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August 19th, 2013:

Interview with CM Andrew Burks

CM Andrew Burks

CM Andrew Burks

There are so far three races in which an incumbent Council member faces at least one credible opponent. The first is in At Large #2, where CM Andrew Burks is in his first term. As you know, CM Burks has a fascinating story. He had run for office – mostly but not exclusively Houston City Council – multiple times, enough that it’s hard to keep count of how often. He made it to a couple of runoffs, most recently in 2009 against then-incumbent Sue Lovell, but never won a race. Until 2011, of course, when he bested former State Rep. Kristi Thibaut in a runoff, having survived a field of nine candidates to get there. CM Burks is a native Houstonian, an Air Force veteran, and small business owner. Here’s our conversation:

Andrew Burks interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

John Hagee drops opposition to San Antonio equality ordinance



Television evangelist and pastor John Hagee on Sunday told congregants — and a national and international audience watching live — that he no longer opposes a proposed ordinance that seeks to protect the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in San Antonio.

He read a statement during his Cornerstone Church’s two morning worship services Sunday, reflecting confidence in the latest version of the ordinance, which is expected to go before the City Council on Sept. 5. And he claimed credit for a key wording change that ended his opposition to the measure.

At issue was a clause that would have allowed the council to consider whether candidates for city boards and commissions had discriminated against gay and transgender people in “word or deed” — which opponents saw as an invitation to consider their socially conservative views on homosexuality.

The proposal’s author, Councilman Diego Bernal, removed that language July 25.

“All of the previous language that infringed upon the freedom of speech, the freedom of exercise of religion and the ability for people of faith to serve on City Council has been expunged,” Hagee told the Cornerstone audience, prompting a standing ovation at the first Sunday service.


Hagee said he got the city attorney and Bernal to agree to the revisions in writing when they met Tuesday.

Though Bernal said he had made the revisions almost two weeks before that meeting, he said Sunday that the agreement and meeting with Hagee underscored the benefits of respectful dialogue.

“I was happy to share the changes with the pastor and his son,” Bernal said Sunday, referring to Mathew Hagee, the executive pastor at Cornerstone, who was also present.

“The ability to speak face to face about what the ordinance does and doesn’t do has proven to me time and time again to be the most effective method,” Bernal said.

Hagee said he had denounced the earlier draft through his church’s email network “weeks ago” and sent a letter to the council and mayor asking to discuss it. He spoke against it from the pulpit Aug. 4 and again on the nationally syndicated Glenn Beck talk show Aug. 5.

Hagee said he changed course the next day, after meeting with Bernal and reviewing the changes with his attorney and the Justice Foundation, a conservative legal defense firm.

Let me check…yep, the Earth is still spinning on its axis. Fire and brimstone are not coming down from the skies, rivers and seas are not boiling, and reports of dogs and cats living together should be considered premature and unconfirmed at this time. I haven’t followed this closely enough to know why that particular language was a hangup for Hagee, but just the idea that a guy like that wouldn’t flat out oppose a pro-equality ordinance on principle strikes me as a big deal.

Of course, plenty of Hagee’s brethren in equality opposition remain opposed to this ordinance, so at least some things never change. As it turns out, another opponent is SA Council Member Elise Chan, in an ugly and spectacular fashion.

Chan describes LGBTQ people as “disgusting,” saying they shouldn’t be allowed to adopt and that homosexuality is “against nature.” Former Chan staffer James Stevens surreptitiously recorded Chan’s comments on his iPhone during a May meeting on the proposed ordinance. Stevens provided the recording to San Antonio Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff, who published a damning article today.

At one point in the recording, amid a tittering exchange about pansexual people, Chan interjects her opinion on the nature of homosexuality.

“You know, to be quite honest, I know this is not politically correct,” she said. “I never bought in that you are born, that you are born gay. I can’t imagine it.”

As the talk shifted back to pansexual people, whose sexual orientations encompass all gender identities, Chan asks, “How can that be?”

“I will say, ‘Strip down! What equipment do you have?’” she continued. “I’m telling you. Crazy. We’re getting to crazy realm.”

Stevens agrees that it’s “politically incorrect in some circles” to claim that people choose to be gay. “The newspaper will get to you,” he warned.

Chan was evidently aware that her homophobic remarks could get her in trouble politically, and vowed to keep them under wraps in public.

Clearly, the better strategy would have been to not be a despicable bigot, but perhaps that’s too complicate for some people. When John Hagee is a model of tolerance, you know things have gone a bit sideways. Concerned Citizens has more.

Meet the new Crime Lab boss

He sounds impressive.

The fuzzy process of shifting the city of Houston’s crime lab from the Houston Police Department to an independent board got a little clearer Wednesday with the hiring of a president and CEO for the new operation.

The appointed board of the city’s year-old forensic science corporation selected Dr. Daniel Garner after a six-month search. Garner, whose hiring was announced at a press conference Wednesday, is coming off a U.S. Department of Justice effort to improve global forensics that took him to labs in 30 countries on five continents. He formerly was president of Cellmark Diagnostics Inc. and managed the forensics lab for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

“Dr. Garner is assessing what our needs are. There are areas in the lab that are centers of excellence. There are other areas in forensics that need some work, frankly,” said Scott Hochberg, who chairs the city forensics board. “We need to identify those and appropriate the budget to those. We’re looking forward to moving forward with creating the best municipal crime lab and regional crime lab in the country.”

Next, Hochberg said, Garner will hire three supporting managers and the board will continue figuring out how legally to make the transition from the police department.

See here and here for some background. The Houston Forensic Science Local Government Corporation has been moving in a positive direction since its creation, and this looks like another good step. I’m eager to see how they ultimately operate. In the meantime, we got a little bit more information about the long-discussed but so far not proposed possibility of the city and the county joining forces:

[Mayor Annise] Parker has said the city lab must make more progress before merger talks, and has said the county lab is not sufficiently independent of the Harris County Commissioners Court or the District Attorney’s Office.

Commissioners Court members have said they set the institute’s budget, but that it answers to its accrediting agencies, not the court. The sooner the city expresses an interest in joining, county officials have said, the better; the county is designing its new forensics tower.

“We’re in very fruitful discussions with Harris County about a joint (inmate) processing center; we are working closely on everything from Buffalo Bayou to building new libraries,” Parker said Wednesday. “I don’t think this will be any different. When we determine it makes financial and logistical sense to work together, we will do that, but I can’t give you a timeline.”

Well, at least they’re talking. Relations between the city and the county have never been better, so if this is going to happen, sometime soon would be nice.

Election page updates

If you take a look at my 2013 Election page, you will see that I have added information about HISD and HCC races. I don’t have information about all candidates, mostly because I don’t think I’ve heard of everyone yet, and because I’m certain that some of the fields are not settled yet. The rumor mill is saying that long-term scandal-plagued HISD Trustee Lawrence Marshall is not running for re-election, but as yet there has been no announcement to that effect, so take it with an appropriate level of skepticism. I am aware of at least one well-known candidate that is preparing to jump into that race, but again as yet no public announcement has been made. The filing deadline is one week from today, so we’ll know for sure who’s in and who’s not at that time. In the meantime, if I’ve missed anyone, or if I’ve missed someone’s webpage, please let me know.

Please note again with endorsements that I only include information that comes from the source. Press releases from the endorsing organization, webpage or Facebook links from the endorsing organization, ideally listing all of their endorsed candidates, are the sort of thing I’m looking for to include it on that page. I will not link to a release or post from the candidate. If you aware of an announcement or link from an endorsing organization that I have not included, please send it to me, but please do not forward an email from a candidate touting an endorsement they have received.

Some organizations have made endorsements but have not sent out press releases on them yet. I’ve had communication with three such groups so far, and am expecting something from them in the next couple of weeks. Patience, please.

HCC finance reports for July are finally available on their website, but only for incumbent Trustees. Finance reports for non-incumbent candidates, in both HCC and HISD, are not readily available to me. As you know, this is something I believe they need to fix.

Finally, as you can see, interviews are proceeding along. I’ll be skipping most unopposed incumbents this time around due to constraints on my time, but should be able to get everything else in by around the start of early voting.