The Chron made its first primary endorsement on Friday, and I just now noticed.
The [Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector's Office] is, or should be, the quintessential service department – run with the customer’s satisfaction uppermost in mind.
For almost half a century, the late Carl Smith was the agreeable face of the office, the boss who was always available to help our citizens walk through the process.
But in the years since Smith’s death in 1998, a strain of partisan politics has crept into the office in unmistakable and unhelpful ways. It’s past time for that to go. The tainting of a traditional service office with the officeholder’s partisan political agenda has not brought distinction to the tax office.
The incumbent, Don Sumners, served for 10 years in that politicized environment. As head of the tax office since 2008, he has been in the crossfire of ongoing disputes over his department’s voter registration procedures.
Sumners is professionally competent to hold the assessor-collector position, given his background as a certified public accountant. But his continuing incumbency would bring with it the unnecessary baggage of partisanship that has burdened the office since Smith’s time in office.
A Republican primary challenge to Sumners by Houston City Councilman Mike Sullivan, a proven conservative with solid government and private sector credentials, offers GOP voters an opportunity to clear out those remnants of partisan politics while assuring that this department is well run. We urge them to take it by casting a ballot for Sullivan in the May 29 party primary.
Unlike Sumners (or Leo Vasquez or Paul Bettencourt), Sullivan says he’ll be “more proactive” in voter registration, saying “we have a responsibility to register people”. I’ll be voting for Democratic candidate Ann Harris Bennett in November regardless of who wins this primary, but I’m glad to hear Sullivan say that, and I would be delighted if the debate we can have this fall is about who can manage the clerical duties better rather than whether or not the office is complying with the latest court order in the umpteenth lawsuit over its voter registration practices. Having said that, I have no illusions that this is a positive trait for Sullivan in his primary. The kind of person who votes in Republican primaries is not interested in getting people registered to vote. Quite the contrary, in fact. I wish Sullivan well in his race against Sumners, but I will admit to being surprised if he wins.