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Billy Briscoe

Keep Moving Houston Forward PAC poll on Metro and GMP

Yesterday I wrote about a poll commissioned by Houstonians for Responsible Growth on Metro and the General Mobility Program. That poll suggested that any changes to the GMP would be difficult for Metro to get, especially in the face of a negative campaign against it. Later in the day, I received the following in my inbox:

A telephone survey of 600 likely November voters recently conducted in the METRO service area shows that voters support a potential ballot measure ensuring continued mobility payments by METRO to local cities and the county, fixed at the 2014 level, by a margin of 67 percent to 24 percent.

The poll was commissioned by Keep Houston Moving Forward PAC, a group formed to pass a ballot measure this fall that will determine the future of the mobility payments.

METRO’s board is currently considering a number of options for the ballot measure; the option tested in this poll is a compromise put forward by METRO Chair Gilbert Garcia between those who want to discontinue the payments entirely and use the funds entirely for transit, and those who want the payments to continue without alteration.

“Voters in the METRO service area support safe and reliable public transit to relieve traffic congestion but are also concerned about the condition of their streets. The proposal we tested is a fair compromise that has strong voter support,” said Billy Briscoe, a spokesperson for Keep Houston Moving Forward PAC.

Here’s the poll memo that was included as an image in the email:

This is all the information I have on the poll. The HRG poll initially showed plurality support for capping the GMP payments in 2014, so this result is not a surprise. The higher level of support for that in this poll can be explained by differences in the sample, differences in how the question was phrased, random variation, or some combination of all three. The main thing it tells me is that it’s highly unlikely Metro will present an up-or-down vote on keeping the GMP as is or doing away with it. I mean, if even the PAC supporting Metro’s efforts didn’t poll the question – or did poll it but didn’t like the result enough to release it – that says a lot. At this point I’d guess the frontrunners are a cap-or-keep-as-is question or something more involved like the Spieler proposal. We’ll know more on Friday when the Metro board discusses the proposals that have been put before it. Houston Politics has more.

Chron overview of the County Treasurer race

With this story, the Chron has overviewed all of the countywide races. The main issue to discuss, of course, is just what exactly is it that the Treasurer does.

Four years ago, [incumbent Treausrer Orlando] Sanchez’s Democratic opponent advocated eliminating the office, which would require a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment. This year’s Democratic challenger, Billy Briscoe, said that, if elected, he intends to commission an independent audit of the office to determine whether it still is needed. If the answer is no, he said, he will support that conclusion. However, he also wants the audit to look for ways to improve the office, not scrap it.

“I believe the scope and function of this office ought to be reviewed and possibly expanded,” Briscoe said. Whatever the duties assigned to the office, Briscoe said, he plans to go beyond them, driven by the question, “Is there more that we can be doing?”

Briscoe said he envisions using the treasurer’s post as one that would make him part of a pitch team to sell businesses on expanding or relocating to Harris County. Briscoe’s background as a lawyer, lobbyist, businessman and political aide have prepared him, he said, to present the county’s virtues to business groups and Austin policy makers who control the state’s enterprise fund.

“We don’t have a clearly definable county-wide elected person who’s talking about this as a cornerstone of their administration,” Briscoe said.

You know where I stand on this, and you can listen to my interview with Briscoe to hear him discuss it. If there is something to this job, he’s the guy for it.

Sanchez, too, would like to see the office’s duties expanded. For example, he said, his office has the expertise to oversee the county’s investments, debt payments and cash flow.

“All of the duties that are now given to the Office of Financial Services could be, if the (Commissioners) Court wanted to, be brought back to the treasurer’s office,” he said.

Yo, Orlando. You’ve had this job since 2006. Name one concrete step you’ve taken to make this thing you say you want to do happen. Have you even mentioned this idea to Commissioners Court, and if so what was their response? If this is such a good idea – I’m not passing any judgment on that one way or the other – why are we just hearing about it now?

The Houston Politics blog has more, specifically about the issue of immigration, which briefly surfaced in the 2006 GOP primary for Treasurer when Sanchez promised to be a fighting force of extraordinary magnitude against it, then dropped it like a bad habit after he was appointed to the job following Jack Cato’s death. Not that I mind that he dropped the subject – Lord knows, there’s more than enough hot air and hatred on this to last us all a lifetime or two; not following through on that is the single best thing Orlando Sanchez has done as an elected official – it just fits a pattern with Sanchez of all talk and no action. See here for some background.

Interview with Billy Briscoe

Billy Briscoe

We turn our attention now to Harris County races, and we’ll start with the race for what I have called the least useful office in the county, County Treasurer. This is partly a reflection of the office itself, whose powers were mostly stripped by Commissioners Court in the 1990s, and partly a reflection of the current occupant of the office, who as far as I can tell has done nothing of note since he was sworn in. In 2006, I was on the bandwagon of those who called for the abolition of the Treasurer’s office, which was being driven by the Democratic candidate for Treasurer, Richard Garcia. I still think that’s a worthy goal to pursue, but I don’t know that it’s an achievable one. As such, I’m open to the idea that something could be made of this position if it were held by the right person. That person is the Democratic candidate for Treasurer, Billy Briscoe. If anyone can make something of this office, I believe he can. Take a listen and hear for yourself:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

Three views of the Treasurer

Since posting this entry about the Democratic primary race for Harris County Treasurer and my views of that office, I’ve gotten some interesting feedback that I thought was worth sharing. First, if you go back to that post, you’ll see a comment from Chad Khan, one of the candidates, who says:

In 2006, Mr. Richard Garcia campaigned about abolishing the County Treasurer’s office and I supported his campaign. I still believe that the County Treasurer’s office has little use and is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Once elected, I will attend every meeting of the County Commissioner’s court with the intent of serving as a watchdog for the taxpayer, which would include working to prove the ineffectiveness of the office. I believe the abolishment of the office must begin from within the office and I vow to work toward that end.

Speaking of Richard Garcia, he sent me the following email:

Charles,

Thank you once again for the kind words.

You & I have pretty much agreed on most issues. I believe that you would concurred that we need an up and down review of operations and offices to look at how to get the most bang for the taxpayer’s bucks. Business as usual needs to be uprooted. As a fellow father, we have priorities, however taxes (both obvious and hidden) take away from the available options to help our families. Doing away with an office that is no longer needed was my call to arms in the last two elections. Doing away with the office would send it to the dusty shelves of steno pools, typewriters and bag phones. I was proud of my campaign donation from Jack Cato’s wife–he was a good man and I was honoured to have attended his services. Jack really served Harris County and Houston well and history will rightfully look favourably at his life and service.

As it looks more apparent that Harris County will be a democratic favouring county–I would not feel comfortable in running for an office without the intentions of eliminating the unnecessary office. The # 2 in command has served the taxpayers well and she would continue running the office–and honestly, I believe she can institute efficiencies just as [Loren] Jackson had put in place at the [District] Clerk’s office.

I am so proud of everyone that helped my cause. A Republican blogger took heat for supporting the idea. My fellow county precinct chairs supported my position. Elected officials. I had spoken with representatives from the statewide county treasurers and informed them that my intention was only to focus on Harris County–not their county. Their plea to our County Commissioners office not to abolish the office resulted in all four County Commissioners supporting abolishing the office (see they can work together). The voters who almost made it possible and most importantly, my Mom–who has since passed away to join my Dad.

I wish Billy and Chad well; and anyone else who would care to put their toe in the political waters. Perhaps others will run, they will give voters choices and and as Marta Stewart says, “…and that’s a good thing”.

Have a joyous holiday season.

Your Friend,

Rich Garcia

And finally, a voice in support of a Treasurer’s office, from Wally Kronzer, who is a candidate for the 14th Court of Appeals, Place 5:

I will not try to put my thoughts down in any great detail as it involves Texas history, county government, the Texas Legislature (the Texas Local Government Code), and ultimately, county power sharing. A thorough justification would take too long. I was once involved in a lawsuit involving a county treasurer, county auditor, and the commissioners court (not Harris County). There are good reasons for having an elected county treasurer that primarily boil down to checks and balances issues as to county finances. It is similar to why does company have a banker (the county treasurer) and an outside auditor (county auditor)?

Check the website for Texas Association of Counties description of the office of county treasurer: http://www.county.org/counties/desc_office/treasur.asp and county auditor: http://www.county.org/counties/desc_office/auditor.asp. At the county level the county treasurer has more involvement in the integrity of county investments, bonds, and retirement plans than most people imagine.

While this is not a fits-all-points comparison, but what if the City of Houston Controller was appointed instead of elected? Where would the checks and balances be in that situation (much less some of the great Houston political stories)? Texas may have eliminated the position of state treasurer and passed the duties on to the Texas comptroller. But an elected comptroller still oversees the finances. You could devise an elected county position to do the role of the county treasurer, but that role does not exist – nor is there any real interest in changing the status quo to do so. But, to put it bluntly, someone in the county checks and balances needs to be elected other than just the county commissioners.

The theoretical case certainly makes sense. In practice, can anyone claim that Orlando Sanchez is actually doing that job? Not as far as I can tell. That’s the reason why Richard Garcia’s argument has been compelling to me. I do plan to interview Chad Khan and Billy Briscoe, so we’ll see what their vision for the office and/or its elimination are. My thanks to all for the feedback.

Two for Treasurer

As of today, there are two declared Democratic candidates for Harris County Treasurer – Chad Khan, a three-time candidate for State Representative, and attorney Billy Briscoe, whose press release is beneath the fold. As you may recall, I spent a lot of time in 2006 arguing for the abolition of the office of Harris County Treasurer as I supported the campaign of Richard Garcia, whose platform included a pledge to work to do just that. Nothing since then has changed my mind about the uselessness of the office or of its current inhabitant, Orlando Sanchez, but I no longer believe that getting legislation passed to abolish it – I believe a Constitutional amendment would be needed – is likely. So what I’m looking for this time around is someone to explain to me how exactly they plan to make the Treasurer be something other than a waste of tax money. Find something useful to do in that office – a promise to attend every Commissioners Court meeting with the intent of being a general pain in their ass would be a good start – and I’ll support you. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

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Edwards gets a primary challenger in HD146

For the third straight election cycle, there will be a contested Democratic primary in HD146. Harvey Kronberg reports.

Billy Briscoe, who served as Paul Hobby’s travel aide during his campaign for Comptroller in 1998, says that he is running in the Democratic primary.

Briscoe worked for Public Strategies after leaving the Hobby campaign, representing telecomm and electric utility clients from 1999 to 2002. He currently is a partner at The Briscoe Law Firm, which he described as a boutique law firm providing help with business litigation and commercial transactions as well as lobbying services and strategic communications. The firm has offices in Houston, Austin and Dallas, he said.

He serves on both the Harris County Improvement District 12 and on Houston’s Affirmative Action Contract Compliance Commission.

Briscoe, 36, said that it’s time for people from his age group “to step forward and put forth new ideas.” He said that after thinking about his range of experience working in Austin, it only seemed natural for him to seek service in the Capitol.

He said he recognized the challenge in running against Edwards who is nothing short of an institution in his district. He said, though, that the key would be hard work. “If I don’t knock on several thousand doors,” he said, “on March 2, I won’t have a good night.”

He said that was placing a priority on improving the responsiveness of the district office to constituent needs. He said he didn’t mean that as an indictment of Edwards’ representation but he added that district residents have given him the sense that “we’ve missed responsiveness from our state representative.”

He added that he also planned to run on quality of life issues, such as jobs, economic development, good schools and improved social services.

The generational argument is an interesting one. I feel like it would have worked better last year, with Barack Obama on the ticket. Of course, Edwards waltzed to an easy victory over Borris Miles then, reclaiming the seat he’d lost in 2006, but I daresay that was more a referendum on Miles and his unfortunate self-destruction. Edwards is much less a polarizing figure now than he was when Miles defeated him in 2006, thanks to Tom Craddick’s defenestration. Given that the Speaker isn’t an issue, and that it’s now been four years since the infamous Sexy Cheerleading bill, I think the “time for a new generation of leadership” argument is as good as any. If Briscoe makes good on his plan to knock on all those doors, he’ll have a shot at it.