Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Concerns about the Census

We need to pay attention to this.

Latino leaders are warning of a developing crisis in the 2020 census and demanding that the Census Bureau act aggressively to calm fears in immigrant populations about data misuse.

Citing focus groups and initial interviews in Texas and across the country, the bureau’s Mikelyn Meyers recently reported “an unprecedented groundswell in confidentiality and data sharing concerns” related to the 2020 count.

“We’re concerned that this may present a barrier to participation in the 2020 census,” she said. “And this is particularly troubling due to the disproportionate impact on hard-to-count areas.”

Harris County, which is roughly 42 percent Hispanic, has long been an area of concern for the Census Bureau. Last spring, officials tested new technology in only two counties – Harris and Los Angeles – aimed at improving response rates in hopes of finding solutions before 2020.

More than 1.45 million people live in what are considered “hard-to-count” census tracts in the nine congressional districts that include Harris County, according to U.S. census data analyzed and mapped by the City University of New York’s Center for Urban Research. The researchers counted tracts with response rates below 73 percent in the 2010 census as “hard to count.”

Laura Murillo, president and CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, noted that the Latino community has historically shied away from participating in census surveys. For the 2010 census, the Houston chamber hosted information sessions and explained that responses assist the government in making decisions about how to spend federal tax dollars.

While Murillo said the chamber is willing to partner with the Census Bureau again, the federal government’s actions on immigration have alienated many Latinos and will make openly sharing information with government officials a hard sell. She cited the Trump administration’s decisions to push for a border wall and end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, also known as DACA, as reasons some may find to be wary.

“Trust has been breached,” she said.

Two things to remember. One is that the Census is actually specified in the Constitution, so just on that alone it’s a big deal. Two, in addition to political purposes such as apportioning Congressional districts, businesses and academics and local governments and more rely heavily on the demographic and economic data that the Census provides. We need to get this right, and that means (urk) depending on the Trump administration to not screw it up. You can see why people are raising the alarm.

The economic impact of SB4

It could be big.

Representatives from Texas’ business, local government and higher education sectors argued Tuesday that the state’s new immigration-enforcement law, which is slated to take effect Sept. 1, could do billions of dollars in damage to the Texas economy.

Using data from the 2015 American Community Survey and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance — a group made up of 40 state-based immigrant and civil rights groups — estimated during a Tuesday press conference that the state stands to lose roughly $223 million in state and local taxes and more than $5 billion in gross domestic product under Senate Bill 4.

The law, which was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May and seeks to outlaw “sanctuary” jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials, would also allow local police officers to ask about a person’s immigration status when they are detained — not just when they are charged with a crime.

“We estimate those costs as they relate to jobs, earnings, taxes and GDP if 10 percent of undocumented immigrants were to leave Texas,” the group said, calling that 10 percent figure a conservative estimate. The group analyzed the top 10 industries that benefit from undocumented labor and used Harvard University economist George Borjas‘ undocumented population analysis in its research, according to the methodology outlined in the study.

[…]

The economic argument isn’t a new one for opponents of the law; several Democratic state lawmakers tried and failed to convince their colleagues of its merit during this spring’s regular legislative session. State Democrats also called for an update to a study released in 2006 by former Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. That analysis showed that undocumented immigrants who lived in Texas in 2005 added $17.7 billion to the state’s economy.

In a statement Tuesday, representatives from local chambers of commerce at the news conference went after the lawmakers who championed the legislation, calling them dishonorable.

“Each of you standing with us have a big job to do,” said Ramiro Cavazos, the CEO of San Antonio’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “And that it is to protect this economy for our children and our grandchildren.”

The Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Bilateral African American Chamber, the United Chamber of Commerce Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande Valley Chamber of Commerce were among those represented at the news conference.

The Chron adds some details.

Paul Puente, executive secretary of the Houston Gulf Coast Building and Construction Trades Council, said many undocumented construction workers are already packing up and leaving with their families to neighboring states such as Oklahoma and Louisiana ahead of SB4’s implementation on Sept. 1.

An analysis of data from the U.S. Census, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that if 10 percent of undocumented immigrants leave Texas, the state would forfeit about $190.7 million in federal tax revenue and $223.5 million more in state and local taxes.

The disappearance of those estimated 95,000 undocumented workers would also result in nearly $2.9 billion in lost wage earnings. The analysis also found that the state would lose an additional 70,000 jobs dependent on undocumented consumers, with an estimated $2.4 billion more in lost wages.

The researchers said the ripple effect throughout the economy could reach between $9.2 billion and $13.8 billion.

That’s a lot of money, and it doesn’t include things like tourism and conferences. You can dispute the figures if you’d like, but the broader point is that maybe it’s a bad idea to pass a law like this that so many people think with justification will hurt themselves, those close to them, and the state as a whole. There was plenty of testimony to this effect in the hearings, from law enforcement and religious groups and business interests and just plain folks, and there’s the lived experience of other states who have done this. It was just that the Republican majority refused to listen. And that job that Ramiro Cavazos mentioned that we all have to do includes remembering who supported and who opposed this terrible law when the next elections roll around. The Current has more.

Who cares about Bob McNair?

Another bad decision.

HoustonUnites

Houston Texans owner Bob McNair donated $10,000 this week to opponents of the city’s embattled equal rights ordinance, entering the political fray over the law headed to voters in November.

McNair, a frequent GOP donor, mailed the $10,000 check to opponents earlier this week, according to Campaign for Houston spokesman Jared Woodfill. He said the donation “was very exciting for us.”

Critics of the law, largely Christian conservatives, object to the non-discrimination protections it extends to gay and transgender residents — the law also lists 13 other protected groups. Supporters of the ordinance, including Mayor Annise Parker, have warned that repealing the law could damage the city’s economy and could jeopardize high-profile events such as Houston’s 2017 Super Bowl.

Woodfill pushed back on that notion Wednesday.

“The HERO supporters have tried to scare people into believing that we would lose the Super Bowl,” Woodfill said. “Obviously, if there were any truth behind that, Bob McNair wouldn’t’ be donating to the folks that are opposed to the ordinance.”

Here’s the longer version of the story. As Campos notes, there is something to that. I’ve always been skeptical about claims we could lose the Super Bowl if HERO is voted down for the simple reason that logistically, it would be very hard to do and would inconvenience a lot of people. The NFL doesn’t want to do that unless it absolutely has to, and I don’t think there would be enough of a national outcry to make that happen. What I do expect is that a defeat for HERO would jeopardize our chances of landing other big events, sporting and otherwise, and would likely cause some planners of events that are already on the calendar here, at the George R. Brown and big hotels, to reconsider and find alternate options.

So Woodfill gets a symbolic trophy, for whatever good it does him. It would be nice if this story went national, as a lot of other HERO-related news has done, as it might put a little heat on McNair and generally serve as bad publicity for him and his team. The Texans aren’t exactly a revered franchise outside of Houston, so a little ridicule there could go a long way. In the meantime, this story appeared in the paper the same day that this full-page ad ran in the local section:

HoustonBusinessLeadersEndorseHERO

For those who have been trying to claim that HERO is only of concern to the LGBT community, note the presence there of the NAACP, the Greater Houston Black Chamber, the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and among the individuals, the President of the Houston Urban League, Judson Robinson III. There was also this in my feeds from yesterday:

As the Texas director of AARP, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization for all persons age 50 and older, I am proud that this Association — with 38 million members, including more than 2.2 million in Texas — believes firmly in the fundamental right of all people to be free from discrimination.

Approval of HERO by voters would help ensure that Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, provides its residents and visitors with an environment free of discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy.

There are lots of people talking about why HERO matters, to them and to the city. The Houston Area Women’s Center has been heavily involved to help debunk the dangerous and pernicious falsehoods that liars like Jared Woodfill have been spreading, now with the assistance of a fool like Bob McNair. The Press has more.

Laura Murillo

Campos tosses a hat into the ring for Mayor 2015.

Laura Murillo

Laura Murillo, CEO and President of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is telling folks she will be running for H-Town Mayor next year. I said this yesterday:

She would certainly be a fresh face. Being a Latina and the only woman in the race would help her. I think she could raise the money – certainly as much as the other three could. She is smart, articulate, and bilingual.

And:

Here in H-Town we kind of know who is seriously thinking about running for Mayor. Council Member Stephen Costello, State Rep. Sylvester Turner, and former Congressman Chris Bell are the ones most mentioned. We pretty much know what to expect from these three. They have all been around for a while if you know what I mean.

I can see folks getting excited about a Laura Murillo candidacy. She goes into the race with a built-in relationship and record working with hundreds of Latino business owners and professionals. They know her well.

Her going up against three veteran male politicians would certainly provide voters with a choice. A Murillo candidacy also means that the other three candidates will probably not be doing a whole lot of Latino voter outreach.

As noted, he teased this the day before. I’ve met Dr. Murillo a couple of times – I’ve been to at least one candidate forum at the HHCC – and I’m sure she’d make an interesting candidate. There are a lot of people who are at least thinking about running for Mayor next year – Campos’ list doesn’t include CM Oliver Pennington, who is as out there as any of the other three he mentioned. I don’t plan to spend too much time thinking about it until after this year’s elections are over. I will say that all of the wannabees will have lots of challenges to deal with, but also lots of opportunities. I’m going to need to see some big ideas from them if they want me to take them seriously. But not today. Y’all have till December or so to start getting it together. Be ready to hit the ground running.

Mayor presents revised Council map

Here’s the release. There was a press conference today at 10 to roll it out.

Mayor Annise Parker today revealed a second version of the staff redistricting map that incorporates recommendations from members of various Houston communities. The new plan includes four districts in which the total population and voting age population is majority Hispanic; two are majority African American and another is nearing majority African American; one district contains a large and significant Asian population; and three districts have Anglo majorities.

“This new map reflects Houston’s ethnic diversity,” said Mayor Parker. “I am amazed at the level of public participation in this process. It was truly a community effort. I am proud to have presided over a process that was entirely transparent and accessible. I especially thank the members of the Redistricting Oversight Committee, as well as community members as a whole, for their time and input.”

One of the most notable differences between the consensus map and the original is that the consensus map preserves the Hispanic majorities in Districts H and I, respects neighborhood concerns and increases the ability of Hispanics to elect council members in two other districts.

“We are very pleased the mayor and city staff sat with members of Houston’s Hispanic community to find a way to address our representation concerns,” said Laura Murillo, President and CEO, Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “We support this consensus map, and hope that City Council approves the changes.”

More than 1000 Houstonians attended the City’s 10 town hall meetings – one in every council district – intended to solicit public input before creating the original staff plan. Citizens voiced concerns about neighborhoods, the Voting Rights Act and the ability to elect a council that reflects the diversity of Houston. After the proposal was submitted to Council more than 100 community members came and spoke at the three public hearings.

“The Asian American community of Houston came together to ensure our voice was heard at every opportunity,” said Rogene Calvert, Director, Texas Asian American Redistricting Initiative. “We appreciate the Mayor’s outreach to all communities to produce the best map possible. Redistricting can’t meet everyone’s needs but today we join other Houston minority communities to support this redistricting plan.”

For the first time, Houstonians had access to a computer kiosk loaded with redistricting software and 2010 Census information. Numerous ordinary citizens took the time to draw their own maps and 13 plans were officially submitted for consideration and analysis. Nine met the minimum requirements.

“It is important for Houstonians to know the intricacies of this process, and how hard this committee worked to ensure everyone had the opportunity for equal representation,” said Anthony Hall, Chair, Mayor’s Redistricting Oversight Committee.

The Mayor’s Redistricting Oversight Committee was formed at the beginning of the process to assist and advise the demographer, Jerry Wood, and the mayor. Members include: Anthony Hall (Chair), Roman Martinez, Dr. Adolfo Santos, Zinetta Burney, Sue Schechter, Penny Butler, Gordon Quan, Mace Meeks and Pat Sanchez.

And here’s the map, which is an update to the Robert Jara plan that had been presented to Council last month. You can see the original version of that at Greg’s place. As noted by Marc Campos, CM James Rodriguez has endorsed this plan as well. Ellen Cohen is back where she started in District C, and I remain as always in District H. I don’t know if this means that the 16 single-member district plan is buried or not, but I do expect this plan to be approved, if not tomorrow then next week. Greg has more.

UPDATE: Now Greg has some preliminary data.

More in support of Prop 4

Many groups and individuals are supporting Proposition 4, which is the constitutional amendment to help create more Tier One universities in Texas. One local group in favor of Prop 4 is the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. I had a conversation last week with Chamber President Dr. Laura Murillo about Prop 4:

Download the MP3 file

Also last week, the Legislative Study Group held a press conference urging the passage of Prop 4. Here’s their release from that conference:

At a press conference today at HCC Coleman College for Health Sciences, Legislative Study Group (LSG) Chair, State Representative Garnet F. Coleman (D-Houston) along with LSG board members Representatives Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), Scott Hochberg (D-Houston), and Hubert Vo (D-Houston) stood in support of Proposition 4, which will establish the national research university fund that will allow emerging research universities in the state to achieve national prominence as major research universities.

“As a representative with University of Houston and UH-Downtown in my district, it is high time that UH and other institutions around the state get the opportunity to compete for funds for national excellence. As a joint author and long time advocate of legislation that would establish more top tier research institutions, I am enthused that Proposition 4 will finally come before the voters.” said Representative Coleman.

LSG member Representative Ellen Cohen (D-Houston) added, “As a member of the House Higher Education committee, I was proud to coauthor and work on HB 51, the enabling legislation for Proposition 4. Increasing the number of Tier 1 research universities in Texas will benefit our state and our local communities while driving economic development.”

Texas currently has only three universities classified as tier one institutions even though it has the second highest population in the nation. New York has eight tier one universities and California ten.

“As an alumnus of the University of Houston and the chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, I’m proud to support this proposition. It marks a milestone for the future of education in Texas,” said Representative Turner.

Representative Vo added, “I am proud of the effect this proposition will have on Texas universities, particularly my alma mater, the University of Houston. It will go a long way towards bringing Texas up to scale nationally.”

Rep. Hochberg, chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education added “This proposition is necessary to secure success for our state’s future students and to ensure that our state remains nationally and globally competitive.”

“Our students deserve more nationally respected options and a better higher education system in Texas, and it is important to remember that this begins with community colleges,” said Representative Coleman.

In addition, Rep. Coleman reiterated his call for greater investment and action from the state towards Texas’ higher education system. This includes lowering and freezing tuition rates, increasing scholarships for middle income families, preserving TEXAS Grants and the top ten percent, and properly funding community colleges in Texas.

For the best higher education system, it is imperative that the state recognize and support what is oftentimes the bridge to four year colleges and universities: community colleges. Increasing the role of early college high schools, and empowering these colleges ensures that a higher education is within reach of every Texas student that desires one.

State Representative Garnet F. Coleman (D-Houston) chairs the Committee on County Affairs, and serves on the Public Health and Calendars Committees. He also chairs the Legislative Study Group, a house caucus comprised of over 50 members that are committed to developing sound public policy for Texas families. Additionally, he serves on the Select Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding.

Of all the ballot propositions, this is the one I feel the most strongly about. I’m voting for Prop 4, and I hope you will as well.

Opposition to Prop 4

Prop 4, the Tier 1 Universities constitutional amendment, has gotten a lot of support across the spectrum. Any high-profile amendment will always have some opposition, however, and Prop 4 no exception.

A proposed constitutional amendment to help the University of Houston and six other Texas schools raise their national standing has drawn its first announced opposition: college students.

“The base of our argument is, research is not the great deal that university administrators and some state policy makers would make it out to be,” said Tony McDonald, vice chairman of legislative affairs for Young Conservatives of Texas and a law student at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s really not a very good economic bargain for the state.”

[…]

Supporters say more university research projects will be good for the state’s economy. Economist Ray Perryman is set to release his study on the potential economic impact of Proposition 4 today. Margaret Justus, a spokeswoman for Texans for Tier One, said Perryman’s report will dispute the Young Conservatives argument that research spending doesn’t really help the economy.

“We’ve got (support from) people who call themselves strong conservatives because they know strong research creates … great, high-paying jobs,” she said.

But McDonald said he doubts the projected benefits are real, and that much research now done by university faculty isn’t worthy of public support. Instead, he said, universities should focus on teaching.

“I feel that may hurt students at those universities,” he said. “It’s going to be drawing their professors out of the classroom.”
Young Conservatives of Texas has chapters at several schools that could benefit from Proposition 4, including UH, Texas Tech, UT-Dallas and UT-San Antonio. Chapter leaders at those schools didn’t respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

McDonald acknowledged that not everyone in the group wanted to oppose Proposition 4 but defended it as a group consensus.

When I think of the YCT, I think of affirmative action bake sales and not serious public policy analysis, so I can’t say I find their opposition to be a matter of concern. Be that as it may, here’s an accompanying article with the case for Prop 4.

A proposed constitutional amendment to boost research at the University of Houston and other Texas schools could create a million or more jobs and add billions of dollars in tax revenues, according to a study released Wednesday by economist Ray Perryman.

“And these are not just 1.2 million regular old, garden-variety jobs,” Perryman said. “Many of these jobs are the finest scientists, engineers doing the most exciting things that you can imagine.”

Perryman was in Austin to promote Proposition 4, which will be decided by voters in November. He was joined by former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and James Huffines, chairman of the University of Texas board of regents, who are co-chairs of the advocacy group, Texans for Tier One.

Their central argument is that building up a handful of universities would pay off in new jobs, innovative research and expanded business opportunities.

“Unquestionably, the jobs of the future are going to follow the brainpower,” Huffines said.

He and Hobby stressed that the proposal will not require new taxes, although Perryman’s report notes that additional state funding likely would be needed to sustain any gains.

You can read Perryman’s report here. I’m sold on Prop 4 – it’s the easiest vote on the ballot, if you ask me – but take a look at that report and see what you think. And you can add the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to the list of Prop 4 endorsers. A statement from them about Prop 4 is beneath the fold.

(more…)

Endorsement watch: A late roundup

Some recent endorsements in City elections over the past few days. Going back to last week, here are the endorsements from the Houston Black American Democrats (HBAD):

Mayor – Gene Locke
Controller – Ronald Green
At Large #1 – Karen Derr
At Large #2 – Andrew Burks
At Large #3 – Melissa Noriega
At Large #4 – C.O. Bradford
At Large #5 – Jolanda Jones
District A – Lane Lewis
District B – Roger Bowden
District D – Wanda Adams
District F – Mike Laster
District G – Dexter Handy
District H – Ed Gonzalez
HISD District IX – Adrian Collins
Proposition 4 – Yes

HBAD also endorsed John Sharp in the whenever-it-will-be Senate race. More on that in a bit. Next up is the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce PAC, which thankfully put its endorsements online where I could easily find them:

Gene Locke, Mayor

Ronald Green, Controller

Sue Lovell, At Large Pos. 2

Melissa Noriega, At Large Pos. 3

Noel Freeman, At Large Pos. 4

Jarvis Johnson, Dist. B

Anne Clutterbuck, Dist. C

Wanda Adams, Dist. D

Mills Worsham, Dist. G

Ed Gonzalez, Dist. H

James Rodriguez, Dist. I

Alma Lara, HISD Dist. 1

Mary Ann Perez, HCCS Dist. III

And finally, and also nicely online, the Noah’s Ark PAC:

Noah’s Ark PAC endorses Gene Locke for Mayor of Houston. Following a personal visit to Houston’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care (BARC), Gene Locke met with a group of Houston’s most vocal advocates for BARC to ask for their input and suggestions for making lasting changes at BARC. Locke incorporated their input into his policy for BARC which can be found on his web site at:
http://www.genelocke.com/release_details.asp?id=68#

Gene Locke was selected due to his obvious commitment to working with advocates and for providing tangible, realistic solutions to addressing the problems at BARC.

Noah’s Ark PAC also endorses the following candidates for controller and city council:

City Controller- Pam Holm

City Council
At-Large 1- Karen Derr
At-Large 2- Sue Lovell
At-Large 3- Melissa Noriega
At-Large 4- C.O. “Brad” Bradford
At-Large 5- Jolanda Jones
District A- Lane Lewis
District B- Jarvis Johnson
District C- Anne Clutterbuck
District D- Wanda Adams
District E- no endorsement
District F- Peter Acquaro
District G- Oliver Pennington
District H- Ed Gonzalez
District I- James Rodriguez

Noah’s Ark PAC congratulates these candidates and thanks the many candidates that completed the PAC’s candidate survey. Noah’s Ark PAC would like to specifically recognize Karen Derr for being the first major candidate for Houston city council to make the issues at BARC a campaign platform issue. The PAC also recognizes candidate for mayor, Annise Parker, for routinely discussing the problems at BARC in her newsletter and campaign literature, helping to elevate the public discussion. Noah’s Ark PAC also recognizes Councilwoman Jolanda Jones for her commitment to thoroughly researching the problems at BARC and for asking tough questions when they needed to be asked.

That’s a pretty good week for Gene Locke. (It may be a little less so if this story about the Sports Authority needing to refinance a bunch of debt gets any legs.) You can read the responses they got to their questionnaires here and here. And here’s the Chron profile of Locke, the second in their series.

Not endorsement-related, but Annie’s List sent out another mailer in support of Annise Parker, this one attacking Peter Brown for being a “serial exaggerator”. I’ve put a copy of it beneath the fold for your perusal. So far, I have not seen or heard of any pushback on the mailer, which distinguishes it from the hit piece they did on Gene Locke last month.

Elsewhere, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Schieffer announced the support of several South Texas legislators.

Announcing their support for Schieffer were Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen and Representatives Veronica Gonzales of McAllen, Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles of Alice, Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City, Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville, Armando “Mando” Martinez of Weslaco, Rene Oliveira of Brownsville, Aaron Pena of Edinburg and Tara Rios Ybarra of South Padre Island.

The full release is beneath the fold. Schieffer’s release prompted a response from Hank Gilbert that said the announcement of all this support so early in the game is an acknowledgement that Gilbert is a serious threat to him. Maybe so, but one could also ask at what point Gilbert will start to get official support like that. In particular, I’m wondering which candidate for Governor guys like Reps. Jim McReynolds, Chuck Hopson, Stephen Frost, and Mark Homer – all Dems from Gilbert’s neck of the woods – will endorse.

Finally, circling back to the Senate race, John Sharp announced the endorsement of State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, while Bill White received the nod from the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.

Endorsing members include Rep Alma Allen (Houston), Rep Garnet Coleman (Houston), Rep Dawnna Dukes (Austin), Rep Harold Dutton (Houston), Rep Helen Giddings (Dallas), Rep Barbara Mallory Caraway (Dallas), Rep Ruth McClendon (San Antonio), Rep Sylvester Turner (Houston) and Rep Marc Veasey (Fort Worth).

Coleman, Allen, Dukes, Caraway, and McClendon were on the first list of endorsees that White released. He’s now received the nod of 37 of the 74 Dems in the House (full list here), including 11 of 14 from Harris County; in addition to Dutton and Turner, Hubert Vo and Armando Walle have signed on since that initial list came out. The three holdouts are Senfronia Thompson, Al Edwards, and Kristi Thibaut. This release is beneath the fold as well.

(more…)

City or county?

Like Nancy Sims, I was at the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce candidate forum yesterday morning. And like Nancy, I thought this bit was one of the more interesting parts of the debate.

Several questions focused on city finances and how each candidate would face financial challenges. Gene Locke stated that he would close the city jail and contract with Harris County to process Houston prisoners. Annise Parker also indicated that she supported closing the jail. Peter Brown indicated that he believes the city jail should remain open.

If you are new to the city jail debate, it is important to note that most people arrested by HPD may be processed at the city jail and then transferred to the county. Anything more than a Class C Misdemeanor offense goes straight to the county. The topic has been discussed for years.

It was interesting to see some disagreement among this group, even if it was just over the city jail.

Locke’s argument, seconded by Parker, was that it would cost less to contract this job to the county. Brown disputed the claim there would be any savings in this, and also pointed out that the county jail has its share of problems, while Parker expressed her confidence in the new Sheriff to fix things.

On point one, it should be pretty simple to see who’s right. Put it out for a bid, and see what the county says it’d cost the city for this service. Either it’s a net savings or it’s not.

On point two, while Brown is correct to note that the Harris County jails are under federal review and have been for several years now, the fact is that Sheriff Garcia is working to fix those problems, and by the time a new Mayor is sworn in we ought to have a good picture of how much progress he’s made on that front. I think it’s sensible to not count on being able to do this in the near term, but going forward the problems of the jail not meeting state and federal standards should be reduced and eventually eliminated.

Of course a point that no one brought up is that the Harris County jail may not have the capacity to handle the city’s inmates. Sheriff Garcia has a plan to address the overcrowding issue, but I don’t see that as being a short term fix, at least not without a firm commitment from the judiciary and the District Attorney to play their part. If and when the county gets a handle on that, then this plan will be more feasible.

On a related note, the question about the city’s participation in the 287(g) program came up as well. All four of the candidates agreed that having HPD ask people for their immigration status was a bad idea and a misuse of resources. All four also agreed that checking immigration status on people who were in custody was sensible, and that violent criminals who are undocumented should be subject to deportation. Nobody addressed the question of whether those who are convicted of misdemeanors should be subject to it as well, which is a source of concern among Latino activists. Stace said at the Latino Summit forum on Saturday that the candidates needed to realize this and come up with a new line on 287(g), but it appears that hasn’t happened as yet.

Who should represent District H?

That’s the question, isn’t it?

It took only a few minutes at the District H candidate forum Thursday morning for discussion to turn to the elephant in the room.

“District H is supposed to be a Hispanic district,” said Edgar Colon, chairman of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Political Action Committee, reading a question on behalf of an audience member. “Should it be represented by a Hispanic?”

In what is shaping up as a hard-fought runoff campaign between Houston police officer Ed Gonzalez and former public high school teacher Maverick Welsh to fill the City Council seat vacated by Adrian Garcia, that question looms as large as any other in a district originally drawn to elect a Latino.

Stace gives a nice answer to that.

I’ll be the first one to say it. No! It doesn’t have to be represented by an Hispanic. But when you have a highly qualified, progressive-minded product of the district, why not?

As a highly-educated Chicano myself, I’ve been proud to click on a Anglo candidate running against a brown person, especially when the brown person is not a progressive (cough-cough, Roy and/or Danny More-or-Less Mexicano). So, no, it’s not about race, or in this case, ethnicity. As a voter, I’m interested in having a highly qualified candidate with whom I can identify, whether it by that candidate’s story, or something else.

Stace supports Ed Gonzalez. As you know, I broke the tie in favor of Maverick Welsh. You can’t really go wrong either way. I was at that forum, and I thought both candidates answered the question deftly, without getting trapped by it. The right answer to me is that this district, like all of the others, should be represented by someone who can serve the needs of everyone in it. One could just as easily ask the question should District G be represented by an Anglo? Who should represent the city, in which no racial or ethnic group comprises a majority? I say the answer is the same across the board. In this particular case, we have two candidates who I think would fit the bill nicely. It’s up to all of us to ensure that whoever wins lives up to that.

Currently, District I Councilman James Rodriguez is the only Latino among 14 council members, in a city where Hispanics make up nearly 42 percent of the population.

The Department of Justice helped create District H when it forced the city to undertake redistricting in 1979, part of an effort to correct historic voting inequities in Houston and ensure more minority representation on the council. But the district, which includes the Heights, much of the old Second Ward just east of downtown and a wide swath that extends midway between the inner and outer loops around Interstate 45, has undergone dramatic changes since then.

Here’s something you may not know. I didn’t know it until I went looking through the historical election returns on the City Secretary’s webpage. The first election for District H in 1979 was won by Dale Gorczynski, who is now a Justice of the Peace in JP Precinct 1. Here are the returns from that election:


James M. Goins 1,181 Willie D. Hatchett 1,719 Herman Lauhoff 3,977 Russel Stanley 305 Anne Wheeler 2,824 Dale M. Gorczynski 3,274

Gorczynski won the runoff, then held the seat through the 1991 election, after which he did not run again. The first time that a Hispanic candidate won the District H seat was as far as I could tell the first time that a candidate with a recognizably Hispanic surname ran for it, in the open seat contest of 1993 in which Felix Fraga emerged victorious. I knew Gorczynski had been the District H member before Fraga, but I hadn’t realized he was the original Council member.

You can make of all that what you will. I found it interesting that this district that was drawn to be represented by a Hispanic has only recently been actually represented by a Hispanic for a majority of its existence. David Ortez has some tangential thoughts.