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!

 

 

 

Mike Driscoll

Rest in Peace Mike Driscoll

Former Harris County Attorney and admired politico Mike Driscoll passed away this week.  While you will hear many tributes and appropriate statements, none of them will capture the spirit and laughter of a much beloved civic leader.

Mike Driscoll genuinely loved public service.  He believed it was the highest honor to be trusted by the public to work for us.  He put 100% of himself into the job and sought to share his passion with anyone he met.  His passion infected so many others that you can see his touch across many elected and civic leaders in Houston today.

Mike Driscoll was also passionate about young people.  I was incredibly blessed to meet him when I was in high school and volunteering for my neighborhood State Representative, Tony Polumbo.  Mike ribbed me a little and told me that I was weird to be so interested in politics at such a young age.  However, he saw the spark and latched on.  He was a Justice of the Peace at the time and I had not ever met anyone quite like him.

When I headed off to college, I told him that my professors didn’t believe I should major in Political Science without getting a teaching certificate.  He told me to stick with my plan.  Please remember that these were the days before social media and email.  It took actual phone calls or in person meetings to connect.  In my 18 year old mind, he was an elected official and took time for me and encouraged me.  As I progressed in my college career and became ever more politically active, he supported me all the way through.  Then, he offered to come up and speak to one of my programs and visit with a few of my Professors.  I was so touched and overwhelmed.

He did come and spoke to a group, a couple of classes and visited with my Profs.  He told them they should support my degree plan because leaders in Houston supported my path and that he knew I would work in politics.  Can you imagine how this felt for a young woman trying to bust the barriers of “girls don’t belong in this business”?  You cannot imagine how empowering it was for me.  It also became a goal of mine to live up to these expectations that “Judge Mike” and “Rep. Tony” placed on me.

And I am just one of hundreds of young people that Mike touched.  When he was elected County Attorney in 1980, he hired a team of young, aggressive lawyers  and staff to help him transform the office of County Attorney.  Vince Ryan, the current Harris County Attorney, was one of them along with several people on his staff.  Dana Kervin, Chief Political Officer of the Houston Association of REALTORS, was a staff assistant to Mike.  He believed in the enthusiasm and dedication of young people and helped many of us on a life-long path in the business of politics.

Mike Driscoll also taught us that good public service meant working with everyone.  He said that once you were in office, the issues are the public’s issues and not about party.  Of course, he governed in a different time when getting the business of government done was more important than posturing and positioning.  As a Democrat, he worked with the Republicans on Commissioners Court peacefully and with integrity.  Don’t get me wrong though, outside the courthouse, he was a true Democrat and supported strongly other Democratic nominees.

Mike also taught us about integrity.  He would always tell us to do “what is right for the people”.   He said that we should always operate in the people’s interest, working ethically and honestly.  His own integrity was impeccable.

This especially came true as he battled his diagnoses of Parkinson’s disease.  He completed his time in office and dedicated himself to staring down the challenges of his illness.  He handled it with his usual sense of humor, integrity and commitment to doing all he could to get better.

While I never worked for Mike Driscoll, his support and commitment have always touched my life.  I have been blessed to know him.

Rest in peace Mike!

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Football Mania

O.K.  I admit it.  I’m totally wrapped up in football mania.  Go Houston Texans!  I always love an underdog too and clearly, our beloved Texans are being considered such in Sunday’s playoff game against the New England Patriots.

Why does it mean so much to us?  Why does it mean so much to Houston?  Take away all of the base level of Americans love for the game and look at how a city loves its team.  And, in our case, an entire region and many across the State of Texas will be rooting for the “home” team.  Even some beleaguered Cowboys fans will join in the cause.

Local governments have invested billions in stadiums across the U.S.  They will provide incentives and issue millions in bonds to help attract and retain a football team.  Again, why?  Because a winning football team helps to make your town legitimate!  It increases tourism, bolsters recognition, guarantees national coverage for your city, and boosts the spirits of the citizens.

Houston is raking in recognition from national magazines, media and more regarding our successful business climate.  Yet,  our businesses that compete for employees across the globe still struggle to recruit the best and brightest to our fair city.

Let’s top off the year with a championship for our city!  Let’s win the ultimate recognition.  We’re used to being the underdog and struggling for respect.  Let’s bring that can-do spirit to Sunday’s playoff game and prove we can do it!

I believe!  Go Texans!

 

A Historic Moment

On January 8, 2013, the Houston City Council and the Harris County Commissioners Court met together to name Janiece Longoria Chair of the Port of Houston Authority Commission.

The Port has always been known as a bastion of of the “good ole’ boy” network in the region.  In fairness, the businesses that dominate the Port are predominately male.

But the Port is now competing in an ever diverse world.  Several Latin American countries have already elected female leaders, Argentina and Chile, for example.  The Port is a global entity and competing in an ever more diverse world.

The Port is also one of Houston’s greatest assets and plays a critical role in our economy.  As they compete for more business that will be generated by the Panama Canal expansion, diverse Port Commissioners will only provide more advantage.

Janiece Longoria has been a Port Commissioner for ten years.  More importantly, she is a smart, savvy, successful lawyer while maintaining ties to her roots and Houston’s diverse communities.

Congrats to Janiece Longoria and to the County and the City leaders for appointing her Chair.  She is the first woman ever to Chair the Port and the first Latina.

Side note:  We tweeted with Council Member Gonzalez yesterday to suggest that while the Commissioners Court and the City Council were meeting together, maybe they could agree on more issues like a joint crime lab, shared health care, jails, flooding and more.  Alas, we recognize that just agreeing on a Chair for the Port Commission was a major accomplishment.

 

 

You Just Thought It Was Over……..

Another Houston area election is looming on the horizon. Even before the votes were counted last week, it was presumed that Senator Mario Gallegos would win re-election posthumously and he did.

Thus, a special election must be called to fill his seat. The Governor will call the election and set the date but is under no specific timeline to make that happen.

Two candidates have made their plans to seek the seat known. Former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia announced her intentions to seek the seat last week. Most of the district is within the boundaries of the Precinct she represented as Commissioner.

State Representative Carol Alvarado is expected to formally announce her intent to run for the seat today. She has the blessing of the Gallegos family and they will join her for the announcement.

There are other candidates eyeing the seat but Garcia and Alvarado are both well-funded, having money in the bank from previous campaigns.

Why does it matter so much? There are only 31 State Senators in Texas. That is fewer than the number of Members of Congress. It is an extraordinarily powerful position.

As the Legislature convenes in January, all of those involved will be watching this race with highly focused attention. Will one of the candidates gain the support of trial lawyers while the other gains support from Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR)? Who will business support and who will labor support?

For the most part, this campaign will be a family feud. Both candidates are solid Democrats with fairly liberal records.

Rick Noriega, a former State Representative for the area, is also said to be considering entering the fray. He may yet do so.

Others are likely to enter as it is anticipated to be a short and intense campaign, though we will not know for certain until the Governor sets the election date.

Stay tuned…….

Did I mention that the window for fundraising in city campaigns opens in February?

Harris County is Bi-Partisan

Harris County voters displayed their prowess at selecting leaders and assessing issues on Tuesday. First off, everyone should stand and shout that the percentage turnout was 61.84%. The push to encourage people to participate was clearly successful. This is an extraordinarily high voter turnout and we should be proud.

The county is an evenly split between Republican and Democrat voters in this high turnout election year. There were more than 800,000 straight ticket ballots cast and the number of votes separating the Republicans from Democrats was a mere 2644. The Dems had a slight advantage. Barack Obama won the county by 585 votes.

The real joy for this pundit emerges as one looks further down the ballot. Harris County voters literally cherry-picked the candidates for county-wide offices, including judges.

As you may recall, this blogger endorsed Republican Mike Anderson for District Attorney. He had an unfortunate opponent who had made disturbing comments regarding domestic violence and other issues throughout the campaign. It is obvious from the returns that many Democrats crossed-over and voted for Anderson to win.

In the race for Harris County Sheriff, incumbent Democrat Adrian Garcia was challenged by a Republican candidate with unfortunate alliances and a spotty record. Again, many Republicans crossed-over to ensure the re-election of Garcia.

Vince Ryan, Democratic incumbent, was re-elected as County Attorney while Mike Sullivan, Republican, won his race for Tax-Assessor Collector. These two races were much tighter.

Even in the judicial races, voters seemed to pick and choose. More Democrats were selected than Republicans but some Republican judges did win.

Of course, the bond issues and the Metro referendum passed overwhelmingly. We talked about bonds from the very first of the year, from early discussions to the ballot. Voters in HISD and HCC districts agreed to tax themselves for improved educational facilities and opportunities. Houston voters were happy to pass bonds that will provide needed infrastructure and more parks. The Metro referendum was so completely confusing but voters seemed to figure it out and strongly supported the continuation of General Mobility payments.

Harris County voters – give yourselves a pat on the back! You did a good job.

A Rare Endorsement

If you are a reader of this blog or a friend, student, co-worker, colleague of mine, you know that I rarely publicly endorse a candidate for political office. In fact, I have never done so since I began blogging in 2009.

However, this year, there is a race so imperative that I cannot go without stating my opinion.

In the race for District Attorney of Harris County, the Democrats allowed man to be nominated that goes against everything we need in that office. Lloyd Oliver is one of the most unqualified candidates I have seen nominated in years. His record as an attorney, criminal background and more give pause. In fact, the Democrats were so ashamed of him, that they sued to try to remove him from the ballot.

However, it is a few statements that he has made that have sent me over the edge. Did you know that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month? Apparently, Mr. Oliver does not know that. He has repeatedly stated that he does not think the DA’s office should spend time prosecuting domestic violence cases. He even went so far as to suggest that women should take “boxing lessons.” He has said, and I paraphrase, that “the couples should just work it out.” The man clearly has no concept of domestic violence. None.

Domestic Violence is a very serious issue. Approximately 1 in 4 women have or will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Everyday in the U.S., 3 women lose their lives through acts of domestic violence. It is an overwhelming problem in the U.S., in Texas and in Houston. The thought that a women might break free from her abuser and not gain the support of our legal system is unconscionable. The District Attorney’s office is one of the first places a victim goes to seek support – a restraining order, filing charges and more.

We must have a District Attorney who is committed to enforcing existing laws. We must have a District Attorney who will operate with integrity, regardless of political positions.

A District Attorney is one of the most important positions in our local government. It is critical that we elect Mike Anderson as the District Attorney for Houston.

Normally, I would trust that the system will correct itself and there is no way that Mr. Oliver could win this race. And yet, most did not expect him to win his primary either.

If you are a straight Democratic ticket voter, you can still crossover in this one race. It will just change your vote on that race only.

Please, Harris County, exercise some common sense and elect Mike Anderson as the District Attorney.

Note: This blogger does not have any professional affiliation with Mike Anderson and I have only met him once or twice in passing.

Pierpont Pundits: Policy Projections 2013

Last Friday, my firm hosted a half day session on Policy Projections for 2013. We focused on how the 2012 elections will impact policy in 2013 and what that means for business.

Providing speakers from the national, state and local level, we addressed how the federal government is refusing to act, the state government overreacts and the local government pays the bill.

Our federal relations speaker, Neil Dhillon of MSLGroup D.C., focused his comments on sequestration and the idea that Congress may fail to act on critical budget issues. If this happens, all government agencies will receive an automatic budget cut, currently projected to be in the range of 8%. It will also seriously affect the country’s credit rating. Neil further discussed energy policy, health care, and more. In the end, he projects that if Romney wins, Congress may get moving again but if Obama is re-elected, we are likely to see continued gridlock in D.C.

John Pitts of the Texas Star Alliance presented on the upcoming 2013 Legislative Session in Texas. His comments focused on the budget and the challenges the state faces in funding everything from education to prisons to health care. He indicated that the Legislature is facing very difficult decisions. He also discussed the impact of the State rejecting participation in federal programs such as health care and education.

Yours truly provided the local perspective and reminded the participants that no matter what happens in the lofty environs of D.C. or Austin, kids still go to school, criminals are still arrested, roads are still driven on and health care is still provided. The local government does not have the option of ignoring these issues. We also discussed the $2.7 billion worth of bonds on the November ballot in the region and how they might bolster business if adopted.

We topped off our day with a light-hearted point of view provided by White House reporter for Sirrius XM’s P.OT.U.S radio program, Julie Mason. Julie is also a former reporter for the Houston Chronicle. She regaled the audience with humorous, but serious perspectives of the people and players in Washington D.C. While the audience had the opportunity to laugh out loud at some of her tales, we also learned how the level of cynicism effects policy discussions.

Overall, a great opportunity to view policy from all levels of government and prepare ourselves for the coming year ahead.

The Metro Referendum

For months now, we have been posting about the bond elections on the ballot. Today, we focus on the confusing Metro referendum. What is it exactly that you are being ask to vote on regarding Metro?

This ballot item is probably the most “insider” game question as well. Many years ago, Metro was asked to take .25 cents of the one cent sales tax it collects and refund it to cities in its service area and Harris County. This money, the General Mobility Payment (GMP), is to be used to repair wear and tear on roads that are damaged by bus travel and to ease traffic in congested corridors. It actually made sense.

If anyone has driven down Westheimer (inside the loop portion) or Richmond Avenue or Hillcroft, you know the road damage caused by buses as well as the traffic jams they create as they start and stop to unload passengers. Yet, you also know that this is a necessity.

The recipients of these funds are not obligated to repair specific intersections or to even guarantee that the funds will be used on bus routes. Their dollars are allocated and may be used on road repairs of their choosing.

As a result of the 2003 Metro referendum that authorized the expansion of rail lines, it was promised that the GMP policy would be revisited. Thus, Metro was forced to add the issue to the ballot.

Voters basically have a very clear choice. A “yes” vote indicates that you want the cities and Harris County to continue receiving their .25 cent share of the Metro sales tax for road repair and any future increases that Metro receives will primarily support bus operations.

A “no” vote means that you want the money to revert back to Metro and to be used for transit, without any strings attached.

The negotiations on this ballot language have been an intense political process. The Metro Board originally submitted different language. Harris County leaders were not happy with it and negotiated revised language that would keep the GMP dollars flowing to them and the cities in the region. Why would the Metro Board change their minds?

It mostly has to do with the Texas Legislature. Metro is created through enabling legislation at the state level. Harris County leadership is primarily Republican as is the incoming Texas Legislature. There could be an aggressive effort to change legislation if they are not happy with the outcome of the referendum.

This is all so complicated because every local government entity is scrambling for funds and trying to avoid tax increases. If they lose the GMP dollars from Metro, there will be severe consequences to their budgets.

As a voter, you need to decide if you want to keep the money flowing to the cities and having Metro operate on .75 cents of their sales tax or if you want Metro to have their whole penny. It really is a fairly simple choice, once you understand the issue.

The Fading Astrodome

As most of you know, I’m a lifelong Houstonian. My family moved here from the Valley of Texas when I was a mere 3 years old. I’ve been blessed to live and travel elsewhere and always come back to the City I love.

One of the treasures of “My Houston”, is the Astrodome. I remember when it opened and the excitement that surrounded the uniqueness of this stadium. For the time period, it made Jerry Jones’ new Cowboy stadium look nominal in comparison. The celebration, the building and the aura were symbolic of a rapidly expanding, quirky Houston.

I went to Rodeos most of my life in that building and was able to see Elvis Presley perform – twice! When I was young and the family didn’t have much money, I would win reading contests that provided Astros tickets as the reward, enabling my family to attend games in the magical building. I went to circuses, concerts, baseball and football games. When I was older, my high school band performed at Oilers games. I was working at City Hall when Council Member Eleanor Tinsley passed the Ordinance to ban smoking in the dome, amid extreme controversy. I was sitting there when the Astros won the pennant. I was involved when the Katrina evacuees arrived.

I was so excited to take my “baby” to the Dome before it closed. It was the last Rodeo held in the building and we took him to see Bob Dylan. He was 11 months old. He doesn’t remember but we took pictures of him there as I knew it would likely be torn down.

Up to this point, I have withheld my opinion on the future of the building. But I am now willing to vent my frustration. Long familiar with the fact that we owe bonds on the building, I have spoken with many people regarding solutions and I have watched the discussions with great interest.

Finally, I have come to a conclusion. Just MAKE A DECISION ALREADY! This is one of those tough decisions that will forever change the course of the region but it must be made. Whether we tear it down or create something new and wonderful, we just need to move on. It’s like we have a broken relationship and neither partner can let go.

As of now, Commissioners Court and the Sports and Convention Corp. have decided to “study further”. Stop already. Let’s just make a decision and move on. More tax dollars spent on studies while the building further deteriorates is not going to solve the problem. Half the people are going to be unhappy with the decision, regardless.

Please, on behalf of this broken love affair, make a decision already.