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November 6th, 2017:

Late money in the HISD races

Here it comes.

A political action committee mostly funded by the nation’s largest teachers’ union has received $225,000 to spend on supporting four candidates for the Houston ISD school board election and a city ballot measure, campaign finance reports show.

Houston United for Strong Public Schools plans to spend in support of three incumbent candidates — Wanda Adams, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca and Anne Sung — and newcomer Elizabeth Santos ahead of Tuesday’s election, records show. The PAC doesn’t plan to spend on candidates in two other Houston ISD board races.

Political action committees operate independently of individual candidates’ campaigns. Houston United for Strong Public Schools has received the most donations to date among PACs supporting local school board candidates.

Records show Houston United for Strong Public Schools took in $150,000 from the political arm of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents about 1.7 million public employees, most of them working in schools.

The PAC also received $75,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union representing about 1.6 million public service employees. In addition to supporting the four board candidates, the PAC plans to spend in favor of a Houston city ballot measure to authorize the sale of $1 billion in bonds under a pension reform plan.

That’s a lot of money, but at least from my perspective in District I, it hasn’t been particularly visible to me. I’ve received mail from the Santos campaign, but no more than what I’ve received from the Himsl and Richart campaigns. I haven’t received any robocalls or been visited by any canvassers – for whatever the reason, it’s extremely rare for someone to knock on my door on behalf of a campaign – and if there are ads running on TV or the radio, I’ve not seen them. I don’t think I’ve seen any Facebook ads or ads in my Gmail, either. Maybe the bulk of this money is being earmarked for a runoff, I don’t know. Risky strategy if that’s the case.

The eight day finance reports are now available, but you won’t see any activity related to HUSPS in there. For example, here’s Santos’ 8 day report, which includes a $5K donation from Houston Federation of Teachers COPE, but HUSPS is nowhere to be seen. You have to go to the Texas Ethics Commission page and search for Houston United for Strong Public Schools there. In their TEC report, you can see that while they’ve raised $225K, they’ve only spent $115K, and $47K of that was for polling, which ought to be fascinating given the turnout context. I can’t tell from this how much they have spent in each race – there isn’t a single entry that specifies a dollar amount for Santos, for example. I don’t spend as much time with PAC reports as I have done with candidate reports, so maybe I just don’t know how to read these. Point is, this is where to look to get the details.

All of this has caused some controversy, which has played out on Facebook. The HUSPS website has no “About” page, and it took some sleuthing to figure out their origin. Not to put too fine a point on it, but large amounts of money being spent on local races by groups whose backers are not apparent is generally something that many of us find alarming. As Campos has noted, it’s hardly unusual for the HFT to get involved in HISD elections – they’re as much of a stakeholder as anyone else, after all – but this method of doing so is new. I don’t understand the rationale behind this approach, either, but it is what they have chosen to do. We’ll see how it plays out.

Freedmen’s Town may get UNESCO designation

That’s cool.

For all the years the historic bricks of Freedmen’s Town in Fourth Ward were questioned, devalued and disturbed, a new international spotlight is bringing a renewed appreciation for the strenuous efforts to validate, treasure and preserve them.

UNESCO – the Paris-based cultural arm of the United Nations – is considering Freedmen’s Town for its Slave Route Project, which is a registry created in 1994 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization of historically significant sites that tell the global story of the trade in human labor.

Jane Landers, the U.S. envoy for the Slave Route Project, spent three days last week in the Houston area learning about Freedmen’s Town and other sites that can be combined for a nomination.

“It’s a project to memorialize sites around the world where slaves had an impact. Africans that were torn from their homes and transported across the Middle Passage to sites all over the world were dispersed, but created unique communities often wherever they went. The slave route is to acknowledge that and to mark it,” Landers said. “My job is to find places like this that deserve to be preserved and memorialized and to help people make a nomination.”

[…]

Landers said she was impressed by the documentation of Freedmen’s Town, particularly the archaeology and Texas Historical Commission markers. She said the case for the proposal has been made through decades of preservation work. Now, that effort and evidence needs to be packaged.

“There is certainly enough research and history here that it should have a tremendous reception,” she said. “If it were just a place where you knew there once were slaves who became free, there are those all over the South. You have to have all the research and the investment and the community that this has to make it a viable project.”

Texas has only one World Heritage Site among two dozen in the United States. The San Antonio Missions, including The Alamo, were designated in 2015 after a decade of persistence by preservationists and officials.

It’s unclear to me how long this process might take or what the criteria are for receiving the designation. Also unclear is whether this designation would offer any form of enforceable protection for the historic site, which has been greatly threatened by gentrification. Regardless, it would be a well deserved honor if it happens.

Improving how animals are rescued

One of the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina was the need to rescue pets along with their owners, and to do everything possible to keep them together afterwards. This Texas Monthly story describes how that went with Harvey.

There are a few best practices that became understood in the wake of Katrina: holding animals in the local area for much longer than in the past, ensuring that evacuees had opportunities to find their animals quickly, and sending animals that the organizations were confident were unowned to facilities where they could be adopted effectively. All of that came to bear in the wake of Harvey. “At the Montgomery County Animal Shelter, the warehouse set up as a staging area for bringing in these animals is right next to a Red Cross shelter,” explains Barbara Williamson of Best Friends Animal Society. “There are animals there that are somebody’s pets, and they can come and visit their pets. Post-Hurricane Katrina, if you were to talk to anybody in state disaster response in any state, that’s a priority. The recognition that pets are members of the family, and sometimes they’re the only thing people have left. They got out with their kids and their pets, and the last thing you want is for them to lose that four-footed family member.”

Also crucial is ensuring that families and their pets don’t get separated in the first place. Not all shelters for human evacuees are equipped to take care of pets, which is something that Austin Pets Alive—which found itself spearheading many of the animal-based relief operations around Harvey—stepped in to help with.

Mary Heerwald of Austin Pets Alive said that her organization didn’t know exactly what to expect when they got to Houston a few days after Harvey hit. They had expectations of how they’d be useful, but they quickly learned that the city’s needs were different from what they had imagined. “When we made it down to Houston, we didn’t know what we were walking into. We came with motorized canoes and boats and thought that we’d need to literally rescue animals from the water,” she says. “What we quickly found out was that no one has stepped up yet to figure out what to do with the pets who were being rescued. Once you remove a cat from the top of a car or a dog from a flooding backyard, then what do you do? They still need a chance to live and either find their family, or a safe and happy adoptive home. So we became the accidental spearheads of the pet lifesaving initiative in relation to Hurricane Harvey.”

Here’s the Austin Pets Alive! page for Harvey evacuations. The immediate need has passed, but foster homes for animals whom they hope to adopt out are always in demand. Reach out to them or to Houston Pets Alive! if you want to help.

Sutherland Springs

I don’t even know what to say. I worry more about some random asshole with a gun more than I do about anything else that could harm me or my family. I’ll say it again, because I keep having to say it, nothing will change until we start electing different people. Continuing to do what we’ve always done is to accept these unacceptably common events as normal. I refuse to do that.