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October 10th, 2012:

Interview with Richard Schechter

Richard Schechter

The last bond referendum I’ll be discussing is the one that’s received the least attention so far, and that’s the HCC bond referendum. This isn’t terribly surprising, since HCC Trustee elections tend to be low-profile as well, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Indeed, given how much the HCC system has grown in recent years, this issue deserves a lot more attention than it’s been getting. You can find all of HCC’s information on the bonds and the plan for them here, and you can listen to my interview with HCC Trustee and past Board Chair Richard Schechter about the referendum:

Richard Schechter MP3

You can still find a list of all interviews I did for this primary cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page and my 2012 Texas Primary Elections page, which I now need to update to include fall candidate information. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

District E overview

Here’s the Chron overview of the special election in City Council District E to replace CM Mike Sullivan.

David Martin

The establishment guy is David Martin, a member of the Humble Independent School District board. Until he resigned in August, he was one of Mayor Annise Parker’s appointees to the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority. He has the endorsement of incumbent Mike Sullivan, who is resigning the seat to run for county tax assessor-collector with a year left in his council term. Martin is the only candidate who has organizational endorsements, including those of the Houston Police Officers’ Union and the Houston Apartment Association, as well as from former District E Councilman Rob Todd and state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble. He is a managing director at Marsh & McLennan Companies.

Elizabeth Perex

He is cut from the same cloth as Sullivan, who is among the chief critics of the mayor and representative of the district where Parker fared poorly in her re-election last year. Martin describes himself as “a Republican, fiscal conservative, a Christian. I believe in good schools, I’m pro-business.”

Lonnie Allsbrooks

Yet, unlike his opponents, he is not throwing rocks at City Hall.

“I want to work with the mayor to get things done for District E,” Martin says. “I think she respects me and I respect her.”

The upstarts: Lonnie Allsbrooks and Elizabeth Perez.

Here are the candidates’ websites: Martin, Perez, Allsbrooks. As of this morning, Perez and Martin had 30-day campaign finance reports filed; she showed a paltry $375 raised and $1500 spent, with a $4500 outstanding loan to herself, while he raised $15,150, spent $3,742, and had $11,407 on hand. Martin is a first time candidate for Council, Perez finished third in the open At Large #2 race in 2011, Allsbrooks finished last among eight candidates for At Large #1 in 2009. Martin is also the lone Kingwood candidate, and the last two Council members from District E have been from Kingwood. I did not have the bandwidth to try to schedule interviews with these candidates, so I can’t give you an impression of them beyond that. (I did interview Allsbrooks in 2009.) If you live in District E, what is your impression of these candidates?

More back and forth on the Metro referendum

Metro Board Chair Gilbert Garcia explains the referendum for those who say they don’t understand it.

The referendum is as easy as 1-2-3. If approved, it will:

1. Continue the road-building program.

2. Expand Metro’s bus system.

3. Pay down Metro’s short-term debt.

Sure, the mathematics of how the money flows to accomplish these items takes work, but building more roads, improving our bus system and paying down debt are the results of a “FOR” vote. And with no increase in your taxes.

The actual ballot language is pretty simple. Voters will be asked to vote FOR or AGAINST: “The continued dedication of up to 25 percent of METRO’s sales and use tax revenues for street improvements and related projects for the period October 1, 2014, through December 31, 2025, as authorized by law and with no increase in the current rate of METRO’s sales and use tax.”

The question we are being asked is indeed pretty simple. What happens after that question gets answered is where it gets complicated. Former Metro VP for Communications George Smalley makes the case for that answer to be No.

Three of the five new rail lines are about half finished; that’s the good news. But the most important was to be the major east-west trunk line known as University. The University Line, you may recall, became snarled in controversy over whether part of it should run on Richmond Avenue. If voters approve the referendum, the University Line will be shelved for at least 10 years and probably longer.

The loss of this key infrastructure of an inside-the-loop collector-distributor light rail system – and its adjacent spur, the Uptown Line on Post Oak Boulevard – would doom effective mass transit anytime soon. The University and Uptown Lines would connect two major employment centers – Greenway Plaza and the Galleria – with downtown, the Texas Medical Center and multiple universities and neighborhoods. This light rail system is what would enable commuters in Missouri City, for example, to ride a future commuter rail line to the Medical Center and then transfer to light rail to reach their jobs in the Galleria.

What’s more, significant amounts of time and treasure have been spent on preliminary engineering, environmental studies and real estate evaluations for the University Line. It is highly unlikely that any meaningful portion of this work could be salvaged if and when the University Line is resuscitated.

So the harsh reality is that the majority who voted in favor of this light rail system in 2003 may not see it.

I’ve said what I had to say last week. If you forced me to make a guess today, I’d feel pretty confident about the bond issues passing, but I don’t have a good feel for this referendum. The politics of it are totally upside down, and despite Chairman Garcia’s explanation, I am confident that some people will vote against the referendum because they think it will deprive Metro of money, and some people will vote for it because they think it will provide more money for light rail. How big these blocs of misinformed voters are, I have no idea. What do you think?

Endorsement watch: Another critic on board

State Sen. Mario Gallegos sent out the following email on Monday:

Sen. Mario Gallegos

“The 2012 Bond Referendum will modernize outdated high school buildings and build new schools to meet students’ needs across the city. This proposal is a good investment that will create much needed new classrooms and improve safety and technology at campuses city-wide. Houston cannot expect to attract the best teachers or graduate top-notch, college-bound students if it has crumbling infrastructure in need of some major work–some of the schools are at least 40 years old. Therefore, I urge all voters to support this bond election,” said Senator Mario Gallegos.

Parents want the best for their children, and this bond plan is a step in the right direction. Senator Gallegos supports this investment in our children and our future in order to meet the growing demand for a skilled workforce. “Putting money into public education and our schools is never a wrong choice, and I look forward to seeing these improvements in Senate District 6,” said Senator Gallegos.

The plan replaces 20 high school buildings, partially replaces four and renovates four others. In addition, five elementary schools would be replaced with K-8 schools, three new elementary schools would be built and two middle schools would be rebuilt. Also, the proposed measure would include funds that would improve conditions for students in all HISD schools. Those proposals include: district-wide technology improvements, replacement of regional field houses and improvement of athletic facilities, and renovation of middle school restrooms.

(Details are available on the HISD bond website at http://blogs.houstonisd.org/2012bond.)

Sen. Gallegos has been one of the biggest critics of HISD Superintendent Terry Grier, going all the way back to Grier’s hiring. I figured that once State Rep. Sylvester Turner, the biggest critic of the 2007 referendum, endorsed this referendum, if anyone on the Democratic side was going to come out against it, it would have been Sen. Gallegos. Having him on board means that the bond advocates have as united a front as they could reasonably want. It’s good to see.