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Texas Progressive Alliance Names Joel Burns As 2010 Person Of The Year

Each year the Texas Progressive Alliance names a Texan of the Year. The TPA is a confederation of the best political bloggers in Texas. I’m glad to report that the blog you’re reading is a TPA member blog. Below is the press release for our 2010 Texan of the Year. Fort Worth City Councilmember Joel Burns is this year’s winner. Mr. Burns made a speech at a council session in 2010 where he addressed being bullied as a teen because he is gay. I’m glad we have selected Mr. Burns. I believe that the rights of all people are connected, and that rights for gay folks are an important civil rights question. I do, however, wish that GLBT political groups across the country would make greater outreach to other groups in our society that are also fighting for social justice. I am concerned  that GLBT political orginizations do not always see economic justice as an issue that merits attention. I wonder sometimes if many quite vocal Republicans would stop condemning gay folks to eternal hell, if some number of gays would not then bolt the Democratic Party so they could get lower taxes. I hope that humanity shown by Mr. Burns in his brave remarks will remind all freedom loving Americans that when justice is denied for one, it is denied for all.

Included in the release below is the full list of nominees. Congratulations to Mr. Burns and to all who work to make Texas and our nation a more just place. Progress is always possible.

The Texas Progressive Alliance (has) named Fort Worth city councilman Joel Burns as its 2010 Texan of the Year.

Burns, who represents Fort Worth’s District 9, received international attention and acclaim in October of this year after delivering a speech at a Forth Worth city council meeting concerning suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered youth as part of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better”campaign.In his speech, Burns spoke eloquently and emotionally about his own experiences as a teen facing bullying in Crowley because of his sexual orientation. Burns’ speech, which became an internet sensation, resulted in interviews on CNN, NPR’s All Things Considered, an in-studio interview with the Today Show’s Matt Lauer, and an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

“Joel Burns’ speech did more to raise awareness of the difficulties LGBT youth in Texas face on a daily basis perhaps more than anything else this year,” said Vince Leibowitz, Chair of the Texas Progressive Alliance. “His courageous action in delivering this speech was worthy of recognition, and progressives everywhere should salute him,” Leibowitz continued.

TPA Vice Chair Charles Kuffner of Houston echoed these sentiments. “As progressives, we stand for equality for all people. It is rare that public officials have the courage to do what Joel Burns did,” he noted.

Burns, the first openly gay municipal elected official in Tarrant County, was first elected in 2007.

Burns joins past TPA Texans of the year including Houston Mayor Annise Parker (2009); the Harris County Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign (2008); the House Democratic Leadership Team of State Rep. Jim Dunnam, State Rep. Garnet Coleman, and State Rep. Pete Gallego (2007); and Carolyn Boyle and Texas Parent PAC (2006).

In addition to giving Burns its top honors, the Alliance also named Dr. Al Armendariz, Administrator for Region 6 of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Texas DREAMers as Honorable Mentions.

Armendariz was recognized for cracking down on polluters in Texas in spite of immense political pressure from state leaders and corporations. Armendariz issued the first Emergency Imminent and Substantial Endangerment Order against a natural gas operator in Parker County which caused high levels of methane in private water wells.

The Texas DREAMers — students and activists involved in supporting the DREAM Act through peaceful protest and other means — were recognized for their work in Texas which has included everything from organizing phone banks to call and persuade U.S. Senators, to staging sit-ins and demonstrations at the offices of U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. The group has even staged hunger strikes in support of its efforts.

The Texas Progressive Alliance is a coalition of more than 50 of Texas’ most prominent netroots activists, blogs, and bloggers united to help further the progressive movement in Texas. Founded in 2006, the TPA is the largest state-based coalition of netroots activists in the United States and was instrumental in bringing Netroots Nation to Texas in 2008.

Additional nominees for our annual award included Ana Yañez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and Texans Together/Houston Votes.

In a difficult year for Texas progressives, these individuals and organizations stood out for standing up to the onslaught of extreme conservatism the state of Texas and the nation weathered. They will no doubt continue to be under fire for expressing their views and championing their causes in the year ahead, and the TPA both salutes and stands with them.

January 2, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Brief Exchange With Harris County Judge Ed Emmett On Issues Of Election Integrity—Leo Vasquez Is Abusing His Office

Here is a posting offered up by Harris County, Texas Judge Executive Ed Emmett on his campaign related Facebook page yesterday evening—

“Early voting starts in just 9 weeks. Bev Kaufman, our County Clerk, and her staff are doing a great job responding to the disaster of losing our voting machines in a fire. Too bad some folks are trying to play politics with the situation.” (I added the link for this blog post.)

Here is the reply I posted to this comment on the same Facebook page——

“Judge Emmett–As you know, Republican Party officials in Harris County have not merited the trust of wide segments of the population when it comes to elections being conducted in a fully fair manner. You could offer some leadership within your own party as so-called Tea Party groups financed by billionaires seek to suppress minority turnout. It is in this climate that the voting machine issue has become an additional and connected source of concern. You are on record as saying partisan leadership of the registration process is not the best way to go. Your previous views are of greater value than what you have said this evening on Facebook. Thank you.” (Again, link added for this post.)


(Above is link to a Houston Chronicle article written by Judge Emmett about the idea of non-partisan leadership of county voter registration efforts that I included in my reply to the Judge,. )

Here is what Judge Emmett said in response as posted on my personal Facebook page.

“Actually, Neil, last night’s post was in error. Early voting really starts in 7 weeks and election day is in 9 weeks. I encourage everyone on all sides to not play politics with the voting machine disaster. Hopefully, that is consistent with my earlier comments.”

For what it may or may not be worth, Judge Emmett’s first post was deleted on Facebook and replaced with the following status update—

“Election day is 9 weeks from today. early voting begins in just 7 weeks. Lot’s to do between now and then.”

I may be struck by lightning for this, but I really don’t mind Judge Emmett despite the fact he is a Republican.  I think he gets that a huge diverse county like Harris County can’t be run as some Tea Party- no government- white people’s republic.  I wonder sometimes if he exerts a moderating force on a county Republican Party that might otherwise be even worse than it is already.


The thing is, I simply don’t trust Republicans in Harris County, or anyplace else, to do the right thing.

I especially don’t trust Republicans to count the votes fairly as they see—sooner or later—Harris County and all of Texas slipping away as election results finally start to mirror the demographic realities of our region and of our state.

I’m an ideologically motivated partisan. But you can bet that if I was in charge of voter registration in Harris County, I would work hard to make sure that all people could vote regardless of what party they supported.

If Judge Emmett can show leadership in the weeks ahead to help make sure that all eligible voters in Harris County are able to take part in early voting ,and are able to vote on Election Day, then he will merit the thanks of the people of our county.

It is not just about the voting machines. It is about Leo Vasquez working in tandem with a partisan Tea Party group. While I trust Houston Votes, they are not the point. Mr. Vasquez is abusing his office.

Election results that nobody trusts will prove poisonous to democracy. If nobody believes that our representatives are fairly elected, our democracy will not be able to go forward. There must be some bottom line of legitimacy.

Judge Emmett’s Democratic opponent in 2010 is former Houston City Councilmember Gordon Quan.

(Below–Judge Emmett taking oath of office in 2008.)

September 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

No Tea At Tea Party Event—TPA Round-Up

Above you see a picture of the offerings at the King Street Patriots Tea Party press conference that I attended two day ago.

There were cookies and water. But no tea.

I wish there had been a Long Island Iced Tea.

I did have a cookie.

I attended this press conference to learn about Tea Party and Republican efforts to suppress the vote in Harris County in order to help far-right wing candidates.

At the moment, these folks are harassing the Houston Votes registration drive in the county. On Election Day and for early voting, they intend to send out poll watchers to quite possible intimidate poor voters and minority voters.

We must support Houston Votes as we support freedom and the American Way.

Also, please note below the weekly round-up of the Texas Progressive Alliance. The TPA is a confederation of the best political bloggers in Texas.

Liberal political activists work hard to include all people in our democracy. What a contrast from the Tea Party gospel of exclusion.

The round-up—

This past week Off the Kuff did three interviews with State House candidates — Joe MontemayorRick Molina, and Silvia Mintz.

Bay Area Houston wonders why the Texas Federation of Pecker Heads have have endorsed Rick Perry.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme calls out all Republicans clamoring for ‘small government’. Why do Republicans want more tainted food and another BP disaster? Continue reading

August 29, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Leo Vasquez Teams Up With Same Racists Who Defeated Him In Primary To Help Deny Hispanics And The Poor The Right To Vote In Harris County

Outgoing Harris County Republican Tax Assessor Collector Leo Vasquez is harassing the Houston Votes voter registration drive. Mr. Vasquez is responsible for voter registration in Harris County.

Houston Votes is seeking to register thousands of new voters in Harris County for the 2010 election. The goal is to encourage voting by the poor, by Hispanics, and by the young in Harris County.

This is work that should have been done years ago by the Harris County Democratic Party and by elected Democrats in safe low turnout districts.

Here is the Houston Votes web home. Please visit Houston Votes and see the good work they are accomplishing.

Mr. Vasquez says that possibly one-third of the approximately 25,000 applications turned in by Houston Votes so far are for various reasons not valid.

That’s what he says. Though it is entirely possible Mr. Vasquez could be making stuff up to keep voters he feels will be Democrats off the voter rolls.

If mistakes were made, then disallow the voter applications. Just be sure they are disallowed for valid reasons and not for political reasons.

Here is how the Houston Chronicle reported Mr. Vasquez’s attack on Houston Votes and on the concept of full representation for all—

“Though Vasquez announced his briefing as a news conference, the event was packed with members of True the Vote, an initiative of local tea party activists aimed at combating voter fraud. Members punctuated Vasquez’s prepared remarks with bursts of applause.”

Mr. Vasquez lost the Republican primary earlier this year. After the election, many observers felt that a big reason Mr. Vasquez lost was because Harris County Republicans would not vote for a Hispanic.

At the time, Mr. Vasquez himself seemed to think that one of the reasons he lost was because he was Hispanic.

Now Mr. Vasquez teams up with the same racist folks that helped put him out of office to make it more difficult for Hispanics to vote in Harris County.

Has Mr. Vasquez any self-respect? Is he so desperate to be seen as tough on Hispanics that he will consort with the extreme so-called Tea Party? Does Mr. Vasquez need to hold another political office someday that badly?

I’ve met the Houston Votes people and they are not fraudsters. They are folks, mostly Democrats, who really want to include more people in the political process.

Registering disenfranchised constituencies with a collection of volunteers and temporary workers is by definition going to be an imperfect process.

It is turned into something more sinister only when a lame duck, desperate-for-approval politician teams up with racist groups to subvert our political process by making sure that many of our fellow Americans will not be able to vote.

All this would be disgusting anywhere in America. That it is happening in racially and ethnically diverse Harris County  makes it even more appalling.

My friend Perry at the great Houston political blog Brains & Eggs has written on this issue. Leading local blogger John Coby at Bay Area Houston has also offered his views.

August 26, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blogger Pesters Judge

Here is your blogger last night at the kick off of Houston Votes.

Houston Votes is going to register 100,000 people in Harris County in 2010.

My hands are outstretched  as I am pleading with 312th Family District Court Judge Robert Hinojosa to buy me a beer.

“C’mon Judge. Buy me a beer. You don’t like me or something?”

Judge Hinojosa is saying–“If my bailiff were here now, I’d have you detained.”

Looking on is Texas Railroad Commission Democratic nominee Jeff Weems.

Mr. Weems is saying about me—“Can you believe this guy? What a jerk.”

Behind us with the nervous look is top Houston political blogger Stace Medellin.

Later in the evening Mr. Medellin explained to the Judge and to Mr. Weems that not all bloggers are this obnoxious.

Here is the web home for Judge Hinojosa’s reelection campaign.

A Vietnam veteran with extensive legal experience, Judge Hinojosa merits return to the Harris County bench.

Here is the web home for Mr. Weems.

Mr. Weems is easily the most knowledgeable and able candidate for Railroad Commissioner in 2010.

Here Mr. Medellin’s blog Dos Centavos.

You should read Dos Centavos each day.

This picture was taken by Houston blogger David Jennings of Big Jolly Politics.

Mr. Jennings is a Republican. He and I spoke for a few minutes last night. I’d like to tell you that Mr. Jennings went on an angry rant about the United Nations and called for Texas to leave the union.

However, regretfully, Mr. Jennings was kind and was, even if mistaken in my view, well-reasoned in his viewpoints.

All people of all viewpoints were welcome at the Vote Houston Kick Off and are welcome to join Vote Houston.

August 6, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Houston Votes Looks To Register 100,000 Harris County Voters—This Is A Worthy Effort

A non-partisan group called Houston Votes is registering people to vote in Houston and Harris County, Texas. Houston Votes recently held a lunch for local bloggers to explain the project. I attended this lunch.

Houston Votes is a project of Texans Together.

In addition to voter registration, Texans Together is working on cleaning the San Jacinto River and on an effort to improve the lives of people living in lower-income apartment housing in the Houston area.

I like what Texans Together is working to accomplish.

Though as Texans Together gets into voter registration, I wish the major funding sources for this group were more transparent on the web page. I don’t see them listed at all.  We do not live in trusting times and if you say your efforts are non-partisan, you’re going to have to back that assertion up with proof.

Looking at the list of board members of Texans Together, I see a number of people who seem to have ties to the Democratic Party, but none who appear to have Republican ties.

If I were a Republican, I would have a hard time with the non-partisan claim.

The long-term purposes of Texans Together would be served by some conservative presence on the board. There is nothing contradictory — in theory at least because I know the political right at the moment is on a tangent — with much of what this group is doing and conservative ideals. If it is to be a non-partisan outfit, then becoming identified with one side of the political aisle or the other will be a hard identification to shake.

I believe in democracy and I believe that all people should vote in all elections. As I wrote here three years ago, I’ve failed to vote once in my life. I did not vote on a single-issue ballot on a hospital bond issue in Hamilton County, Ohio 20 years ago.  This omission forever ruins an otherwise perfect voting record.

My belief in democracy and in voting comes from varying sources. I’m optimistic that democracy and voting can make life better. I feel that people should do their civic duty. I have a streak of nihilism that says if people do want to vote against their interests at times, as they often do, so be it.

At the blogger lunch, Houston Votes had a hand-out suggesting that there are 742,000 eligible unregistered adults in Harris County.  The Houston Votes Goal is to register 100,000 of these people before the October 4 registration deadline. All of the Houston Votes material distributed at the lunch can be found at the Houston political blog Big Jolly Politics.

The focus of the registration drive is low-income minority persons and young people. These are the people Houston Votes has identified as the least likely to be registered in Harris County.

These are also people who may well , taken as a whole, vote for Democrats. It is impossible to know what an individual will do in any given circumstance. But it does seem likely that many of the folks Houston Votes registers will vote Democratic.

If the point is to register those who have not been part of the process and the reality is that many of these people might prove to be Democrats–Then those are the facts.

Yet areas of low turnout in historically Republican areas of the county could have been identified by Houston Votes and these areas could also have been at least some focus of the drive. There are no doubt a number of people in likely Republican areas of Harris County who are eligible to vote but are not registered. Such an effort would lend greater weight to the non-partisan claim. Though in saying this, I do feel Houston Votes believes they are non-partisan and I am convinced they are not asking people in advance how they would vote.

What Houston Votes is doing is excellent. Political parties often have little interest in expanding the pool of registered voters. The Democratic Party uses minority voters and urban voters in every election and often offers little in return. Houston Mayor Annise Parker, a Democrat and someone supported by many progressives, seems to have nothing to say about barbarically high levels of poverty in Houston or about immigration.  Ms. Parker seems content to win in low-turnout elections where she’ll count on Republicans for her success as much as she’ll look to fellow Democrats in our city.

If Democrats really made an effort to register poor people, they would have to do better in serving the interests of poor people. The same goes for the unwillingness of Democrats to really go after increased Hispanic turnout in Harris County.

Republican office holders will also neglect their own people. This something the Tea Party folks will see soon enough from whoever they are able to get elected this November. This is assuming they don’t all go completely crazy by November.

Houston Votes is helping more people take part in the political process. The gap between who lives in Harris County and who votes is a wide canyon. I support this registration effort and would be happy to use this blog to promote future Houston Votes and Texans Together initiatives.

(In addition to Mr. Jennings from Big Jolly Politics, other bloggers at the lunch were Charles Kuffner at Off the Kuff, Martha Griffin at Musings, Stace Medellin at DosCentavos, Perry Dorrell at Brains and Eggs and David Ortez at David Ortez.)

The last day to register to vote in Harris County and in Texas is October 4.  Please be certain to register and to vote.

August 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment