2014 Texas Political Battle

2014 – A Very Political Year

Ponderings is back for a very exciting and politically intriguing 2014.  Of course, we have upcoming statewide elections for U.S. Senator, Governor, Lt. Governor and many other offices.   The new Houston City Council is being sworn in today with 6 new Members that will change the politics of that entity.

Statewide Elections promise to be very exciting beginning with the primaries on March 4.   The Republican primaries are clearly far more interesting than the Democratic races.  However, the Democrats have some hotly contested races as well as 5 people seeking the privilege of opposing incumbent U.S. Senator John Cornyn.  He also faces a primary challenge from Congressman Steve Stockman in his own primary.    I would say it is a safe bet that Cornyn returns to D.C. but most pundits never predicted Ted Cruz so I will just wait and watch this one.

Beyond the primaries, the race for Governor should provide solid entertainment throughout the year as well as the race for Lt. Governor.  It is a fairly safe bet that Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott will be facing off for Governor and Leticia Van de Putte will be the Democratic nominee for Lt. Governor.  In fact, the Republican primary for Lt. Governor may be the most fascinating Republican primary race.  We’ll be looking at it more closely as the year progresses.

Meanwhile, local government will continue to churn.  6 new Council Members will bring their own thoughts and perspectives to the discussions of city government and no doubt spark new approaches to debates at the Council table.  Mayor Parker enters the year stronger than ever and should be able to successfully push through many of her goals for her final term.

She has decided to put some of her energy into changing term limits.  We’ve written extensively about term limits over the last few years and will follow this debate closely.  Parker has signed on to a push led by Council Member Bradford to seek to change the limits rather than abolish them.  It will be an interesting discussion.

2014 may also be the year we learn the fate of the Houston Astrodome, our iconic facility that pulls at our heart strings but serves no purpose at the moment.  Harris County Commissioners Court will make the decision of what happens to the structure.

We’ll ponder all the politics and a little of life along the way.

Thanks to all my loyal readers and Happy New Year!




City Elections, Astrodome, Water and more

We are just days away from Houston’s Election Day.  The Election is Tuesday, November 5.  You can still early vote through Friday at 7:00 p.m.

This election has been especially odd but people do seem interested in the outcome.  At least, they seemed to have tuned-in during the last couple of weeks.  Early vote totals indicate that many are interested.

The Mayor’s race was expected to be much more intense but seemed to fizzle out towards the end.  Initially, most of the pundits regarded Ben Hall as a serious contender to face Mayor Parker due to his ability to self-fund his campaign.  Pundits also like good political theater.

However, Mr. Hall has let down most everyone in that regard.  While he has spent lots of money, he consistently hit the wrong note with voters.  He went dark on TV while Parker steadily blasted him with attack ads.

Council races also seem to be flying slightly below the radar.  When I ask any average voter (non-immersed politico) about At-Large Position 3, they look at me blankly.  When I name a few of the candidates running they sometime have a glimmer of recognition.  A number of people have seen the billboard Roy Morales has on 1-10 at Silber.  Many have heard of or seen signs for Michael Kubosh.  If they are party connected, they probably know Rogene Calvert, Kubosh or Morales.  Some know Roland Chavez has been a fire fighter and inner loopers seem to know Jennifer Rene Poole.  This race is anybody’s best guess.  Pundits think Kubosh wins but most won’t predict who is in a run-off with him.

Council Districts A, D and I have intense campaigns going on in their communities.  Again, unless you speak to someone who knows them, it is hard to measure the outcome.

Meanwhile, the fate of the Astrodome will finally be decided by voters across Harris County.  Will sentimentality overcome a tax increase?  That is one of the biggest questions facing voters.  Are you willing to pay more taxes to save Houston’s beloved landmark?  I think this one may squeak by.  It helps that Reliant Park officials are holding an Astrodome memorabilia sale just prior to the election.  It will remind everyone of the good times they had there.

Water is probably one of the most important issues on the ballot.  Proposition 6 will allow Texas to better plan for our water needs in the future.  The prolonged drought in parts of the state has had a significant impact on agriculture while rains wash away other parts of the state.  When speaking with a pundit in Dallas last week, he told me the Prop. 6 supporters are very worried since it has been raining so much in Houston this fall.  I told him to give us a little more credit.  Bottom line is that Houston/Harris County voters will have the most impact on the outcome of this election.  This blogger recommends a vote for Proposition 6, strongly.

If you need to learn more, please visit the Voters Guide produced by the League of Women Voters.  It provides unbiased and clear information on the candidates.

Consider yourself informed!  Now, GO VOTE!!!!!!






Mayoral Forums – Final Thoughts

Last week, I took in a Mayoral debate and a Mayoral candidate forum.  Between the two, I was able to see the full slate of contenders for Mayor.

The Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum on Thursday and Houston Public Media (KUHT and KUHF) hosted a debate on Monday evening in conjunction with the League of Women Voters.  They also assisted with the Women’s Chamber forum.

We previously discussed the debate last week.  At the Women’s Chamber, it was an actual forum with a much shorter format.  Two candidates who had not participated in the debate were in attendance.

This field of candidates is truly interesting.  There are genuine grass-roots people running for Mayor.  Some are not so well spoken.  Some have a specific agenda they are espousing.  One is just downright funny and one is very angry.  When Mayor Parker and Ben Hall are in the mix of the field, they shine.  Mayor Parker has refused to meet Ben Hall one-on-one and insists that all candidates be invited when they have accepted forums.

Personally, I have enjoyed this exposure to the “also-rans” as they are often called in politics.  It makes me feel so much better about our democracy.  The guests at our table for the Women’s Chamber were not so enamored and were a little stunned.  Several of them pointed out that “anyone can run for Mayor”.  EXACTLY!  We live in a democracy and isn’t it great?

When I look at what is happening in Washington and I see the collapse of respected dialogue between elected officials, I am sad for democracy.  But when I look at a field of 9 Mayoral contenders, I feel better.

One of the problems with D.C. is the lack of competition in our system.  Most Members of Congress are elected from such lopsided partisan districts that they are answerable only to the most extreme loyalists of their party.  Sure, there is competition in the primary process but less than 15% of voters usually participate.  General election competition has dissipated completely and thus, we have a Congress that only talks to those who will re-elect them and not do what is in the best interests of the American public.

So rejoice!  Study up on the multiple candidates seeking office in Houston this year.  You can access the League of Women Voter’s Guide by clicking here.  

Early voting starts on October 21 so prepare yourself to participate in genuine democracy.

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Mayoral Debate Post Mortem

On Tuesday night, Houston Public Media and the League of Women Voters hosted the only televised Mayoral debate of the campaign season.

They invited all of the candidates to participate and 8 of them agreed to join in the conversation.  Debates with 8 candidates can be a bit tedious but some of them offered comic relief to the otherwise serious candidates.

Of course, the primary focus was on Mayor Parker and her main challenger, Ben Hall.   The format of the debate and the number of participants kept the conflict a bit lower than might otherwise have been the case.  They managed to exchange some barbs but the impact was nominal.  They both repeated information that has otherwise played out in the press.

To a person, the candidates laid blame for Houston’s atrocious street conditions at the feet of the Mayor.  Each and every one took some of their time to comment on the need for street repair.  The Mayor remained poised, confident and did not become defensive in light of the criticism.  She explained the process for improvement as if she was teaching a class.

Kudos to the moderator and to the panelists.  The panelists did a great job with their questions.  They included Laurie Johnson from KUHF, Doug Miller from KHOU – Channel 11, Pedro Rojas with Univision and Mike Morris with the Houston Chronicle.



Houston City Elections – District I

We previously analyzed District D with its 12 candidates and the impact it may have on the Mayor’s race.  In our continuing series on Council races, we will focus on District I.

Like District D, District I has no incumbent.  Council Member James Rodriguez has served his full terms on Council and is prohibited from seeking re-election.

There are 4 candidates in the race.  Each has a distinct perspective and alignments with other elected officials.  The candidates are referenced in alphabetical order.

Leticia Ablaza was formerly a Council staffer to Council Member Helena Brown.  She has also volunteered on a variety of campaigns.  She is a long-time resident of the district and drew nearly 40% of the vote when she opposed Rodriguez in 2011.

Gracie Garces is Chief of Staff to the current Council Member.  Given her experience in working with him, she has deep ties to civic clubs throughout the district as well as the support of Rodriguez and State Representative Carol Alvarado.

Robert Gallego is a civic activist with deep ties in the district.  He has served as a civic club president and has worked on most major projects in the area for years.  He formerly worked for then County Commissioner and now State Senator Sylvia Garcia.  She is actively campaigning on his behalf.

Ben Mendez is a businessman with deep ties across Houston’s Latino community as well as strong political connections.  He is by far the best funded candidate and is running a well-organized campaign.  However, his opponents accuse of him of “not living in the district”.  While he did relocate, he has been active in the community for a long time.

The candidate field is strong and should bolster turnout.  However, this district historically has a low voter turnout.  It doesn’t seem that Parker or Hall are investing heavily in winning the Latino vote while they focus on other communities.

This district will have a higher than normal voter turnout due to the competition of the aforementioned candidates.  However,  it will not likely have a major impact on the Mayoral candidates.



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Houston City Council Races – District D

Houston City Council District D may be the most interesting race for City Council this year.

With a field of 12 candidates, there will likely be many voters coming out to cast their ballot.  When we first adopted term limits, most open seats attracted a field of 10+ candidates.  However, we have seen that drop in recent years.

In fact, it is a little surprising that an open At-Large seat, Position 3, has only 6 candidates while the incumbent in Position 2 faces 3 opponents.

That makes District D the most interesting race in town.  Incumbent Wanda Adams is term-limited.  However, she is seeking election to the HISD Board of Trustees and her name will appear on the ballot again.

The best financed candidate in the race is Dwight Boykins.  Boykins has previously sought election to Council and he has garnered many endorsements.   Two women, Georgia Provost and Assata Richards, seem to be emerging as lead contenders among the mix, in addition to Boykins.

If you don’t live in District D, why does this matter to you?  The turnout of voters in District D will likely be higher than normal due to all of the activity in the area.  If you live in District D, you definitely know that a city election is happening in a couple of months.

Will the race have an affect on the Mayoral candidates?  As an African-American candidate, we would anticipate that Ben Hall would garner a majority of the vote.  He also has the support of many recognizable, strong leaders in the community.  Mayor Parker is not defaulting on the vote though and is fighting for a share.  She has her fans as well, including African-American elected officials.

District D will be the campaign watch to this season for the shear contest among 12 people and for its potential impact on the Mayoral race.

Will District D votes alone be enough to push Ben Hall into a run-off with Mayor Parker?  Not likely.  However, we will look at other contested Council races and how they may affect the Mayoral vote next week.


Political Lessons from Facebook – Endorsements

This blogger has learned a tough lesson recently.  It has been my practice to “like” multiple candidate pages on Facebook.  As a blogger and periodic radio commentator, I have felt that it was my duty to view the way campaigns engage in social media.

In fact, the Social Media Director at the paying job and I have occasionally analyzed social media engagement of the various campaigns and we plan to do that again this year

For these reasons, I have liked many of the candidate pages on Facebook and follow many political figures on Twitter, Instagram and more.  In some cases, I have been friends with candidates for years prior to their running for office.

But I have learned my lesson.  It seems that Ben Hall’s campaign for Mayor has purchased Facebook advertising.  Kudos to him and their team.  I’m sure this is a valuable way to enhance their followers.  However, these ads have been telling a number of people that I “like” Ben Hall and they should too.  Since I have a high volume of Facebook contacts that includes a vast array of friends, professional associates, clients, current and former students, and many more, I have been asked repeatedly why I’m endorsing Ben Hall.

I could not understand why this was happening until one of my close friends explained to me the way it appeared on her Facebook feed.  I immediately responded with “I liked Annise Parker too!”  But her campaign is not advertising so no one seems to know.

This is a good opportunity to reiterate that this blog nor its author make public endorsements in any campaigns.  As a long-time political observer and formerly an activist, I have truly arrived at the point in my life when analysis is my preferred path of thinking.  I try to share an objective point of view that brings in my years of experience, political science education and general knowledge of state and local politics and government.

Let me be clear – I have not endorsed anyone in the Mayor’s race.  I will continue to bring you the best objective analysis of the race.  I appreciate your reading of my blog.

And finally, let me just say that even an ole’ pro like me can periodically be tripped up by the new technologies.





Houston Mayor’s Race – Political Theater of the Absurd

Those of us that follow politics on a regular basis often refer to the term “political theater”.  We love a good, tough campaign for the entertainment value and it gives us stuff to write about, discuss and debate.

While this sounds somewhat cynical, it really isn’t meant that way.  In fact, good campaigns are good for democracy.  Debate and discuss among candidates usually results in better public policy.  Losing candidates often develop creative ideas on the campaign trail that ultimately lead a winner to implement the change once elected.

Over the last couple of decades, redistricting has limited debate in the political process.  Districts are drawn so solidly to elect one party or the other that we are losing competition in the process.  Our democracy is at risk.

This is one of the reasons I savor local political contests.  In Houston, our races are technically non-partisan though most candidates lean one direction or the other.  Still, when we walk in the voting booth, there are no labels attached to the names.

They also create competition.  Again, competition is good for democracy.  However, this year’s Houston Mayor’s race has entered into the “absurd” zone.  The Houston Chronicle on Sunday editorialized that Ben Hall should back-off from his claims about the Mayor and tone down the rhetoric.  It was titled “Guess Who Needs to Stop Attacking?”  Click here to read more.

On Monday of this week, supporters of the Mayor held a press conference to illustrate her diversity of support and a couple of them called on Ben Hall to withdraw from the race.  Really?

Ben Hall fired back attacking the “goodbye tour of the Mayor being a coronation”.

The Mayor’s team keeps talking endlessly about the “negative” campaign that Ben Hall is running.  Most of the public has not been privy to much from Mr. Hall except some biographical, introductory political commercials.  He has been a broken-record calling for a debate.

In fact, the most negative campaign moves have been visibly presented by the Mayor and her attacks on Mr. Hall’s residency and release of his tax returns.  Her campaign has been aggressive in defining Mr. Hall.

So what gives?  Let’s get out there and have a good, strong campaign.  The Mayor has multiple opponents.  Most Houstonians appear to be fairly satisfied.  Tell your story, let him tell his story and the voters will make the right decision!  That is what we call democracy!

Houston Mayors Race – Tax Returns

Mayor Parker pulled an old trick out of her hat this week on her opponent, Ben Hall.  She released her tax returns and called upon him to do the same.

This tactic has been used time again.  Interestingly, it began as a Republican tactic  on Democratic candidates.  Over the years, the tables have turned and many Democratic candidates now use it to illustrate the “they’re not like you and me” point with wealthy Republican candidates.

In municipal elections, it has become common for the candidate less wealthy than the other to deploy the tactic.  Mayor Parker clearly knows that Ben Hall is a wealthy attorney.

Yet his recent television buy taught us about his humble beginnings and shared his “bootstrap” story.   So Parker calls upon him to tell us just how successful he’s been.

While not surprised to see the tactic deployed, it does seem a little early.  Parker is actually the one swinging at Ben Hall fairly hard.  In response to his biographical ads, she issued a hard-hitting attack ad.  This is quickly followed by a call for release of his tax returns and the revelation that he has previously had a tax lien.

Folks, it is not even Labor Day yet and this race is in full swing.

Hall’s aggression towards Parker has mainly focused on calling for her to debate him six times.  He’s not released specific attacks yet but mainly alluded to the fact that they will be coming soon.

For any person who has served in office as long as Parker has, there will be plenty of material to twist and turn for the Hall effort.  It appeared initially that he would define the tone of the campaign but Parker has quickly turned this around.

It seems she took her surprisingly narrow margin of victory in 2011 seriously and plans to directly and aggressively respond to any opponent.

Stay tuned because this race may prove to be great political theater as we move forward.



Houston Mayoral Election – Ad Wars

The Houston Mayoral election contest has heated up along with the temperatures this August.

Candidate Ben Hall launched a significant ad buy with ads that tell his background story.  This is a fairly typical approach for a candidate unknown to voters.   The ads are primarily focused on letting voters know that he comes from humble beginnings and is a highly educated, successful lawyer who pulled himself up by the bootstraps.  In one of the three ads, Hall mentions Mayor Parker and says “Mayor Parker, we’ll talk later.”

Apparently, the Parker campaign took this personally.  Within in a few days, they launched their own attack ad on Ben Hall.  It is a strong ad asking him if “he cared so much, why hasn’t he lived in Houston for the last 11 years? ”  It should be noted that Ben Hall was previously a resident of the Memorial community, Piney Point Village.  This is actually a separate municipality that is surrounded by Houston.

It was a little surprising to this observer that Mayor Parker came out swinging so hard this early and in response to primarily biographic ads by Hall.  It shows that she clearly means to fight back and to take this campaign very seriously.

The response to Hall’s ads among this bloggers world have been mixed.  Inner loopers (Parker’s core) tend to find them “strange and odd”.   People from the broader Houston community seem to be learning more about Ben Hall.  Any number of clients and friends have indicated that they had no idea he “went to Harvard” and such.  These are the people that Hall is targeting.

Do we really have a race on our hands?  Hall has hired some top notch political consultants who have run many races across the U.S. and both hail from Texas. While their experience is primarily in Republican politics, they do not come from the ultra conservative side of the spectrum.

In fact, both Mark Sanders and John Weaver were in Houston in 1997 to help Rob Mosbacher run against Lee P. Brown.  While Brown won, it was a close race.  It is now fascinating that these same folks are back to try and elect an African-American as Mayor.

One thing is for certain Houston.  We have a Mayoral contest in Houston this year.  Buckle your seat belts for this one as it may be a wild ride.