinance) on the ballot, I'm going to be having to split my energy over there," she said. "There is no -- at this point -- group willing to step up and advocate for the other two. I'm not going to put some things out there just to fail. It may be more timely to bring the charter amendments to next November's electorate, and I can leave that decision to the next mayor."

So... who's going to be the conservative choice for the anti-HERO faction?  As Elliott suggests, Ben Hall is moving fast to capture that vote.

From Twitter to television, Hall is using his criticism of HERO to set himself apart from the largely progressive mayoral field.

"There's only one candidate in this race who has consistently for the last two years opposed HERO and supported the right of voters to vote," Hall said in a Fox 26 segment that aired Tuesday. "When the pastors wanted to fight in the court system, none of the other candidates was present. I was."

Most of Hall's competitors have remained out of the HERO limelight, issuing a single press release about the Supreme Court's decision or staying silent.

Five of them -- former Congressman Chris Bell, City Councilman Stephen Costello, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, state Rep. Sylvester Turner and businessman Marty McVey -- have said they support the ordinance, while former Kemah mayor Bill King has tried to straddle the fence.

"I do not see the empirical need for a discrimination ordinance," King said last Saturday, after previously saying he would not have put the item on City Council's agenda.

Like Costello, King is seeking the support of Houston's conservative west side.

Through a spokesman, King declined to comment Thursday on whether he would vote to repeal HERO.

"He's between a rock and a hard place," said University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray. "The right conservative base doesn't like HERO, but the people who write big checks are more moderate on this issue."

Dr. Murray is correct here, and King has made a fairly strategic blunder, IMHO, by ceding the haters to Hall.  King and Costello -- still under fire for his 'rain tax', despite the fact that we're practically in a drought again -- are simply indistinguishable from one another as the least obnoxious conservative option.  Even Big Jolly agrees.  And despite his past shout-outs to Republicans to moderate their stances on tolerance for gays, Jolly seems to be going in the other direction now.  Perhaps he senses the same opportunity to capture the mayor's office that Hall does.

Is it possible that Hall -- still calling himself a Democrat despite all actions to the contrary -- and Turner split the vote between socially conservative black Democrats and socially liberal ones?

The only person who hasn't been mentioned yet is Adrian Garcia.  He seems to be ambling toward the runoff as the most likeable -- or least offensive -- dimwit in the race.  So far he is Teflon-coated.  Almost nobody has mentioned his lack of college degree, a la Scott Walker -- whose campaign manager is helping Costello -- nor Garcia's failing the HPD sergeant's exam more than once, never having been promoted in his 23 years in the city's police department.  I have called him out numerous times: on his ugly record on deportations, his no-bid consultant scandal, his lousy responses to the county jail disaster, and even his whining about the personnel changes his Republican successor at the Sheriff's Office made after Garcia quit that job.

But I would say that of all of Garcia's shortcomings, probably the most serious is the unflagging support, financial and otherwise, of Rick Perry's lawyer of record, Tony Buzbee (scroll all the way to the end of the article).  It's also come to my attention that former mayor Bill White -- a longtime ally of Garcia's, and an enemy to progressive Democrats himself -- and several Battleground Texas field activists are hard at work for the former sheriff.  (Frankly I thought BGTX was Steve Mostyn's turf.  Mostyn, as we have known for a long time now, is supporting Turner.)

Nobody seems to be noticing these things.  Maybe they don't care.  Garcia doesn't respond to my questions, so maybe someone of greater prominence in the media can get some straight answers.

I sure would hate to see Garcia and Hall in a runoff, that's for certain.  That just seems far too much like San Antonio's mayoral runoff earlier this year for my comfort level.  Hopefully there is something several of us can do -- beyond what Mayor Parker and the HGLBT Caucus will be doing, I'm saying -- to avoid that outcome.

Charles has some good ideas, and I have one I'm going to advance in a coming post.

1 comment:

Noah Horwitz said...

Hall isn't going within a mile of the runoff. Turner is 100% in it. The question is who goes in with him. I'd say the contest is between Garcia and King for the second spot.