Political Chicanery in the City of Houston

About 10 years ago when yours truly left California for Texas the Golden State was recovering from the administration of Gray Davis, who had been labeled in some media as the state’s first coin operated governor. Texas, at the time, didn’t seem much better. A major issue at the time was property taxes, which many people believed were too high and were forcing people, particularly elderly people, out of their homes. Local radio host Dan Patrick decided to do something and organized a group to charter some busses and travel to Austin and testify before the Senate Committee handling such matters. The committee chair was given ample notice and the delegation handled everything according to the rules, but after waiting all day they were not permitted to testify. Patrick, in disgust ran for the senate and was elected in a landslide. Today he appears headed for the Lt. Governor’s seat, with property tax relief a major priority.

Fast forward to Spring 2014 and the priority for Houston Mayor Annise Parker was something she called the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. It was, purportedly, to guarantee non-discrimination to various and sundry groups of city residents who were not being accorded certain rights under law. Particularly important to the Mayor were rights for what are referred to today as LGBT people, which the ordinance gave special protections including the usual that religious Christians could not refuse to provide services at same sex marriages, and so on. But more important were rules that anyone, of either sex could use whatever restrooms of they pleased based on what “gender identity” they professed on a particular day. Not only did this raise protests as an obvious opportunity for sexual predators, but the Houston Pastors Council found it a violation of the religious rights of themselves and their congregation members. They decided to take action.

The Houston City Charter allows for voter initiatives and this is the route that the Pastors decided to take. In short order they had an initiative drawn up and began circulating it in the manner prescribed and before the deadline had accumulated over 50,000 signatures. It should be noted that the required number to place the initiative on the ballot was 17,269, meaning that in all probability there was no valid contest to the initiative going on the November ballot.

The Houston City Charter requires that such voter initiatives be submitted to the City Secretary for certification. The Secretary is required to examine the petitions, validate the signatures and toss out those that are invalid. If there are sufficient valid signatures the city has two options. Either the City Council can meet and remove the offending legislation or place the measure on the ballot. City Secretary Anna Russell, who has occupied the position for decades without complaint, and has performed this task numerous times in the past did her job, and found 17,826 valid signatures; several hundred more than necessary. At that point she stopped counting, as she wanted to save taxpayer funds that could be better used for other things. Russell certified that there were sufficient valid signatures and that the measure had to go on the ballot.

Re-enter Mayor Parker, who is now term limited, and is causing significant havoc in the city because she knows that she doesn’t have to face the wrath of the local electorate. Parker turned the petitions over to the City Attorney, who promptly, and illegally decertified a significant number, after which the measure was never placed on the ballot.

Jared Woodfill, former Harris County Republican Party Chairman and a participant in the ballot initiative process, promptly sued. The matter is presently in court at two levels; first in the local county courts, and secondly in the Texas Supreme Court seeking a writ of mandate to force the measure onto the ballot at the earliest practical opportunity.

In connection with the lawsuit City Secretary Anna Russell was testified under oath in a deposition last week and revealed the following information:

Her original report to the Mayor on July 27, 2014 was early enough for the initiative to make the ballot. The report would also have been properly referred to the City Council on August 6, at its regular meeting. The Mayor also failed to do this. Instead, on August 4 City Secretary Russell was called in to meet with the Mayor who amended her report with a paragraph that purportedly states the following:

 

“According to the City Attorney’s office and reviewed by the City Secretary the analysis of the City Attorney’s Office, 2,750 pages containing 16,010 signatures do not contain sufficient acknowledgment as required by the Charter. Therefore, according to the City Attorney’s office only 2,449 pages containing 15,249 signatures can lawfully be considered toward the signatures required.”

 

Secretary Russell stated that in her forty-two years of service this is the first time that the Mayor’s office and City Attorney had interfered with her duties under the Charter.

It is quite obvious that Mayor Parker, in a move worthy of membership in Tammany Hall, wants to keep her ordinance off of the ballot, fearing that the Pastors Council will be able to beat it. It is another attempt to legally “normalize” behavior that the general public does not approve of and has reason to be concerned over for a variety of reasons.

What has happened in Texas over the last decade is a cleanup of Republican Party politics spearheaded by people such as Dan Patrick. On the other hand, Democrat Party politicians have resorted to ever-greater levels of corruption over the same time span to push their agenda against an unwilling society. It is also a case of the big cities; Houston, Austin, San Antonio in particular, against the suburban and the rural population.

So far, the cities are not controlling things, as they have in California. How long that lasts is a question that only time will answer. If the cities take over, expect Texas to look like a combination of California and Michigan in short order. The cities are already in significant financial trouble, and the state will be if it does not take action on its spending; something that Senator Patrick has vowed to address as Lt. Governor. I hope he will succeed. I didn’t move all those miles just to see a delay in the destruction of my state of residence.

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