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Dave Welch

Pastoral malignancy

Know your enemy.

A day before the Texas Legislature ended its special session this week, a session that included a high-profile fight over a “bathroom bill” that appeared almost certainly dead, David Welch had a message for Gov. Greg Abbott: call lawmakers back to Austin. Again.

For years, Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, has worked to pass a bill that would ban local policies that ensured transgender individuals’ right to use restrooms in public schools and government buildings that match their gender identity. The summer special session, which was quickly coming to a close, had been Welch and other social conservatives’ second chance, an overtime round after the bill — denounced by critics as discriminatory and unnecessary — failed during the regular session that ended in May.

But with the Texas House unlikely to vote on a bathroom bill, Welch gathered with some of the most conservative Republicans in that chamber to make a final plea. The bill, they argued without any evidence, would prevent men from entering bathrooms to sexually assault or harass women.

“If this does not pass during this special session, we are asking for, urgently on behalf of all these pastors across the state of Texas, that we do hold a second special session until the job is done,” Welch said at the press event, hosted by Texas Values, a socially conservative group.

Though the group of lawmakers, religious leaders and activists were still coming to terms with their failure to get a bill to Abbott’s desk, for Welch’s Pastor Council, the years-long fight over bathroom restrictions has nonetheless been a galvanizing campaign.

The group, which Welch founded in 2003, has grown from a local organization to a burgeoning statewide apparatus with eyes on someday becoming a nationwide force, one able to mobilize conservative Christians around the country into future political battles. If Abbott doesn’t call lawmakers back for another special session to pass a bathroom bill, the group is likely to shift its attention to the 2018 elections.

“Our role in this process shouldn’t be restricted just because people attend church,” Welch told The Texas Tribune. “Active voting, informed voting, is a legitimate ministry of the church.”


With primary season approaching, members of the Pastor Council are preparing to take their campaign to the ballot box and unseat Republicans who did not do enough to challenge Straus’ opposition to a “bathroom bill.” Steve Riggle, a pastor to a congregation of more than 20,000 at Grace Community Church in Houston and a member of the Pastor Council, said he and others are talking about “how in the world do we have 90-some Republicans [in the 150-member Texas House] who won’t stand behind what they say they believe.”

“They’re more afraid of Straus than they are of us,” he said. “It’s about time they’re more afraid of us.”

First, let me commend the Trib for noting that the push for the bathroom bill was based on a lie, and for reporting that Welch and his squadron of ideologues are far from a representative voice in the Christian community. Both of these points are often overlooked in reporting about so-called “Christian” conservatives, so kudos to the Trib for getting it right. I would just add that what people like Dave Welch and Steve Riggle believe, and want the Lege and the Congress to legalize, is that they have a right to discriminate against anyone they want, as long as they can claim “religious” reasons for it.

As such, I really hope that Chris Wallace and the rest of the business community absorbs what these bad hombres are saying. I want them to understand that the power dynamic in the Republican Party has greatly shifted, in a way that threatens to leave them on the sidelines. It used to be that the Republican legislative caucus was owned and operated by business interests, with the religious zealots providing votes and logistical support. The zealots are now in charge, or at least they are trying to be. Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and increasingly Greg Abbott are on their side, and now they want to take out Joe Straus and enforce complete control. Either the business lobby fights back by supporting a mix of non-wacko Republicans in primaries and Democrats in winnable November races, or this is what the agenda for 2019 will look like. I hope you’re paying attention, because there may not be a second chance to get this right. The DMN has more.

What will the business lobby do to prevent a North Carolina anti-equality law being passed in Texas?

That’s the question that needs to be asked.


Texas business leaders and LGBT advocates hope economic backlash over an anti-LGBT bill in North Carolina will deter lawmakers from taking up similar legislation next year in Austin.

More than 100 CEOs and business leaders, including Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, sent a letter this week to North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory calling on the General Assembly to repeal House Bill 2, which he signed last week.

The bill prohibits cities from enforcing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances, and bars transgender people from using restrooms and other facilities according to their gender identity.

Similar measures were introduced in Texas last year, but died without hearings.

“We certainly don’t want Texas to appear to be unwelcoming for future talent, and that’s what I think we’ll get if something like North Carolina’s bill is taken up by our Legislature,” said Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business (TAB), the state’s chamber of commerce.

Last year, TAB came out against a sweeping anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bill, but didn’t take a position on proposals to ban local nondiscrimination ordinances or restrict restroom access for trans people. However, Wallace said TAB’s board may consider doing so at a September meeting where it will set its legislative agenda for 2017.

“Talent availability is the number one issue among businesses today in Texas,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we have future employees, and we don’t need any issues like this getting in our way.”


After more than 20 anti-LGBT bills were defeated in Texas last year, socially conservative groups criticized the business community for opposing them. And last week, Texas Pastor Council Executive Director Dave Welch responded to corporate backlash in North Carolina by calling the TAB opposition to anti-LGBT bills “huffing and puffing,” and described boycotts as “economic terrorism.”

“We stand with the pastors and legislators in North Carolina and our commitment is that we will defend what is right, decent, honorable and good for all citizens in Texas, including necessary legislation to defend our liberty and our families,,” Welch wrote in an email to the council’s members.

It would be nice to think that the backlash in North Carolina will be swift and severe enough to dissuade most legislators from even thinking about following down that path, but it’s clear that the zealots don’t care about any of that. What I hope is clear from that is that the business community comes to realize that being on the same side as those guys – in particular, supporting the same legislative candidates as those guys – will not work out well for them. Which brings me to the question of what are they going to do about that? To be fair, there’s not that much that can be done this year. Primaries are over, there are only a handful of runoffs to be decided, and as we know there aren’t that many competitive districts in November. That’s unfortunate, because the one message that is always received clearly is losing an election. Democrats should still make this an issue in their races, if only to offer clarity. If the business lobby doesn’t then deliver a few horse’s heads a the start of the next legislative session, then as with the immigration issue I don’t see why we should take their oft-expressed concerns seriously. They can do something about this if they want to. If they don’t, that tells you what you need to know.

The anti-HERO horde

There’s a lot of them out there, though many of them claim their mostly last-minute filings didn’t really have to do with HERO.


Members of the anti-HERO campaign and other prominent conservative activists disputed suggestions of a widely-coordinated effort, saying the candidates ended up on the ballot for a variety of reasons.

“We have been approached by candidates who oppose the bathroom ordinance,” said Jared Woodfill, spokesman for the anti-HERO campaign. “And we have encouraged people to run who oppose the bathroom ordinance, as have other organizations who have the same goal of defeating the ordinance.”


Of City Council members running for re-election, five oppose the ordinance, which applies to businesses that serve the public, private employers, housing, city employment and city contracting, though not religious institutions. Violators could be fined up to $5,000.

They are joined by at least 11 council hopefuls, many of whom launched their bids before it became clear the ordinance would be on the ballot.

Others, such as pastors Willie Davis and Kendall Baker, as well as former teacher Manny Barrera and Siemens sales executive Carl Jarvis, filed to run on the last day.

Most of the last-minute candidates said they launched their bids for reasons other than the ordinance, listing city finances, infrastructure and incumbents’ records among their motivations.

Candidates and charlatans like Jared Woodfill and Dave Welch who enable them can say what they want about why they chose to run. How they run and what they ultimately talk about is what you need to know. While the story goes to great length to discuss candidates who may or may not have been motivated to run by opposition to HERO and those that encouraged them, I should note that there are a few candidates on the ballot who cited the opposition to HERO by an incumbent as a motivating factor for them – Doug Peterson and John LaRue in At Large #3, and Philippe Nassif in At Large #5. You can listen to their interviews (Philippe’s will be up tomorrow) to hear what else they had to say, which in all three cases definitely did go beyond this issue.

Beyond that, I don’t think the presence of some extra candidates makes that much difference in terms of outcomes. Turnout will be driven by the Mayor’s race and the HERO referendum. Obviously, some candidates are going to tie themselves to the referendum, one way or the other, but given the high undervote rates for At Large candidates, I’m not sure how much difference that will make. It’s certainly possible that this election will be unlike all the others, and it’s certainly possible that some HERO haters will get into a runoff. If you’re an even-years-only voter, I’d expect to be targeted in a way that you’re not used to in these odd years. How it all shakes out, I have no idea. Polling is going to be tricky, since turnout will be anyone’s guess. I don’t think we’ll have much of an idea about how things are going until voting actually starts. Don’t take anything for granted – get involved, and help make a difference.

Pointless pastor protest

Where to even begin?

Some prominent Houston church leaders put their names on a full-page open letter to the U.S. Supreme Court in major U.S. newspapers, promising to defy the court should it decide same-sex marriage is a civil right.

Pastor Gregg Matte of Houston’s First Baptist Church, Pastor Dave Welch of the U.S. Pastor Council and Pastor Steve Riggle of Grace Church were among more than 80 signatories on the letter orchestrated by former Pearland pastor Rick Scarborough. The letter was published last week in the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today.

“We’re not going to quietly allow this to happen,” said Scarborough, 65, now president of Vision America in Nacogdoches, Texas. “We’re going to stand up on our biblical roots as well as our constitutional roots and if it comes to a choice between obeying God and the state we will chose God.”

He also said doesn’t hate gay individuals and wants to “reach out with loving redemption.”


In the open letter, one sentence appears in bold-faced font: “We will not honor any decision by the Supreme Court which will force us to violate a clear biblical understanding of marriage as solely the union of one man and one woman.”

Scarborough said that means churches and religiously-affiliated schools and hospitals will decline to participate in any part of a same-sex marriage. Predicting legal trouble, Scarborough pointed to a recent case of a 70-year-old florist in Washington state who faced a lawsuit after declining to provide flowers for the wedding of a long-time gay customer.

“We’ll go to jail before we participate [in same-sex marriage],” Scarborough said.

Do I really have to explain this? Is there anyone with at least a sixth grade education who isn’t being willfully ignorant who doesn’t understand that this is about states having to recognize civil marriages, and that religions and pastors will be as free to marry or not marry whoever they want to no matter what SCOTUS decides? I mean seriously, what self-respecting same-sex couple would get within a hundred miles of any of these jokers when searching for a celebrant for their vows? Assuming they wanted a religious service, of course. The whole point is that they don’t need a pastor for any of this, just a county clerk and a judge or JP. Honestly, short of chaining themselves to a courtroom door, I have no idea what these fools think they might be going to jail for. Their sense of heroic victimhood is truly impressive, I’ll give them that much. I plan to join with most of the rest of the country after the SCOTUS decision and ignore them and their silly antics as much as I reasonably can.

Pointless “pastor protection” bill comes to the House

From the Observer.


Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) said Wednesday he doesn’t plan to introduce an anti-gay marriage amendment to the so-called Pastor Protection Act scheduled for a House vote Thursday.

However, with 12 days remaining in the session, Bell said he continues to look for another means of resurrecting House Bill 4105, which was designed to undermine a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, and died on the House floor last week.

LGBT advocates feared Bell would attempt to add the provisions of HB 4105 to Senate Bill 2065, by Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), which would reaffirm that pastors and churches can’t be forced to participate in same-sex weddings. But Bell said he doesn’t believe such an amendment would be considered germane to SB 2065, aka the Pastor Protection Act, thus threatening the bill’s chances.

“A lot of work’s been done on that bill, and I don’t want to compromise that bill,” Bell told the Observer. “The intent is to assert the sovereignty of the state of Texas. If I can find a place to do that, then I’ll do that. But I’m not going to compromise the very structure and value system that I’m trying to affirm in that process.”


With other anti-LGBT legislation stalled, social conservatives have made SB 2065 a top priority in recent days. However, Texas Pastor Council Executive Director Dave Welch acknowledged recently that its passage wouldn’t be a significant victory.

Supporters of SB 2065 have used committee hearings on the bill to give general testimony in opposition to same-sex marriage, which some witnesses compared to bestiality and pedophilia.

“It suggests that really the goal here to increase hostility and animosity toward gay and lesbian couples who want to get married, rather than to protect pastors from having to perform their marriages, because pastors are already protected from doing that if they don’t want to,” [Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network] said.

Nevertheless, if SB 2065 is the only unfavorable measure that passes out of more than 20 anti-LGBT proposals that were introduced, advocates won’t hang their heads.

“It’s certainly encouraging that some of the really bad bills appear to be going nowhere, and that the only bill that’s moving forward does essentially what the law already does,” Quinn said. “If we can get out of the session without any of those other bills passing, it would clearly be a big step forward.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Equality Texas had sent out an email alert about HB4105 being attached to SB2065 earlier in the day. I’m glad to see that turned out to be a false alarm. There are reasons to be concerned about SB2065 as is, and we can’t rest easy on HB4105 until the session is well and truly over, but so far so good. I’ll update this post if anything notable happens during the House debate.

HERO petition repeal trial starts

It could actually be over before it really starts, though I would not expect that.


For the next three to four weeks, the Harris County Civil Courthouse will be the stage for the trial over Houston’s controversial equal rights ordinance.

If everything works out according to plan, opening statements will begin next Tuesday.

That is, unless Judge Robert Schaffer comes back with a summary judgment ruling that would end the trial before it has started.

That’s what attorneys for the city hope for. One of them is Geoffrey Harrison with the firm Susman Godfrey LLP.

“I think that the clear legal entitlement is that the plaintiffs’ petition failed, that the plaintiffs and their coalition members did not comply with the election code and the City Charter, and so summary judgment throwing out their case is appropriate,” Harrison said.


During Tuesday’s four-hour hearing, the different sides also discussed the number of potential jurors, among other procedural matters.

Jury selection is set to start on Monday, Jan. 26.

See here for the background. I will be surprised if the city’s motion to dismiss is accepted, mostly because I think you have to give a fair amount of latitude in litigation like this. Which is not to say that the plaintiffs should be given free reign to spew whatever baloney and half-baked conspiracy theories they may have up their sleeves, but I think the bar to clear to proceed is pretty low. That said, I sure as heck don’t envy the people that may get selected for this circus. It’s going to be a long trudge for them.

For whatever the reason, that story and this KPRC story are the only coverage I could find of this. I guess the inauguration and the State of the Union were just too much competition for it. I did find this HuffPo story in which the plaintiffs claim that they did not submit a bunch of forged signatures.

“From what we can tell, they had to engage in a lot of fraud to collect these signatures,” said Kris Banks, an LGBT activist and lawyer who helped organize an independent citizen review of the petitions and the signatures. “I just don’t think they have the support.”

Attorney Andy Taylor, who filed the lawsuit in Harris County court, did not respond to request for comment.

Welch didn’t dispute that some of the signatures didn’t meet the city’s standard, but insisted to HuffPost that his group had gathered enough legitimate signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

That would be Dave Welch, who is also busy plying his trade in Plano. According to the DMN, those petition signatures should be verified one way or the other by the end of the month, and the item could be on Plano City Council’s agenda by February 9. Stay tuned.

The bigger threat than the Plano petitions

This could be a big problem.


Four Republican lawmakers from the Plano area plan to introduce legislation that would bar cities and counties from adopting ordinances prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, the Observer has learned. The proposed legislation also threatens to nullify existing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances in cities that are home to roughly 7.5 million Texans—or more than one-quarter of the state’s population.

The bill comes in response to the Plano City Council’s passage last month of an equal rights ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

“There is legislation that’s being worked on,” Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) told a group of pastors who gathered in mid-December at Plano’s Prestonwood Baptist Church in response to passage of the city’s equal rights ordinance, according to an audio recording obtained by the Observer.


Texas Pastor Council Executive Director David Welch, whose group is leading efforts to repeal equal rights ordinances in Plano and Houston, told the Observer the legislation would prohibit political subdivisions of the state from adding classes to nondiscrimination ordinances that aren’t protected under Texas or federal law—neither of which covers LGBT people.

“It should be a uniform standard statewide, and cities can’t just arbitrarily create new classes that criminalize a whole segment of the majority of the population,” Welch said. “It’s just self-evident that they’re going to try to do it city by city. We’re dealing with a broad public policy that creates criminal punishments. That’s a pretty serious issue, and when it’s based on a special agenda by a small, tiny fragment of the population … that’s a legitimate need and reason for the state Legislature to act.”

As I say, this as yet unfiled bill is a bigger threat than the petitions and the proposed constitutional amendments, since this would only need majority support to pass and would surely be signed into law by Greg “Local control means me in control” Abbott. I suppose we could hope that the business community, which is generally very favorable to municipal NDOs, might apply some pressure in Austin to stop this in its tracks. Given how effective they’ve been at dissuading their Republican buddies from doing other things they don’t like – you know, killing immigration reform, slashing funds for education and infrastructure, that sort of thing – it’s not a strategy I’d want to be dependent on.

Currently, the only state with a law prohibiting cities from enacting LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances is Tennessee. The Tennessee law, passed in 2011, prompted a lawsuit from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, but a state appeals court recently dismissed the case, saying plaintiffs didn’t have standing because they couldn’t show harm.

Shannon Minter, a Texas native who serves as legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said he now plans to file a federal lawsuit challenging the Tennessee ban.

Lawmakers in several other states have introduced proposals to ban local nondiscrimination ordinances, but none has passed. Minter said in the last few years anti-LGBT lawmakers have shifted to a religious freedom approach to counter local nondiscrimination ordinances because the strategy is more appealing politically.

“Because the Tennessee-style bill is so punitive toward all localities, I think that it’s so blatantly taking democratic power away from local governments that legislators just don’t have the stomach to do it,” Minter said.

The lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s law was based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1996 decision in Romer v. Evans, which struck down a Colorado law banning local protections based on sexual orientation. Authors of the Tennessee bill attempted to to get around Romer v. Evans by enacting a general prohibition on classes that aren’t covered under state law, rather than specifically targeting LGBT protections. However, Minter believes the law is still unconstitutional.

“Legislatures are not permitted to enact laws that are designed to disadvantage a particular group, and it’s as clear as it could possibly be that the purpose of these laws is to prevent gay and transgender people from gaining local anti-discrimination protections,” he said.

Tennessee lawmakers introduced the legislation in response to a nondiscrimination ordinance in one city, Nashville, and Minter said the Texas proposals broader impact would also make it more vulnerable to legal challenges.

Yes, there’s the courts. One can’t know how that might play out, and even if one felt confident that any such law would be unconstitutional on its face, these things take time and cost money and leave a lot of people in harm’s way in the interim. These are the consequences of not winning enough elections. Keep your state rep on speed dial, you’re going to need to let him or her know how you feel about this. Texas Leftist and Unfair Park have more.

Working for progress on LGBT issues

I’m always a little wary when I see a phrase like “chipping away” in a story about LGBT issues, but in this case it refers to obstacles, not hard-won victories, so it’s OK.


The rights and interests of homosexual Texans will be in the spotlight like never before next year, as the state’s same-sex marriage ban gets a long-awaited hearing in federal court and lawmakers take up a slate of bills that address everything from employment and insurance discrimination to local equal rights ordinances.

“In Texas, it’s very difficult with the makeup of the Legislature to pass anything,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. “But it’s called chipping away – keep bringing the issue – until one day it passes.”


Daniel Williams, of Equality Texas, said he believes there is a “realistic opportunity” to pass legislation allowing both same-sex partners to be listed on birth certificates, and to remove a provision in state law that criminalizes sexual relationships between some same-sex teenagers.

Other bills have been filed to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public school sex education classes, and for insurance companies and state contractors. Two bills, by [Sen. Jose] Rodriguez and his El Paso colleague Joe Moody, are seeking to remove from state law books an unconstitutional, unenforceable statute that criminalizes sodomy.

Williams also is interested to see whether Gov.-elect Greg Abbott will break with his predecessor by pushing state compliance with federal mandates to reduce the prison rape rate – which disproportionately impacts gay and transgender inmates – and whether more municipalities follow San Antonio, Houston and Plano’s lead in passing non-discrimination ordinances.

Don’t forget about Plano, too. There’s a reason all those hateful pastors are freaking out about this – they know they’re losing. Bills have been filed by Rep. Coleman and others to repeal Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage and to fix the birth certificate problem as noted, and there’s a broader organization being formed to help press the case in Austin. That’s all good and necessary and I have some hope as well, but I suspect that once all is said and done simply not losing ground will be seen as a win with this Legislature.

As for Sen. Donna Campbell’s effort to supersede local efforts by filing a resolution that would block any local rule or state law that infringes on “an individual’s or religious organization’s … sincerely held religious belief,” advocates think the business community will come out against it as they did against similar legislation in Arizona.

“Yes, you can talk about taking power away from those local leaders, but there’s going to be a lot of pushback from the local elected officials and their constituents,” said Jeff Davis, chairman of the Texas chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, a national group made up of gay members of the GOP and their allies. He said Campbell’s resolution likely would generate “a lot of talk,” but he believes the effort “isn’t going to move completely forward.”

Meanwhile, religious leaders waging a legal battle against Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance are banking on the increasingly-conservative Legislature to support their efforts. While they await a 2015 court date to determine whether enough signatures were gathered to force a local referendum on the Houston ordinance, they have turned their eyes to Plano, which passed a similar ordinance earlier this month.

“These ordinances are solutions looking for a problem,” said David Welch, director of the Houston-based Texas Pastors Council, which filed a petition against the Plano ordinance this week. “It is a special interest group representing a tiny fraction of the population using the power of law to impose their lifestyle and punish those that disagree with them.”

He said the council will continue to work with lawmakers on legislation that could undo these ordinances at the state level, as well as reaffirm current law that enshrines marriage as between one man and one woman.

It would be nice if the business lobby puts some pressure on to kill not just Campbell’s bill but all of the pro-discrimination bills that Campbell and others are filing, but don’t expect me to have any faith in their efforts. At least as far as constitutional amendments go, there are enough Democrats to keep them off the ballot, barring any shenanigans or betrayals. It would be nice to think that Republicans can play a key role in preserving existing protections, if not expanding them, but there’s no evidence to support that idea at this time with this Legislature. We need to win more elections, that’s all there is to it. Let’s make it through this session unscathed and get started working on that part of it ASAP. BOR has more.

Houston pastors to fight against the Plano equal rights ordinance

Of course they will.


When Houston passed its Equal Rights Ordinance earlier this year, the Texas Pastor Council came out strongly in opposition of the law.

Now the Houston-based group is challenging the nondiscrimination ordinance for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents of Plano. Director Dave Welch says the group will work with pastors in the area to try to repeal the ordinance. He says law places unnecessary restrictions on businesses.

“There’s no evidence of any discrimination at all,” Welch says. “These categories are vague and undefined and place criminal penalties on something [businesses] can’t even defend themselves over.”


The Pastor Council plans to place a referendum on the ballot to overturn Plano’s new law. A similar move in Houston has led to an ongoing legal battle over the Equal Rights Ordinance, which has yet to be enforced.

See here for the background. Not really much to add here, as this is the usual dishonest fearmongering we know and shake our heads in disgust at here. I don’t know what Plano’s rules are for trying to repeal an ordinance, but I’d advise Welch and his band of chuckleheads to be a bit more careful about following the rules this time. Actually, it’s fine by me if they don’t, so consider this a word of advice for Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere and the good guys that will be defending the equal rights ordinance at the ballot box and/or in the courthouse: Don’t assume these clowns are following the rules. If they can cut a corner, they will. Hold them accountable for it, and be ready for the whining when you do.

Lies are worse than missteps

But you know what we’re going to hear more about.


Conservative outrage over the Parker administration’s admittedly bungled subpoena of five pastors’ sermons last week marked just the latest episode in a messy political saga surrounding the city’s equal rights ordinance, with both critics and supporters making significant blunders.

For example, a recently leaked deposition of City Secretary Anna Russell shows she entered a meeting with Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman having drafted a memo saying there were enough signatures, then left agreeing to tack on a paragraph from Feldman saying the effort had failed.

Similarly, opponents of the non-discrimination ordinance have struggled to explain a video showing one of their leaders explaining the very rules the city says they violated to those who would be gathering petition signatures as the effort got underway.

“If you’re going to undertake these efforts, you want to drill people pretty carefully,” said Richard Murray, a University of Houston political science professor. “You don’t want to waste people’s time.”

For her part, Parker has handled the back-and-forth around the case “clumsily,” Murray said, pointing to the subpoena of the pastors’ sermons that drew national attention and criticism. “Usually, she shows pretty good political judgment. She let her political guard down a bit with this.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I’ll stipulate that the subpoenas should have been better, and I’ll leave the petition questions to the court. But the outrage over those subpoenas is vastly out of proportion with the magnitude of the sin committed by the city’s lawyers, and that outrage is fueled by a relentless barrage of bald-faced lies, the same kind of lies that have underpinned the opposition to the HERO from the beginning. Lies, it should be noted, that are being peddled by members of the clergy, the kind of people whose behavior might reasonably be held to a high standard. I’m not talking about exaggerations or spin or the like but provably false statements that are intended to be factual. You wouldn’t know it from most of the stories you’ll read about the HERO and the attempts to repeal it, though. I have no idea why that is.

HERO repeal effort falls short

Too bad, so sad (not really).


Opponents of Houston’s new non-discrimination ordinance did not get enough valid signatures to force a November repeal referendum, Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman announced Monday.

“With respect to the referendum petition filed to repeal the ‘HERO’ ordinance, there are simply too many documents with irregularities and problems to overlook,” Feldman said. “The petition is simply invalid. There is no other conclusion.”

The council approved the ordinance on an 11-6 vote in May. Opponents who took issue with the protections extended to gay and transgender people under the ordinance promised to send the issue to the voters. On July 3, they claimed to have delivered more than 50,000 signatures to the city secretary’s office.

Opponents needed a minimum of 17,269 valid signatures – 10 percent of the ballots cast in the last mayoral election – to put a referendum on the November ballot. Feldman said some of the petition gatherers did not satisfy the requirements set out for such petitions in the city charter, such as by not being registered Houston voters or by not signing the petition themselves. If such requirements were not met, he said, all the signatures the circulator gathered were invalid.

Less than half of the more than 5,000 pages opponents submitted were valid, Feldman said, leaving the final valid tally at 15,249 signatures.

The bad guys may have claimed to have turned in over 50,000 signatures, but as noted yesterday, the number they subsequently claimed to have validated on their own was much lower than that. You can see the memo from the City Secretary and City Attorney’s offices here, with the latter spelling out the reasons why each individual page was invalidated and how many signatures were on them.

Needless to say, there will be litigation to force this onto the ballot. Mayor Parker has acknowledged the inevitability of this before and does so again in her press release. We are rapidly approaching the deadline for any referendum or measure to be put on a ballot – according to the Secretary of State, that deadline is Monday, August 18, 78 days before Election Day. I have no idea what the chances are of getting a definitive answer by then. I do find it amusing that one of the head haters, Dave Welch of the Houston Area Pastors Council, is claiming that they have “already assembled the top elections law attorneys in the state to review this” because by all the accounts I’ve heard the petition effort was incredibly sloppy. I mean, go back and look at those memos – you’ve got page after page of petitions being invalidated for not being signed by the circulator, or having only an illegible signature with no corresponding printed name by a circulator. How amateur night is that? They really needed to have those Top Men working on this at the beginning, not just now.

Anyway. You can still see the petitions themselves by searching Scribd for “hero petition” if you want to cross-check the City Attorney’s work. This isn’t over by a long shot – it’s certainly possible that a court could decide that the city was being too nitpicky in its review, or that some of the requirements in the charter are unconstitutional, or just that we should cut these poor bastards some slack, I don’t know. We’ll know more when we see the lawsuit that they file. KTRK, Equality Texas, Equal Rights Houston, Lone Star Q, Texas Leftist, and BOR have more.

UPDATE: More from ThinkProgress. And no, CultureMap, it’s not a bad thing that voters won’t be “allowed” to vote on whether or not to let discrimination continue to be legal.

Post HERO, watch for the petition drives

Here’s the full Chron story about the passage of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. I’m going to skip ahead in the story and focus on what the haters are saying and planning to do.

Opponent Dave Welch, of the Houston Area Pastors Council, said his group will begin gathering signatures against the ordinance to trigger a referendum seeking its repeal this November. The group would need to gather roughly 17,000 signatures – or 10 percent of turnout in last fall’s mayoral race – in the next 30 days.

“Once we correct this grievous act through the ballot this fall,” Welch said in a statement, “we will then remind those members that patronizing a tiny interest group and outgoing mayor instead of serving the people leads to a short political career.”


Houston voters twice have rejected protections or benefits for gays, in 1985 and in 2001.

The most recent vote was spearheaded by Houston Community College trustee and longtime anti-gay advocate Dave Wilson, who said he plans to gather signatures to seek a recall election against “three or four” council members who voted yes.

Only the number of signatures equivalent to one-quarter of the votes cast for mayor in a given council district are required, which Wilson said makes some districts with poor turnout particularly ripe targets.

The signatures must be gathered within a 30-day period and a recall petition must list grounds related to “incompetence, misconduct, malfeasance or unfitness for office.” The target of such a petition could then object, triggering a vote of the City Council on whether the grounds are sufficient. City Attorney David Feldman said the city’s 100-year-old recall process has never been used, and added a single ordinance vote would not be valid grounds.

“Some people say it’s intimidation, et cetera, but I look at it as accountability,” Wilson said, adding he views Feldman as a biased source. “People are elected to represent their district. They’re not up there to propagate their own personal views.”

Wilson said he also is gathering the signatures needed to seek a charter amendment banning a biological man from using a women’s restroom. The ordinance passed Wednesday offers such a protection for transgender residents citywide, as does an executive order Parker signed in 2010 applying to city facilities.

The earliest a charter vote could appear would be May 2015, but Feldman said such an effort may be too relevant to the ordinance passed Wednesday, meaning the signatures gathered would need to fall within the 30-day window.

A petition to repeal the ordinance would require fewer than half the signatures needed to mount a recall effort against Mayor Parker. That’s a more attainable target, but we’ll see how it goes. As I said before, I don’t fear any of this. It’ll be a fight, but we have the numbers, we have the will, and we have the pleasure of being in the right.

It seems clear that anything other than a straight repeal effort within the 30 day time frame will generate a court fight. I rally don’t know how much weight to put on the wording of the petition versus the lack of any mention of grounds for recall elsewhere in the charter. I’d hate to have it come down to a judge’s ruling on that.

By the way, you know who’s an unsung hero in all this? Ben Hall, that’s who. Thanks to Ben Hall, Mayor Parker took the 2013 election a bit more seriously than the 2011 election, and drove up turnout to near-2009 levels as a result. If turnout in 2013 had been the same as in 2011, the haters would only need about 27,000 signatures to get the recall process started instead of the 42,500 they need now, and they’d need fewer than 11,000 sigs to force the repeal referendum instead of 17,000. So thanks, Ben Hall! You did something good with your campaign! Hair Balls, Juanita, BOR, Texas Leftist, Free Press Houston, and TransGriot have more.

GHP endorses proposed NDO

Good for them.


The Greater Houston Partnership came out in support of Mayor Annise Parker’s proposed equal rights ordinance, giving the measure a boost as it heads to a City Council committee hearing on Wednesday.

Parker plans to put the measure before the full City Council for a vote next week.

The Partnership initially had reservations about the sweeping anti-discrimination proposal, aimed at private businesses as well as city employment and contracting, but President Bob Harvey said most of the group’s concerns had been addressed by the time the mayor’s office released a draft of the ordinance last week. The Partnership’s executive committee voted unanimously on Friday to support the proposal.

“The business community and the community in general views our city as remarkably diverse and welcoming,” Harvey said. “I think this ordinance is consistent with what this city stands for.”

That’s exactly right. Many large companies have had their own version of this for years, so it’s something they’re comfortable with. Via Houston Legal, the Houston Business Journal makes this message even more explicit.

If Houston businesses are concerned about the potential unintended consequences of Mayor Annise Parker’s Equal Rights ordinance, they should look to the Americans with Disabilities Act, said Stephen J. Roppolo, a regional managing partner and employment law attorney at Fisher and Phillips.

“All of us were concerned that 40 million people were going to be declared disabled,” Roppolo said. “There were some jokes at legal seminars that were only half jokes that claimed, ‘If you’re follicly challenged, you’re disabled.'”

The net result of ADA, Roppolo said, “was not nearly as bad — as expansive — as everyone thought.”


Gender identity can be confusing to some people, Roppolo said, but he’s confident human resources departments at most Houston businesses are already prepared for this. In fact, businesses have been dealing with gender identity issues for some time.

“Everyone likes black-and-white, easy-to-decide issues. Gender identity is not black and white; it’s shades of gray,” Roppolo said. “What I tell employers is that if you’re focused on whether that person, whomever they are, is doing the work in a way that helps the business, that’s all that matters.”

Furthermore, Roppolo said employers are increasingly sensitive to workplace harassment.

“It’s not productive,” he said. “When people are doing that kind of stuff to one another, they’re not doing work.”

But the biggest message that Roppolo and other lawyers have for Houston employers is: Relax.

“Sit tight,” he said. “This is going to be fine. At the same time, I am telling employers that this is going to take some work to get your front-line supervisors to understand what the new parameters are.”

Yes, it’s going to be fine. It’s good to have the GHP officially on board, since that ought to shut up anyone that wants to claim this fairly benign ordinance would somehow be harmful to business. If anything, it’s the opposite, as the kind of innovative employees that companies like to recruit want to live in a city that reflects their own values. There’s nothing controversial about this ordinance, which as CM Ellen Cohen, the chair of the Quality of Life Committee, noted has been revised multiple times after much feedback from stakeholders.

That doesn’t mean the usual suspects won’t piss and moan about it, of course. Back to the Chron:

Major Republican donor Steven Hotze sent an email from his Conservative Republicans of Texas PAC that dubbed the proposal “Parker’s Sexual Predator Protection Act,” suggesting the measure will create a loophole to allow people to lie about their gender to enter bathrooms where they could attack women and children. He also wrote against protections based on sexual orientation.

“This would make those who engage in deviant sexual acts a new minority class equal to African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and other legitimate minorities. This is a slap in the face of true minorities,” the email read.

Dave Welch, of the Houston Area Pastor Council, echoed Hotze in saying the ordinance is a solution to a problem that does not exist and that the true reason for Parker’s proposal is to force the Houston community to accept her same-sex marriage.

Texas Leftist has a copy of Hotze’s hate mail. I’m loathe to give these d-bags the attention they so desperately crave, but a reminder of who they are and what they stand for is always useful. They represent a small and shrinking group, and they deserve to be ignored. When Council finally takes up the NDO – in two weeks, since I assume someone will tag it – I hope Council passes it unanimously, or at least overwhelmingly. Don’t be with the losers here, Council members. Campos has more.

And another hatemonger is heard from

It’s almost too depressing to read through this KHOU story about local bigot Dave Wilson and his pathetic attempt to affect the outcome of the Mayor’s race, but it needs to be done. Here’s what I have to say about it.

– Dave Wilson is a reprehensible, sorry excuse of a human being. The same is true of Dave Welch, Steven Hotze, and anyone else like them who has yet to crawl out from the woodwork. This cannot be emphasized enough.

– Wilson claims he’s sending his flyer on his own. My understanding is that it would cost in the neighborhood of $20,000 to print and mail the 35,000 pieces he says he’ll mail. There are any number of ways that he could hide a funding source for this, of course, and one cannot prove a negative. But if he really wants us to believe that, he ought to produce the paperwork to show it.

– That assumes he actually does print and send the thing. He’s already gotten way more eyeballs on his dirty work thanks to KHOU’s coverage than he’d ever have gotten otherwise. I’m sure he was aware of that when he called the station to let them know what he was up to.

– If Gene Locke really means what he says about rejecting any association with this kind of campaigning, the statement to make is to tell Dave Wilson to take his mailer and stick it where the sun don’t shine. Which won’t stop him, of course – you can’t make a deranged person not do whatever deranged thing he’s determined to do – but would at least send a clear message.

– Finally, to answer the question Wilson asks in his mailer: Yes, this is the image I want Houston to portray, so that the world will see the decent, tolerant, opportunity-granting, forward-thinking city that we are. The best way to do that is to forcefully reject what Dave Wilson and others like him stand for.

Parker hits Locke over potential conflicts of interest

Annise Parker put out a strongly worded press release today that calls out Gene Locke for his work with the Andrews Kurth law firm, which has done a ton of business with the city, some of which was done by Locke, in recent years. I’ve put it beneath the fold, or you can go read Martha for more. Seems to me that the transparency theme, which is being echoed by people like Texas Watchdog, Slampo, Burka, and former Roy supporter Big Jolly, has the potential to do as much damage to Locke as Hotze-gate has. Speaking of which, you have noticed that no one on Team Locke, up to and including the man himself, have denied in any way the Chron reporting that he sought Hotze’s endorsement and met with Dave Welch and his hatemongering group of pastors, right? I just want to make sure we’re all clear on that.

The Chron story on this has Locke’s response.

Locke’s campaign said [Parker’s charges were] not true, as he resigned from Metro, the port and the sports authority before announcing his candidacy for mayor in April.

“I find it incredibly disingenuous that Annise Parker would question my integrity when she knows, and she has known, that I plan to resign from Andrews Kurth upon becoming mayor,” Locke said in a statement. “This is not only much ado about nothing, but this is the kind of negative campaign rhetoric Houstonians don’t deserve.”

Ashley Ronald Nelly, a spokeswoman for Andrews Kurth, said the former city attorney would have “no continuing financial ties of any kind to Andrews Kurth and derive no financial benefit related to the revenues of the firm.”

“Andrews Kurth and its predecessors have represented governmental entities for over 30 years, long before Gene Locke joined the firm in 1998,” she said in a statement. “Gene has spent most of his recent career advising governmental entities about the conflict of interest laws that bind them, and we believe that, as mayor, Gene will ensure that all persons and firms who work with or do business with the city fully follow those laws.”

Releasing his tax returns might help offer some evidence to back up that claim about no continuing financial ties, but that’s been a no-go so far. Read on for Parker’s statement. Prof. Murray has more.


The Chron on Hotze, Welch, and Locke

The Chron editorializes today about the forthcoming hatemongering in the city election to be aimed at Annise Parker, and Gene Locke’s tepid response to being its intended beneficiary. And they fall just short of getting it right.

We’ve been here before. In 1997 a small-minded ballot initiative would have ended the city’s affirmative action program that helped minority and women contractors. Mayor Bob Lanier went on the air in an ad that bluntly stated his opposition to a proposal that would “turn back the clock to the days when guys who look like me got all the city’s business.”

Lanier couldn’t have been more clear: Discrimination is just not right.

It was a powerful moment of leadership. The referendum went down to defeat, and news outlets around the country marveled that a “wealthy white developer” had taken the lead on affirmative action.

It’s time for another such moment of leadership.

Saturday afternoon, Gene Locke issued a statement rejecting “the style of campaigning that was the subject of an article in the Houston Chronicle.” He urged the people of Houston to choose a new mayor based on the issues and avoid being “swayed by divisive rhetoric.”

The rhetoric of people like Steven Hotze and Dave Welch carries a high cost. Their support should not be purchased at the price of bigotry.

Well, they do correctly note Locke’s courting of Steven Hotze. And they seem to be saying that he ought to be more like MayorBob and take a real stand on this rather than just put out a wimpy press release that never acknowledges his own role in this crapstorm. Just one more sentence, to call on Locke to specifically disavow Hotze and his ilk, that’s all I ask. Guess I need to wait for Rick Casey to write about it next week.

Locke’s response

So while I was out watching Rice beat Tulane, the Gene Locke campaign released the following statement regarding the homophobic attack on Annise Parker.

“As I have previously stated, I reject any association with the style of campaigning that was the subject of an article in the Houston Chronicle today. We have serious issues to deal with in our city that requires us to work together as one Houston and I trust that Houstonians will choose a new mayor based on the issues that effect our lives every day and not to be swayed by divisive rhetoric.”

That’s a lovely sentiment. I’m sure it’s sincerely spoken. It’s certainly a lot better than the snotty “I know what you are, but what am I?” response that Locke’s spokesperson gave to the Chronicle. And if it were in response to actions made by some unaffiliated group that had crawled out from under a rock, it would have been perfectly fine.

But that’s not the case. Let’s review that Chron story to see why:

[Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council] said he had “no doubt” there would be numerous independent advocacy efforts urging voters not to choose Parker, most of which would involve mail.


[Locke] has made recent efforts to court some of the staunch social conservatives who are either actively planning on attacking Parker’s sexuality or strongly considering it.

He appeared at the Pastor Council’s annual gala last Friday and was encouraged several times by State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, a featured speaker, to stand for conservative values.

Locke has also met with and sought the endorsement of Dr. Steven Hotze, a longtime local kingmaker in conservative politics and author of the Straight Slate in 1985, a coterie of eight City Council candidates he recruited who ran on an anti-gay platform.

The slate was formed to oppose eight incumbents who supported measures aimed at protecting homosexuals from discrimination in city government. The measures were resoundingly repealed by the voters in a referendum, but none of the eight council members lost their seats.

Republican consultant Allen Blakemore, a longtime Hotze associate who spoke on his behalf, said he is considering mailing out a slate of endorsed runoff candidates, and Parker’s sexuality is a “key factor” in his decision.

In other words, before these folks crawled out from underneath their rock, Locke got down there with them to ask for their support. Some acknowledgement of that is necessary for his statement to mean anything. If he’s not actually disavowing Welch and Hotze and Blakemore but merely tut-tutting about the sins he expects they will commit on his behalf, it’s not the least bit penitent of him. He chose to associate himself with them. He shares responsibility for what they do. He has not admitted his responsibility. It’s as simple as that.

Putting this another way, when Welch and Blakemore follow through and send gay-bashing mailers to however many voters with a message to vote for Gene Locke, will he continue to “reject any association” with that style of campaigning? Or will he gladly reap whatever electoral benefit he may get from that because he thinks he’s covered now?

(See here for an example of Blakemore’s work from last year’s election. If someone whose endorsement Annise Parker had courted sent out a similar mailer on her behalf that was aimed at Gene Locke, do you think a statement like the one Locke made here would suffice to distance herself from it?)

So color me unimpressed by Gene Locke’s statement. When he says something meaningful – something that calls out the bad actors by name, owns up to his association with them, and specifically tells them he does not want any of this kind of “help” from them – then we can talk. Stace has more.

And here comes the nastiness

I really thought that we’d make it through this election without there being any nasty anti-gay stuff. I guess I was naive to think so, because here it comes.

A cluster of socially conservative Houstonians is planning a campaign to discourage voters from choosing City Controller Annise Parker in the December mayoral runoff because she is a lesbian, according to multiple ministers and conservatives involved in the effort.

The group is motivated by concerns about a “gay takeover” of City Hall, given that two other candidates in the five remaining City Council races are also openly gay, as well as national interest driven by the possibility that Houston could become the first major U.S. city to elect an openly gay woman.

Another primary concern is that Parker or other elected officials would seek to overturn a 2001 city charter amendment that prohibits the city from providing benefits to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees.

“The bottom line is that we didn’t pick the battle, she did, when she made her agenda and sexual preference a central part of her campaign,” said Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, numbering more than 200 senior pastors in the Greater Houston area. “National gay and lesbian activists see this as a historic opportunity. The reality is that’s because they’re promoting an agenda which we believe to be contrary to the concerns of the community and destructive to the family.”

I don’t know what election Dave Welch has been following, but that’s not at all how Parker has run her campaign. She’s run on her years of public service, her vast experience and knowledge of the issues, and her sterling qualifications for the office. Unless you think that simply by being gay she’s made her sexual preference a central part of it. Which says a lot more about Dave Welch than it does about Annise Parker.

One of the reasons why I had hopes that this election would steer clear of this hatemongering is because I believed Gene Locke to be a better person than that. I may have to re-evaluate that assumption as well.

[Locke] has made recent efforts to court some of the staunch social conservatives who are either actively planning on attacking Parker’s sexuality or strongly considering it.

He appeared at the Pastor Council’s annual gala last Friday and was encouraged several times by State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, a featured speaker, to stand for conservative values.

Locke has also met with and sought the endorsement of Dr. Steven Hotze, a longtime local kingmaker in conservative politics and author of the Straight Slate in 1985, a coterie of eight City Council candidates he recruited who ran on an anti-gay platform.

The only decent and proper thing to do with Steven Hotze is to stay as far away from him as possible. I’d heard these rumors about Locke courting Hotze for weeks now, and didn’t want to believe them. Once again, clearly I was wrong. It’s simply not possible for Locke to have sought out these people without knowing who they are and what they do. For shame.

The irony, of course, is that it’s Locke who is on record supporting a referendum to provide same-sex benefits to City employees, which is something that Parker herself says she has no current plans to do. So one wonders what everyone involved in this sordid little affair will make of that.

Former Harris County Tax Assessor Collector Paul Bettencourt, another Republican close to Hotze, said that if Locke wishes to unite a strong African-American base with social conservatives, they will need his assurance that he will not seek to overturn the charter amendment.

Responding to the same debate question as Parker last month, Locke said same-sex benefits allow governments and businesses “a competitive advantage” and said he “would favor that,” although it would not be the first thing on his plate.

“That’s not going to motivate us to come out and vote for somebody,” Bettencourt said of social conservatives. “You cannot get the positive good conservative turnout if you’re trying to undo charter amendments. It’s a line drawn in the sand. You just can’t have it both ways.”

In other words, what Bettencourt is saying is if you want these folks to vote for you, you’ve got to bring the hate. It’s what they care about, and they’re very clear on that point. So the choice is yours, Gene Locke. Do you want to win so badly that you’ll abandon this position, which your supporters have been touting – in that blog post I linked to above, Grace Rodriguez says Locke would be stronger on gay rights issues than Parker would be – so that you can motivate these people to vote for you? You knew what you were doing when you sought out Steven Hotze. Your spokesperson may claim that you want to be Mayor for all of Houston, but that’s not what Steven Hotze wants. What will you do to win his approval? Martha has more.