Texas Liberal

All People Matter

In Praise Of Gene Kelly & Outlaw Josey Wales

Two perennial candidates for office in Texas are Gene Kelly and Outlaw Josey Wales.

Mr. Kelly runs statewide and Mr. Wales runs for Mayor of Houston.

In the recently contested Texas primary, Mr. Kelly won 27% in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary against Rick Noriega. Mr. Noriega won the primary and avoided a runoff with 51% of the vote. 

Here is some information about Mr. Kelly from today’s Houston Chronicle.

Kelly is a reclusive retired military judge and lawyer from Universal City, a San Antonio suburb. He traditionally does little more than pay his filing fee, but apparently he wins votes because he has the same name as the late movie star and dancer.

Since 1990, Kelly has run for the Texas Supreme Court, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, attorney general and U.S. Senate.

In 2006, he forced Barbara Ann Radnofsky into a runoff in the Democratic U.S. Senate race. She overcame with “the dancer is dead” campaign, but the fact that she was in a runoff is believed to have cost her financial support from national Democratic donors.

Many candidates have an aspect of personal identity that wins them votes.

Did Mr. Noriega win votes because he is Hispanic? ( This no doubt cost him some votes as well.)

Some people voted for Barack Obama because he is black. Hillary Clinton gets some votes for being a woman and she has a famous last name. 

So what? That’s democracy for you. It’s a big spin of the wheel.  

It’s not Gene Kelly’s fault that by simply putting his name on the ballot he wins a quarter of the vote. I say more power to Mr. Kelly.  

If the party that likes to think of itself as the more “enlightened” party has to convince people that the actual “Singing in the Rain” Gene Kelly is not on the ballot–Well, then we have bigger problems than Mr. Kelly’s presence on the ballot. 

Here in Houston, I am a big fan of Outlaw Josey Wales.   

That’s his legal name.

Mr. Wales ran for Mayor of Houston last year. 

In 1999, I voted for Mr. Wales against incumbent Houston Mayor Lee Brown.

Mr. Brown was certain to win the election. I did not think so much of Mr. Brown. 

Once I convinced myself that Mr. Wales was not a right-wing kook, I figured what the hell? 

Two years later when Mr. Brown had a serious Republican challenger, I voted for Mr. Brown.

Here is what I said about Mr. Wales last October

As for Mr. Wales, self-creation and starting fresh are acts fully consistent with Houston and with politics.

He changed his name because he wanted to make some money. Good for him. I hope he made some money. If I thought I could make a lot of money by changing my name to Wyatt Earp, I would likely do so..   

Mr. Wales has had fewer names than former Texas Comptroller and candidate for Governor One Tough Grandma Carole Keeton Rylander Strayhorn…. 

Bloggers give themselves new names and made-up names all the time…

I don’t care what people choose to call themselves.    

Is Mr. Wales anymore or less stable than our civic Founding Father Sam Houston? Mr. Houston used to walk around Houston dressed as a cross between a frontiersman and an Indian. Sam Houston was, in his way, a serious and talented man.

Is Mr. Wales any more or less serious than the process of how we elect our city officials in Houston with silly six year term limits and terrible turnout? I think Mr. Wales might in fact be somewhat dignified for such a screwed-up process.  

Absurdity is a refuge from the day-to-day pain of life. As long as absurdity does not become detachment, what harm does it do?   

I look forward to seeing Mr. Kelly and Mr. Wales on the ballot many more times.    

March 6, 2008 Posted by | Campaign 2008, Houston, Houston Council Election '07, Politics, Texas, Texas Political History, Texas Primary '08 | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Report From Houston Mayor Bill White’s Inaugural Speech


This past Wednesday morning I attended the Inauguration ceremony for Houston Mayor Bill White, City Controller Annise Parker and the 14 member Houston City Council.

The outdoor setting on a sunny day in Downtown’s under-construction Discovery Park was excellent.

The invocation was given by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo. He said the things you would expect him to say for such an occasion. 

Cardinal DiNardo had the option to speak with some emphasis on the unmet needs of the poor in Houston, but he did not choose that path.

One thing I like about the oath of office often administered to public officials is the part where they say—“To the best of my abilities.” This line acknowledges the differences in people’s abilities and asks elected officials to do the best they can.

That’s really all any of us are able to do.

Mayor White made an inaugural speech of about 15 minutes. Here’s the text.

The speech was a boosterish. That’s fine enough for a celebratory day. Yet the speech ignored some obvious facts about Houston.

Mayor White spoke about immigrant success stories in Houston. This is a strong point of Houston. It’s wonderful that a city that not long ago was segregated, is now a world-center of immigrant accomplishment.

Mayor White said European cities had been in contact with his office asking for advice on integrating Muslim populations into the city fabric.  

Yet Mayor White was also, as seems his inclination when challenged, dismissive of people with a vision of Houston that conflicts with his own. He spoke about people “who are not happy unless they are angry about something.” 

Houston has longstanding problems of poverty and pollution and Houston residents have every reason to believe city leaders are not committed to addressing these problems seriously.

This is especially true in the case of our urban poverty.    

Mayor White makes himself out a pragmatic city leader. Okay. But self-defined pragmatists often feel they are operating from so-called “reason”, and that by definition people who disagree are “unreasonable.”

Most often it is people in power who define what is “reasonable.” Often that definition coincides with the ambitions and desires of people doing the defining.  

I noticed a list of corporate and private sponsors on the inauguration program. Why does a public civic ceremony require private and corporate sponsorship? Most especially the inaugural ceremony of our elected officials.

Why does this city civic event need to be sponsored by, among others, the Houston Contractors Association, the Marathon Oil PAC and Front Row Ticket Company?  

Given the terrible turnout in our city elections, around 10% for the General Election and less than  5% for the runoffs, it’s hard not to wonder who has the real influence with city officials.    

As a final note, Mayor White did get credit with me for making reference to the following Martin Luther King passage–

Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus; and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters in life. At points, he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew, and through this, throw him off base.

Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn’t stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But with him, administering first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother. 


January 4, 2008 Posted by | Houston, Houston Council Election '07, Martin & Malcolm, Politics, Texas | , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Lack Of Democratic Legitmacy At Houston City Council

I was glad enough to see the runoff election victory this past Saturday of Jolanda Jones as a new at-large City Councilperson in Houston. I voted for Ms. Jones.  

And yet—Look at these final results for one of our five at-large Council spots in a city of over two million people.

At-large Pos. 5

Jolanda Jones

16,184 67.0%

Joe Trevino

7,989 33.0%

I find it difficult to view Ms. Jones as legitimately elected. Hardly anybody voted.

In the first round of voting on General Election Day last month, turnout was something near 10% in Houston.   

Are any on our City Council legitimately elected?

Beyond that, our local Democratic Party seems to have no interest in using the Democratic majority on Council to address pressing urban issues such as the deep and long-term poverty that should stand as the signature identity of Houston. 

Do Council Democrats press any meaningful agenda as a cohesive party unit on Council? Or are they free agents when all is said and done?

This type of circumstance exists in cities all over the country.

I look forward to leadership from Ms. Jones on questions of increasing political involvement and moving the Democratic Party towards relevance in the lives of its loyal poor and minority voters.        

December 11, 2007 Posted by | Houston, Houston Council Election '07, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

500th Texas Liberal Post—Each Post Worse Than The One That Came Before


This is the 500th Texas Liberal post. While not a big deal for you the blog reader, I’d like to comment. 

500 posts is not a lot for some blogs, yet it is still quite a bit of work.

I enjoy blogging and I’m thankful to have the ability and the time to communicate with others.  

Three important things we have in life are our relationships, our values and the ability to communicate.

Since the beginning of October I’ve run just under 400 page views a day according to my WordPress stats. That’s good I’d say. I appear to still be moving up in traffic. My goal is 1000 page views a day at some point in 2008 and to take it from there. 

If you like Texas Liberal, please forward the link to somebody you think might feel the same way. The internet may seem like mass communication, but you build an audience for a blog one–by one–by one. 

There are a few of my entries I’d like to link to that I feel, for various reasons, have some merit. ( At the bottom of this post I’ll mention some other strong blogs. It’s no fun without other blogs.)

Malcolm, Martin & Liberals Like Myself is a brief overview of how I came to my outlook on politics and society. It describes why I’m often not at ease with people who might in some respects appear to be natural allies.   

My Excellent Wife Wearing Wedding Dress And Holding Bowling Ball is a great post because it involves my wife. My wife is the best person in the world.

 A Very Good Phone Call With Melissa Noriega is my favorite post about Texas politics. I went from skepticism about Houston Council candidate Noriega to an ongoing dialogue with someone who is now a friend and a sitting Councilmember.   

Colonial Loyalists As Modern Conservatives With Bonus Tarring-And-Feathering Picture is a good post from the number of entries I’ve made on Colonial America.  

Texas Fish Kill As Andy Warhol Painting is my favorite post on sea life. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage posting about sea creatures. In this post, I simply enjoy the three illustrations of the fish.

As Liberal As I Am, If Hillary Clinton Is The 2008 Democratic Nominee I’ll Give Her My Strong Support lays out some of my views about the 2008 campaign.

I Tipped The Kid Who handed Me A Burrito $5 Because I Felt He Shared My Outlook And Might, With Time, Share My Values  is a post that I hope suggests we can always be of help to good people.   

People Have A Right To Define Family As They Wish is the post I’m most proud of on the blog. Every day I get search engine traffic from someone googling the term “define family” or “what is family.” I feel maybe this post has helped somebody.   

Posts I’ve written have been linked to by Crooks and Liars , SlateThe Agonist, rebecca’s pocket and The Minneapolis Star-Tribune . I’ve been picked up by BlogBurst a number of times and those good folks have landed me at USA Today, The Austin-American Statesman and the Reuters News Agency. 

Blognet News/Texas and Lefty Blogs are most helpful. And, of course, so is WordPress. I can’t say enough good about WordPress.    

I have one of five featured political blogs at the Houston Chronicle and I also blog at Where’s The Outrage?

Where’s The Outrage? is the home of the Errington Thompson podcast. 

My thanks to Dwight Silverman at the Chronicle and Errington Thompson at WTO? in North Carolina for these opportunities. 

Friendly bloggers and good blogs can be found at, among other places, Jobsanger, Brains & EggsLast Row, Blue Bloggin’ , Who’s Playin? and Panhandle Truth Squad.

South Texas Chisme does a very good job of conveying a lot of information in an efficient way while keeping a sense of humor.    

I’d also like to note two blogs, on the opposite side of the aisle from myself in some respects, that were nice enough to recently place me on their blogrolls.

Bloggin’ All Things Brownsville is well-conceived and well-executed. I’ve had to find a voice for my blog. I think BATB knew what she was doing from the start.

And—Thanks to my friend Tito for the link from Custos Fidei. That link is, I think, another example of how people often sense they have something in common despite clear enough differences.  

Also, closer to my side of the aisle, The Field Negro out of Philadelphia is well-tuned to my sensibilities. Thanks to that blog for the link.

Thanks George and Bill in Cincinati for all the comments and thanks to Citizen X for reading the blog. Thanks to many long-time friends who read the blog.      

Thanks to super-smart Alex Ragsdale at the U. of Houston and thanks to her good friend Will who is studying at Georgetown. Both are bright young folks who will do great things.    

Most of all—Thanks to everybody who has read Texas Liberal and thanks for the comments. As I mentioned up top, please consider sending this link to others as I work to grow Texas Liberal.

The illustration is of some type of pygmy Mastodon. The Mastodon is the state fossil of Michigan.

November 29, 2007 Posted by | Blogging, Cincinnati, Colonial America, Good People, Houston, Houston Council Election '07, Martin & Malcolm, My Wife Is The Best Person Ever, Politics, Sea Life, Texas, Welcome To TexasLiberal | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Do “The People” Exist In A Political Sense?—Questions Spurred By A Low Turnout Election


Despite a number of important ballot issues and at least a few open City Council seats in Houston, voters in Houston and Harris County turned out at only around 10% of registered persons.

Here are some questions I have based on this terrible turnout. They are questions that would apply to any low turnout election— 

1. Does a political entity such as a city or a county exist in the most meaningful regard of a shared sense of citizenship when so few people vote? No wonder conditions in Houston are so awful for so many people.

2. Are candidates elected by so few people legitimately elected? Why should office holders not vote the way large donors and more affluent voters wish them to vote, when little counter pressure is exerted by an involved public?

3. Don’t you imagine elected officials hold the public in contempt over such low turnout?   

4. If you accept Aristotle’s premise that society existed before the individual, to people delegitimize their very existence by failing to take part in politics? Do “the people” truly exist in a political sense when turnout is so bad?

5. If county and city services would be temporarily suspended unless municipal elections generated at least 75% turnout, do you think people would then vote? I bet a 75% threshold would be met if folks were told police, fire and water service would be stopped until enough people decided they were really part of our society.

The above picture is of people voting in Haiti in 2006.  Imagine that people can line up and possibly face violence to vote in a poor place like Haiti, but people in Houston and Harris County and elsewhere in America will not come out and vote.   

November 9, 2007 Posted by | Books, Houston, Houston Council Election '07, Politics | , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Yesterday’s Elections & The Prospect Of John Howard’s Defeat In Australia

A few observations for yesterday’s elections—

Please click here for the Houston Chronicle’s election roundup. )

I was glad to see passage of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District levy in Harris County. That part of the county revolves around affordable housing for families and support of schools is very much needed.  

When the runoffs are completed, Democrats will sweep all five Houston at-large Council seats. I’m not certain how many of the 15 seats will be held by Democrats, but it will certainly be a majority.

The Chronicle should stop subscribing to the fiction that these people don’t have a party identification and provide readers with a party lineup on Council. The Harris County Democratic Party should celebrate the Democratic gain in picking up Michael Berry’s Council seat and the party should consider injecting open partisanship into 2009 city races.

The only bond issue voted down in Harris County was the one for a new jail. It’s hard the know the reason why and the margin was thin, but this rejection may serve as one more clue that Harris County will be voting Democratic in 2008.  

It was good to see the success of bond issues for a number of purposes in Harris County and in the statewide Texas issues. You can’t have needed services unless you are willing to spend some money.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, the new City Council is the old City Council with all nine incumbents returned. The Council of five Democrats, two Republicans and two third-party Charterites is a bit to the right of the city as a whole. Two, and maybe three, of the Democrats are fairly conservative. Also, again there will be just two blacks on the Council in what now must be a majority black city.

It was good to see a Democrat win the Kentucky governorship.

In Australia, interest rates have been raised just a few weeks before the upcoming late November election. Right-wing Prime Minister John Howard is on the ropes and this is not expected to help. Mr. Howard’s defeat and a Labor government in Canberra would be excellent.  

November 7, 2007 Posted by | Cincinnati, Houston, Houston Council Election '07, Politics, Texas | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I Voted Yes On Houston School Levy So Kids Can Take More Civics Classes And Question Legtimacy Of Political Structure Unable To Address Global Economy And Climate Change

I voted this morning in our Houston city elections. I voted just a few minutes ago. I did not get the sense of high turnout.

High turnout would require voters that care, a Republican Party that thought Houston was worth fighting for, and a Democratic Party that had the competence and imagination to make at least some effort to generate turnout of Democratic voters.

We don’t have any of those things in Houston.

For Mayor of Houston I voted for Amanda Ulman. I posted about this last week. Bill White did not need my vote and voters deserve options.

Can you imagine that not one Republican in Houston cared enough about his or her city to run and offer competing ideas in contrast to Mayor White to our citizens? 

I voted forJolanda Jones for Houston At-Large Position 5. Hopefully she’ll make it to a run-off and the sneaky Zaf Tahir will not. Please click here to read about Mr. Tahir and the things he has been up to as a candidate.

I voted for Melissa Noriega and Peter Brown in other at-large Council races. I’m looking forward to Mr. Brown’s possible candidacy against Annise Parker for Houston Mayor in 2009. I think Mr. Brown will offer a hopeful vision for Houston in sharp contrast to the deadening business-as-usual pragmatism that characterizes Ms. Parker’s type of politics.     

In addition to the city candidates, there were a number of important school levies, county bond issues and Texas statewide matters on the ballot.

I voted yes on the Houston school levy because we need to prepare these kids to have the civic awareness to realize that both major parties are selling them down the river on the global economy and climate change.

I think that with a few more social studies, civics and history classes, kids might begin to ask questions about the basic legitimacy of a system that either cannot or will not address the most important issues of the future.     

November 6, 2007 Posted by | Houston, Houston Council Election '07, Politics, Ways We Hate Children | , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A Socialist & Outlaw Josey Wales—A Few Words Of Consideration For Houston’s Mayoral Contenders

Houston Mayor Bill White will certainly win re-election next week. His two opponents are a man who changed his name legally to Outlaw Josey Wales IV and Socialist Amanda Ulman. 

It’s easy to discount these people, and voters will dispatch them without much thought, yet both merit a few words of consideration

First, please read below about Ms. Ulman and Mr. Wales excerpted from a Houston Chronicle story by Matt Stiles profiling the race for Mayor.

“…… For now, though, White faces meat-packing plant worker Amanda Ulman and contract engineer and professional wrestling promoter Outlaw Josey Wales IV in the Nov. 6 election.

Ulman is running on behalf of the Socialist Workers Party. Her platform includes calls for amnesty for all illegal immigrants, the immediate end to the Iraq war and a massive public works project to give jobs to the unemployed at union wages.

“Workers are a majority of Houston, and we need our own voice. We need someone to stand up and raise demands that are in our own interest,” said Ulman, an Indiana native who was a write-in candidate for U.S. Senate in 2006. “We join in the struggles of working people.”

White’s other opponent, who legally changed his name to Outlaw Josey Wales in 1998 to create a persona for his wrestling events, ran unsuccessfully against former Mayor Lee Brown a year later. He said he wants to pay Houston police officers more and ensure the long-term viability of their pension system.

He wants to make it illegal to drive while holding a cell phone and to require at least four motorists in a car to allow access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes. He also wants to extend rail lines along major freeways from downtown to the city limits.

“You’ve got to get people out of their cars,” he said. “There’s no reason someone in Kingwood, Humble, Katy, (U.S.) 290 north, Clear Lake, anywhere out past the Beltway on Interstate 10 either way, should be driving into work.”

In the case of Ms. Ulman, the Socialist Party did once have a presence in Texas. In the first 20 years of the last century, there were often Socialists running for Congress from Texas. The Socialist candidate for President won 8.3% of the vote in Texas in 1912 and 5.1% in 1916. ( In 1912, Socialist Eugene V. Debs at 8.3% ran only 1.1% behind Republican President William Howard Taft in Texas.)

I’ve long held that voters in big cities are used by the Democratic Party. We give Democrats our votes and it is often difficult to see how our cities are getting any better and how the lives of poor and working class people in cities are getting any better.   

If big city voters had Green Party or Socialist Party options they felt were electorally viable, such alternatives might well be be considered.

For now, Ms. Ulman and her ideas can be dismissed by simply referring to her as a Socialist. It’s not always been that way in Texas and nothing says it will always be that way in the future. 

As for Mr. Wales, self-creation and starting fresh are acts fully consistent with Houston and with politics.

He changed his name because he wanted to make some money. Good for him. I hope he made some money. If I thought I could make a lot of money by changing my name to Wyatt Earp, I would likely do so. I imagine many people would do the same.   

Mr. Wales has had fewer names than former Texas Comptroller and candidate for Governor One Tough Grandma Carole Keeton Rylander Strayhorn. Every time you turned around she had a new name.

Bloggers give themselves new names and made-up names all the time. Bloggers are a big thing in politics now. That’s at least what I read.

I don’t care what people choose to call themselves.    

Is Mr. Wales anymore or less stable than our civic Founding Father Sam Houston? Mr. Houston used to walk around Houston dressed as a cross between a frontiersman and an Indian. Sam Houston was, in his way, a serious and talented man.

Mr. Wales says he advocates carpooling and people getting off the phone while driving. He wants to increase police pay. That seems like a platform many people might support.

Is Mr. Wales any more or less serious than the process of how we elect our city officials in Houston with silly six year term limits and terrible turnout? I think Mr. Wales might in fact be somewhat dignified for such a screwed-up process.    

In 2010, if Mayor White runs for statewide office, I’ll strongly consider giving him my vote. I want a Democrat as Governor. 

In 2007, my only regret is that I must choose between Ms. Ulman and Mr. Wales. I like them both.

October 31, 2007 Posted by | Houston, Houston Council Election '07, Political History, Politics | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Labor Donated” Mailing From Zaf Tahir With, Again, No Party ID & No Union Bug

I got another mailing yesterday from Houston At-Large Position 5 City Council Candidate Zaf Tahir. I was not planning to write about this again. But I have some questions.

Last week I wrote that Mr. Tahir had no union bug and no party identification at all on his first mailer. Mr. Tahir replied with a comment on Texas Liberal saying he was a loyal Democrat and a supporter of unions. He did not convince me to vote for him, but his reply seemed fair enough.

Now I have this additional mailing that says “Labor Donated” in a blank space just above the address. I’d like a better understanding of what that means. The first mailer did not say that anywhere. 

In a comment on my first Tahir post, Steve Bates from The Yellow Doggerel Democrat said sometimes underfunded campaigns will note on campaign materials that all the labor involved in a campaign mailer was volunteer labor and in certain circumstances that might be okay for a Democrat to use.

Okay. (Let me be clear, Steve was not taking any side or criticizing anybody. He was just giving information he had as politically active union man. I cite him because he was more informed on this question than I was.)

Am I to infer that for some reason, Mr. Tahir must cite that he had donated labor on the second glossy multi-color mailing he has sent out within a week?  Money does not seem to be an issue for Mr. Tahir.

Or maybe labor donated means something else in this case. Somebody please fill me in if it does.  

While I believe Mr. Tahir is a Democrat and that he supports unions as he claims, why can’t he say he is a Democrat and why, if he can afford two fancy mailings so far, can’t he have a union bug on the lit pieces?  

Here are questions raised by Matt Stiles in The Houston Chronicle about claims made in a radio ad by Mr. Tahir about how long he has lived in Houston.

Listen to the radio ad on the Chron site. All Republican themes.

Are Democrats supposed to discount the mass appeals being made by Mr. Tahir and just assume he is okay because he’ll tell you in certain settings that he is a Democrat? 

Here is a final link to Matt Stiles with questions about other claims Mr. Tahir has made on the campaign trail.

I think some concerns are being raised about Mr. Tahir as we move towards Election Day.

Here is a link to Position Five Candidate Jolanda Jones. Ms. Jones may merit strong consideration.

October 25, 2007 Posted by | Houston, Houston Council Election '07, Politics | , , , | 13 Comments

No Union Bug, No Party ID—Why I Won’t Be Voting For Zaf Tahir For Houston City Council

I got a mailing the other day from At-Large position #5 Houston City Council Candidate Zaf Tahir.  So far, I’ve not focused on this race.

Based on the mailing, it wasn’t hard to decide I won’t be voting for Mr. Tahir.

First of all, no union bug on the mailing. 

The union bug is the small mark at the bottom of a political piece showing that what you have in your hands was printed at a union printer. Just about every Democrat will have a union bug. Most Republicans will not

There was also no party identification on the mailing. People have a right to know what party a political candidate represents. This is basic in our democracy. ( Please click here for my post on why Houston City Council races should be more aggressively partisan.) 

I then went to Mr. Tahir’s web site. He mentions crime and the tax burden as big issues.

I know they all mention crime. But what about the causes of crime? How about helping people? We have no income tax in Texas and yet we have a high tax burden? 

On the mailing in big letters it says Mr. Tahir is “A proven business leader for a smart Houston.”

Government is not a business and smart is not a moral value. Being “smart” does not tell me anything. Plenty of no-good politicans are “smart.”  

I could have simply trashed the flier when I did not see the union bug. People need some shorthand in a busy world. 

Many voters are simply left confused by people hiding their political identity while running for an office with silly six-year term-limits and a musical chair membership.        

October 20, 2007 Posted by | Houston, Houston Council Election '07, Politics | , , , | 7 Comments

I Met Houston Councilmember Melissa Noriega This Evening

I met Houston City Councilmember Melissa Noriega this evening. I attended a fundraiser for her downtown.

Ms. Noriega’s first became aware of me, as far as I know, when I endorsed the Green Party candidate on the my blog in her special election race earlier this year.

Blogger Greg Wythe suggested I call her and talk to her and maybe my view would change.

I called Ms. Noriega. We talked for about 25 minutes and had a great conversation. I then wrote a post saying  Ms. Noriega was a good person and I was still going to vote for the Green candidate. 

I voted for Ms. Noriega in the runoff election after she failed to secure a majority in the first round.

Ms. Noriega and I have exchanged a few e-mails since. A few days ago she e-mailed me about the event tonight.

I did not talk to Ms. Noriega very much this evening . We were sitting at a table, but every 30 seconds somebody came over to talk to her as she attempted to eat some appetizers on a styrofoam plate.

I did however talk to her parents for about half-an-hour. Both Ms. Noriega’s mom and dad were very smart and courteous.         

In my brief conversation with Ms. Noriega, I felt she had acquired these same virtues from her folks.

A test of leadership and maturity is to move past initial disagreements. Some of the best relationships I’ve had  have been with people I at first did not get along with.

Another test of leadership is to express an interest in understanding the motives and reasons behind someone who at first appears to be an opponent.

Ms. Noriega has shown these leadership qualities.      

Hopefully I will have a further chance to talk with Ms. Noriega.     

October 12, 2007 Posted by | Houston, Houston Council Election '07, Politics | , , | Leave a comment

Harris County Democratic Party Should Inject Greater Partisanship Into Houston City Council Races


I recently e-mailed Harris County, Texas Democratic Headquarters and asked if the Harris County Party endorses candidates for Houston City Council. (I said in my e-mail that I was a blogger and that I was going to write on this subject.)

Here is the reply I got from the helpful gentleman at headquarters—

The Harris County Democratic Party does not endorse in City Council Elections, HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg’s policy is  HCDP does not endorse in city council elections, unless and until there is a run-off and there is only one Democratic candidate in the runoff 

Okay—No reason to step into a fight between Democrats.

(A runoff is held if no candidate wins 50% of the vote in the General Election.)

I followed up by asking if the party sends a mailer out informing rank-and-file Democrats about who is a Democrat on General Election Day. 

Here was the reply— 

Unfortunately, we do not have the funds for such a mailer. On a couple of occasions where we have endorsed in the run-off, we have sent postcards to folks who voted in the first election and also in the last Democratic primary, where the Democratic candidates in the run-off have provided funds for such a mailing. 

I understand the party may not have the money this time around. Fine.

What I’d ask is for the Harris County Democratic Party to consider injecting a greater degree of partisanship into Houston City Council elections in the future and, also, to consider raising funds to promote Democratic Council candidates in 2009.

Houston Council elections may officially be non-partisan, but political parties can send any mailing they wish. Or run any radio ad they wish. Democrats are a majority in Houston and this majority should be worked on Election Day.

Partisan identification gives voters a shorthand on what to expect from candidates. Within that identification, candidates still have the ability to carve out specific profiles and stances on important issues that set them apart from a party-line.

The current so-called non-partisan system of voters selecting five at-large Council members and a district Councilperson with musical chairs six-year terms, works against the interests of democracy and against the interests of the majority party in Houston.

People should know who they are voting for. I’d be happy to donate myself for this purpose.

Let’s have no more Michael Berry-types filling at-large seats on Houston City Council.    

September 24, 2007 Posted by | Elections, Houston, Houston Council Election '07, Politics | 4 Comments

Is Political Representation A Two-Way Street? Does, For Example, Apathetic Houston Merit Municipal Representation?


This is part of an occasional Texas Liberal series called “Central Questions.”  

Is political representation a “two-way street?” Can a group of voters, or a group of citizens who do not vote, perform their civic duties so poorly that they no longer merit representation?

Here in Houston, for one example, our Mayor and City Council members are limited to three two-year terms. A condition of employment for these officials is acceptance of the fact that your employers, the citizens of Houston, do not trust you beyond a certain point.

Why would someone want that job?

Further, voter turnout in Houston for municipal elections is terrible. Runoffs for council seats have been know to attract between 5% and 10% of voters. Even on General Municipal Election Day, most citizens do not vote.

If people don’t care who represents them, why bother to run?

If the question seems abstract, and there’s nothing wrong with abstract, it might be said that by limiting Council terms and not voting, citizens do, in fact, cede municipal representation to large money donors and interest groups who, for whatever reasons, are involved in the process.

In this way, maybe the “abstract” question does lead to a solid, and distressing, answer.

Above is a “big picture” way to look at Houston.

September 21, 2007 Posted by | Best Posts July-Dec. 2007, Central Questions, Houston, Houston Council Election '07, Politics | 3 Comments

Low Pay For Houston City Workers Recalls Death Of Jerry Hines Jr.

City of Houston workers are some of the lowest paid big city municipal workers in Texas.

This information comes from a new Houston city employee effort to raise these poor salaries.

HOPE is an employee union affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and also with the Service Employees International Union.

HOPE has set the website Houston, We Have A Problem to draw attention to the situation.

HOPE points out that many city employees work in sewers and on dangerous roads. From the website—

A new study on city worker pay revealed that Houston‘s city workers make substantially less than their counterparts in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio and other large U.S. cities. The study, commissioned by the City of Houston and conducted by the Mercer consulting firm, found that Houston city workers make up to 21 percent less than the median of workers in these other cities. Many of the occupations in the survey are vital to the City’s quality of life and involved difficult, dirty work.

None of this is a surprise to people who recall the death of Houston city employee Jerry Hines Jr.


Mr. Hines died last January after being hit by a car as he was helping a motorist on an icy highway. According to media reports at the time, Mr. Hines was only making around $17,000 a year.

After the death of Mr. Hines, I e-mailed a letter to Houston Mayor Bill White and to Democratic members of Houston City Council asking why pay for a city employee was so low. The responses I got back either blew me off or defended the low pay earned by city employees.

The Mayor and Council Democrats must take action on this issue.

September 18, 2007 Posted by | Houston, Houston Council Election '07, Taxes---Yes! | 1 Comment

Houston Council Residency, Good Questions To Ask Council Candidates & Nice Picture Of Bangor, Maine


A minor flap is taking place in Houston over the residency of two candidates for our Houston City Council.

The issue involves candidates Zafar Tahir and Jack Christie and whether they actually live in Houston city limits. Mr. Christie has quit his race over these concerns.

Who are these people?

Nobody really knows.

With 15 council seats, six-year term limits and terrible voter turnout, the process is not serious. You can’t keep track of it all and the prevailing view of limited government on Council makes sure that little effort is made to address many of the larger problems we have in Houston.

I’ve always felt that any competent person could hold most elected offices. I’m pretty sure that if tomorrow your basic decent public-minded citizen was flown to, say, Bangor, Maine, and appointed to Bangor City Council, they would do a good job.

Within a few months they would be up to speed on the history and workings of Bangor. (The above picture is of Bangor. It looks like a nice place.)

In an effort to get to know these people, blogger Charles Kuffner interviews Houston Council candidates and makes the interviews available to anyone who is interested. I’m sure his questions are good.

What I’d like to learn about Houston City Council candidates is what type of crowd did they hang out with in high school? What books do they read? If any. Do they consider themselves more rigid or more flexible in their personal thought process? What is their overall political philosophy summed up in as few words as possible? Who did they support for President in 2004?

I’d like to have a sense of who the candidates are in a larger sense and how they would lead.

Specific issues can be a type of quicksand when you have many candidates and a term-limited musical chairs council. You’ll never get the full truth and by the time these people reach Council they can simply tell you that circumstances have changed.   

September 16, 2007 Posted by | Blogging, Houston, Houston Council Election '07, Politics | Leave a comment