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April 10th, 2017:

Interview with Pat Van Houte

Pat Van Houte

There’s a lot of interest in the May elections this year, driven in large part by a newfound level of engagement from progressives and other Trump opponents. Of the races in the Houston area, the most consequential is the Pasadena Mayoral election, where a group of candidates are vying to succeed term-limited Johnny Isbell. Pat Van Houte has served on Pasadena City Council since 2009, and has also served as a foil for Mayor Isbell, in particular on the controversial and now-illegal redistricting plan that Isbell pushed through in 2013. A former employee of the Texas Workforce Commission and Child Protective Services, Van Houte is a graduate of Michigan State University and has lived in Pasadena since 1980. Here’s what we talked about:

I have one more interview for this race in the works. Let me know what you think.

The first step is admitting you have a problem

Rewire points out an issue that should have been obvious.

Earlier this month, about 70 Texas businesses signed a letter condemning a discriminatory bill now circulating in the state legislature that would largely bar transgender people from using public restrooms or changing facilities that match their gender identity.

“We believe everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, and we are proud of our companies’ track records on creating diverse workforces and inclusive work environments,” reads the March 1 letter against SB 6, which passed the state senate on March 15 and is currently in the house. “We stand together to oppose legislation that would legalize discrimination against any group that would undermine our ability to ‘Keep Texas Open for Business.’”

Despite their public stance against this anti-trans legislation, however, representatives of some of these same companies—including Dow Chemical, Hewlett Packard, and United Continental—have given hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last two decades to the campaigns of the very lawmakers pushing the bill.

The political action committees of three law firms, one trade association, and eight other companies that signed the letter have given a total of nearly $185,000 to the campaigns of 15 of the 18 Republican state senators who sponsored SB 6. From 1998 through 2016, companies have filled the coffers of these conservative Republicans’ campaigns, helping to seat them at the legislature and make SB 6 possible.

Meanwhile, PACs of six of those companies and an additional law firm that opposes SB 6 combined to donate over $50,000 since 2006 to the recurring campaigns of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, one of SB 6’s biggest proponents. Some also gave large donations to the state Republican Party and to outside political groups that funneled money into Texas politics, aiding the bill’s sponsors.

[…]

Rewire reached out to 12 companies and the SMART union to ask if they were aware that their donations had helped elect SB 6 sponsors and if their donation policies would change in light of the bill. An American Airlines spokesperson affirmed the company’s dedication to equal rights for its LGBTQ customers and employees, but said it doesn’t comment on specific contributions made by its PAC.

A Dow spokesperson wrote that the company “seeks to work with political leaders at all levels” to aid its competitiveness, and it welcomes “open and respectful dialogue and exchange of views” with politicians it doesn’t agree with to “achieve meaningful results.”

The Texas Association of Business, the main business trade association in the state that represents companies and many local chambers of commerce, did say that SB 6 will affect future donation decisions. Communications Director Robert Wood wrote in an email to Rewire that while these decisions by the PAC’s board are never based on one piece of legislation, “SB 6 will be factored into future endorsements and contributions.” Without giving specifics, Wood said, “Unsolicited, many of our members have shared they will have to make tough business decisions if SB 6 passes.” Earlier, he wrote, “If companies leave the state entirely or focus on making future choices elsewhere, [these] are tough decisions many companies are facing.”

Honestly, I’m a little surprised this article hadn’t been written before, since it’s about as standard an issue in any legislative controversy as there is. It should be noted that the amounts in question are actually pretty small, especially given that Rewire totaled everything up going back to 1998, which will cover the entire political career of just about everyone listed. Jane Nelson and Dan Patrick are over $50K, Craig Estes over $20K, and most of the rest are under $10K. Which may sound like a lot, but 1) this is for multiple cycles for most of them, and 2) these people tend to have campaign treasuries in excess of $1 million. It’s a small part of their resources, and these companies are far from the biggest donors.

All that said, there’s a big principle involved. Most companies would surely have echoed Dow’s rationale if they had commented, and there is something to that. The point I’ve been making all along is that there are plenty of politicians out there who will be at least cordial to them while not acting against their interests on a big issue like this. I’ve criticized the TAB many times for continuing to support legislators who have regularly opposed them on matters like immigration, so kudos to them for recognizing the need to do something different. It’s a simple enough thing to do. I’d suggest that if you work for one of the companies mentioned, you might consider raising the matter to your management. Companies don’t like it when their own employees point out when they violate their stated beliefs and values. There’s more than one way to work within the system to bring about change.

A happy ending

This was a long time coming.

When I first reported on this family a year ago, the boys – who had behavioral issues and delays likely stemming from abuse, neglect and being shuttled through foster placements – had just been removed from the loving women they called Mama and Mommy, and the stable home where they tended gardens filled with chickens, vegetables and butterflies.

Angela Sugarek and Carol Jeffery, Houston public school educators whose home was regarded as exemplary, had been deemed uncooperative by the Wharton Child Protective Services office after they repeatedly reported concerns, including suspected abuse by a teen half-sibling elsewhere in foster care whom the boys were required to visit.

The women fought in court to get the boys back. Seven weeks later, they did – but it was only supposed to be temporary. CPS continued to block adoption efforts and to shop around the boys and their sibling as a package deal. The mothers say that after my columns began running, CPS staffers who once praised their care began to nitpick and demean, at one point initiating an investigation about a pedicure one boy received on medical advice, and another time terminating their right to medical consent.

Then, suddenly, everything changed. Just as mysteriously as CPS staff had opposed the adoption by Sugarek and Jeffery, they consented to it. Maybe they realized the battle was futile.

“We weren’t going to stop fighting,” Jeffery said.

In this business, we live for happy endings. But like everything else in this saga, it didn’t come easy.

See here, here, and here for the background, and be sure to read the whole thing. I don’t have anything to add to what Lisa Falkenberg says. There are lots of problems with CPS, many of which we can blame on the Legislator and our Governor, and others that CPS itself is responsible for. This story was an example of the latter. It’s great that it all worked out in the end, but it shouldn’t have taken this long and it shouldn’t have been this hard or this frustrating.