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Houston Unites

Strategizing for the next HERO fight

Good move.

Stung by setbacks related to their access to public restrooms, transgender Americans are taking steps to play a more prominent and vocal role in a nationwide campaign to curtail discrimination against them.

Two such initiatives are being launched this week — evidence of how transgender rights has supplanted same-sex marriage as the most volatile, high-profile issue for the broader movement of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists.

One initiative is a public education campaign called the Transgender Freedom Project that will share the personal stories of transgender people. The other, the Trans United Fund, is a political advocacy group that will engage in election campaigns at the federal and state level, pressing candidates to take stands on transgender rights.

“We welcome the support of our allies,” said Hayden Mora, a veteran transgender activist who’s director of Trans United. “But it’s crucial that trans people build our own political power and speak with our own voices.”

From a long-term perspective, there have been notable gains for transgender Americans in recent years — more support from major employers, better options for health care and sex-reassignment surgery, a growing number of municipalities which bar anti-transgender discrimination.

[…]

“All the people who lost the marriage equality fight, they’ve now decided that trans people are fair game,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “They’re going to claim trans people are sexual predators, but the public is quickly going to learn that’s just nonsense.”

The outcome in Houston prompted many post-mortems among LGBT activists — What went wrong? How should the bathroom-access argument be countered in the future?

“It’s been an alarming wake-up call since November,” said Dru Lavasseur, Transgender Rights Project director for the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal. “We need to prioritize bringing transgender people into the movement in leadership positions, with transgender voices leading the way.”

There has been widespread agreement that a key plank of future strategy should be enlisting more transgender people to share their personal experience — a tactic that was successful for gays and lesbians during the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage.

“In most parts of this country, people don’t know a trans person,” said Kasey Suffredini, a transgender attorney who’s director of the new Transgender Freedom Project. “The work in front of us is to put a face on who the trans community is. That’s the way that we win.”

The project, undertaken by an advocacy group called Freedom for All Americans, has a first-year budget of about $1 million, with plans to expand thereafter.

Nationwide success “will not happen overnight,” said Suffredini, suggesting a 10-year timeframe was plausible.

“What happened in North Carolina, as terrible as it was, has really galvanized people,” he added.

Part of the problem in last year’s HERO fight was that we were caught off guard – after winning the petition lawsuit in district court, we didn’t expect to have this issue on the ballot in the fall. The bad guys were way ahead of us in organizing and spreading lies. This is an attempt to counter that as the fight has shifted mostly to state legislatures. This can’t be all that there is, but it’s a good start.

And since we know that the fight is coming to our legislature, too, it’s vital to be out in front of it here as well. Thankfully, that is happening.

That’s in part why Lou Weaver is encouraging transgender Texans like himself to become more vocal and visible as the legislature approaches the 2017 session. “Something like 80 to 90 percent of Americans know an out gay or lesbian person now, and that’s led to a dramatically different discussion on issues like same-sex marriage,” Weaver told the Press. Surveys show only about 10 percent of Americans know an out transgender person, Weaver said.

Last week Weaver, transgender programs coordinator with Equality Texas, helped launch what the organization is calling its “Transvisible” project. The idea, Weaver says, is to reduce violence and prejudice against transgender people by introducing Houstonians to their transgender neighbors. “If you don’t know trans folks, it’s easy to be mystified and to believe the lies and stories that are spread about us,” Weaver said. “It’s much harder to do that when you realize we’re your neighbors, your co-workers, just everyday Houstonians.”

I agree completely. It’s a lot easier to fear or hate a faceless bogeyman than a neighbor or co-worker. Again, this is just a first step, but it’s a necessary one. I’m glad to see it.

I should note, this post started out as a discussion of this good report from the post-HERO referendum community forum on what happened and what happens next.

HoustonUnites

LGBT advocates plan to eventually launch a petition drive to get the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance back on the ballot.

First, however, they intend to draft a strategic plan, set up a citizens advisory committee, and conduct a robust public education campaign about the need for an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said those were among the recommendations that emerged from a two-and-a-half-hour community debriefing on HERO that drew around 200 people on January 12. “We agree that whatever happens next has to be citizen-led, not council-led,” said Burke, who chaired the meeting. “But everybody is in agreement—both the organizing groups and the public at large—that we can’t even think about that until we figure out how to overcome the bathroom argument. We need a multi-pronged public education campaign that’s aimed at transgender prejudice reduction.”

Houston voters overwhelmingly repealed HERO on November 3, based largely on opponents’ false, fear-mongering ads suggesting the ordinance would lead to sexual predators entering women’s restrooms and preying on young girls.

“The truth is, nobody knows how to combat the bathroom message,” Burke said. “We don’t in Houston, and they don’t anywhere else in the country. All the great minds in the country are trying to figure out how to respond to it. We have to come up with our six-word response to No Men in Women’s Bathrooms.”

That was from February. You can see why I’m glad that there’s some action on this, because at that time we really weren’t sure what to do. My response to this story was simple, only needing four words: They’re Lying To You. I know it’s more complicated than that, but it gets to the heart of the matter. Because these guys are shameless liars, if we do manage to come up with a perfect response to “no men in women’s bathrooms”, they’ll just invent some other lie to tell. I mean, they used to claim that it was the gays that were the depraved perverts and child molesters that threatened us all. The fact that people no longer believe that didn’t slow them down. I don’t want to spend too much time trying to debunk one piece of bullshit, because as soon as we do there’s plenty more where that came from, and now you’re fighting the last war. We have to attack their credibility so that people will be disinclined to believe them whatever they say. Easier said than done, I know, but that’s how I would approach the question.

That’s what I wrote in February, and I still believe it. But I’m more than happy to see another approach. As for what the future holds:

Burke said it’s unlikely any petition drive would be completed in time for HERO to appear on the November 2016 ballot. HERO supporters would need to gather 20,000 signatures for a ballot initiative to amend the city’s charter. But reviving HERO through a petition would take the political onus off of council members, who’ve said they’re in no rush to revisit the ordinance given that the public vote was so decisive.

Incoming mayor Sylvester Turner, who supported HERO, told OutSmart that his top priorities are addressing the city’s infrastructure needs and financial challenges—issues that have “universal agreement” among voters.

If he can first conquer potholes and pensions, Turner expects voters will give him permission to tackle other issues, including possibly HERO. “I think anything that’s a distraction from dealing with the infrastructure and the financial challenges really does a disservice to those particular areas,” Turner said. “So whether we’re talking about nondiscrimination, whether we’re talking about income inequality or educational initiatives, all of those things are important, but until we have met the challenges that are being presented by the infrastructure, and the financial challenges, I really don’t think at this point in time that Houstonians have an appetite for too much more than that.”

Turner is talking about building up some political capital before tackling a controversial topic like HERO, and I completely agree with his approach. That suggests to me that we’re unlikely to see any action on this until Mayor Turner’s presumed second term. Just a guess, but I do think letting some time pass is a smart idea. Not so great for the people who would benefit from HERO, unfortunately. I wish I had a better answer for that. ProjectQ Houston has more.

What next for HERO?

Before I get into some thoughts about how to approach a second attempt at passing a non-discrimination ordinance for Houston, let me begin by dispensing with this.

HoustonUnites

2. HERO Will Be Back

The lopsided defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) will send the next mayor and city council back to the drawing board at the start of 2016. They would be expected to, in relatively short order, pass a new Houston Equal Rights Ordinance that is very similar to the ordinance that was just repealed, with one principal exception. The revised version of the ordinance would modify the public accommodation component of the repealed ordinance so that it does not apply to discrimination based on biological sex in regard to access to private facilities such as restrooms, locker rooms and showers.

A relatively expeditious passage of this revised equal rights ordinance would ameliorate, though not entirely erase, the short-term negative impact of the lopsided “No” victory on Houston’s image nationwide. The rapid adoption of this new ordinance also would largely eliminate the risk of Houston losing conventions, sporting events, corporate relocations and corporate investment as a consequence of the Nov. 3 HERO repeal. And, since this new equal rights ordinance would address the principal public critique of the “No” campaign, it would be virtually bulletproof against any future repeal efforts.

All due respect, but that gives way way waaaaaaaaaaay too much credit to the leaders of the anti-HERO movement. The people behind this – Woodfill, Hotze, the Pastors Council – have a deep-seated loathing of Mayor Parker and the LGBT community in general, which is what drove their opposition to HERO. Changing the wording in the ordinance in this fashion would not suddenly turn them into fair-minded and honorable opponents who would have engaged in a debate on the merits of this law. That’s not who they are, that’s not what they do, and thinking that making some sort of “reasonable” accommodation to them would be rewarded with reasonable behavior on their part is as deeply naive as thinking that if President Obama had just tried to accommodate Republican concerns about the Affordable Care Act then no one would have ever screamed about death panels. The way to beat people like this is to make it clear to everyone watching that they are the raving lunatics we know them to be. If there’s a way to insert some legalese into HERO 2.0 to make it double secret illegal for anyone to harass and assault people in bathrooms while still providing protection for people who just need to pee to do their business, then fine. Do that for the sake of having the talking point. Just don’t fall for the idea that this somehow “takes the issue off the table” or forces the opposition to behave like rational beings.

Now on to the main discussion.

As supporters of Houston’s equal rights ordinance pieced together how the law came to suffer such an overwhelming defeat at the polls Tuesday, political scientists and even some campaign supporters pointed to what they said was a key misstep: poor outreach to black voters.

Majority black City Council districts were among those most decisively rejecting the law Tuesday, including District B and District D, where 72 percent and 65 percent of voters, respectively, opted to repeal the law. Overall, complete but unofficial results showed 61 percent of voters against the law and 39 percent for it.

Heading into the election, polling showed black voters, traditionally more socially conservative, were the most likely to be undecided on the issue, said Bob Stein, a Rice University political scientist.

In the same polling, supporters did best with black voters when they presented the argument that repealing the ordinance would jeopardize the city’s economy and events such as the Super Bowl and NCAA.

Well, Houston will not be getting the college football championship game in the next few years, though the committee making that decision says local politics had nothing to do with it. San Antonio’s bid for the game was also denied, so I’d tend to believe that. Neither the Final Four nor the Super Bowl appear to be going anywhere, which is what I would expect – these are big events that take a lot of time to plan and execute and thus aren’t easily relocated, and I never believed that NFL owners would embarrass a fellow member of their club like that. A big national outcry might have an effect, but I seriously doubt Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance is on enough people’s radar for that. While I do believe that the HERO rejection will make it harder for Houston to land events like these going forward – the NCAA spokesperson vaguely alluded to that in the statement about the Final Four – this was always my concern about making such specific claims, given that we had no control over them.

Monica Roberts, a transgender black woman and GLBT activist, called the Houston Unites effort a “whitewashed campaign” that failed to adequately respond to the bathroom issue and reach out to the black community in a meaningful way.

On her popular blog, TransGriot, she wrote that the warning signs that the law could go down by a significant margin were present early on.”

“The Black LGBT community and our allies have been warning for months that action was needed in our community IMMEDIATELY or else HERO was going down to defeat,” she wrote. “We pleaded for canvassing in our neighborhoods, pro-HERO ads on Houston Black radio stations and hard hitting attacks to destroy the only card our haters had to play in the bathroom meme.”

But even ads featuring Houston NAACP president James Douglas endorsing the ordinance were not enough to erode critics’ lead with black voters.

Douglas said he was hesitant to comment on what might have worked with black voters because he had not seen the results broken out by precinct.

“I’m not sure what supporters could have done,” Douglas said. “Most of the people I’ve talked to said it was all about the restroom fear. They literally see it as ‘I don’t want that to happen to someone that I know.'”

Councilman Jerry Davis, who represents the majority black District B that includes Fifth Ward and Acres Homes, said outreach in the black community was simply “way too little, way too late.”

Davis is among the 11 council members who voted in favor of the law. As he visited polling sites in his district Tuesday, he said residents’ skepticism about the ordinance had not budged during the past year.

“You can’t win this debate at the polls; it’s too late,” Davis said. “Voters were confused. They wanted to understand that this was an equal rights law, that it would help them. But instead they couldn’t get this visual out of their heads of a man entering a woman’s restroom. Opponents told that story over and over and over again until it was too late for Houston Unites.”

University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said opponents were first out of the gates with their messaging, framing the debate around the bathroom issue, and supporters never caught up.

“The pro-HERO folks needed to have a public face much earlier than they did,” Rottinghaus said. “There was no personality to HERO, and I think that hurt the pro-HERO folks because it wasn’t clear what people were voting in favor of.”

This is the discussion now, and there was a lot of it happening behind the scenes before. I’m going to address it by talking about what I’d like to see happen for the next time.

By now we know that many African-American voters supported Sylvester Turner and voted against HERO. That’s disheartening, but it does provide a way forward. If elected, Mayor Turner would start out with a much higher level of trust and goodwill with these voters than Mayor Parker (who never received a significant level of support in African-American precincts) ever had. He will have an opening and an opportunity to bring forth another version of HERO (modified as needed with whatever legal mumbo-jumbo about bathrooms) and restart the discussion. This is how I would suggest going about it:

1. Acknowledge what happened, and assert the need to try again. I have no doubt that Sylvester Turner is capable of delivering a speech that acknowledges the problems with HERO that led to its defeat at the ballot box, while simultaneously emphasizing the need for our city to have an ordinance in place that does what HERO did. He could do this as part of his inaugural address, or he could wait for the State of the City in April, but sooner would be better than later. Acknowledge what happened, state the need for action, and call on everyone to join him.

2. Get out of City Hall and bring the conversation to the neighborhoods. Have a Council hearing in Acres Homes and/or Sunnyside. Have community meetings in multiple places all over the city (like Metro did with bus system reimagining) like multi-service centers and schools and wherever else is suitable, with some during the day and some in the evening and some on weekends to accommodate people’s work schedules. Have a brief presentation up front, then devote most of the time to letting the attendees speak so you can answer their questions and hear their concerns and address any good points they bring up that you hadn’t previously thought of. Mayor Turner himself needs to lead these meetings and make it clear that he supports doing this and is asking the people in attendance to join him. Note that I’m not just suggesting African-American neighborhoods for these meetings, either. Have them in Latino neighborhoods, and in Alief and out on Harwin and Bellaire Boulevard. Have plenty of folks who speak Spanish and Vietnamese and Chinese with you, and make sure any printed and electronic materials are multi-lingual as well. If we’re not talking to the people, we can’t complain if someone else is.

3. Roll out an advertising campaign along with this ongoing conversation. We know that the antis had a messaging advantage because they got their ads out first and we had to respond. They were already organized by the time the Supreme Court stuck their nose into things, while we had to get up and going from scratch. We can’t let that happen again. The next version of HERO needs to be sold from the beginning, so we can be the ones to set the tone and the message. In this day and age, that means setting up a PAC, tapping a few deep pockets to fund it, and getting going with the ads, for TV and radio and print and the Internet and whatever else you can think of. Treat it like a campaign, because that’s what it is. If the complaint from this election is that too many people didn’t know what HERO actually did, then this is the way to make sure that doesn’t happen with HERO 2.0. Be very clear and very thorough about who is protected, how it works, why we need it, and so forth. By all means, lean heavily on the business and economic argument, though as noted above be careful on the specifics. The lack of this kind of campaign has been a problem with lots of legislative initiatives in recent years – Obamacare and Renew Houston, for instance. There’s plenty of news about them while they’re being done, but the vast majority of communication to people who don’t consume a lot of news comes from opponents, not supporters. That can’t happen this time. Sell it like a new product coming to market, and sell the hell out of it.

4. Mayor Turner has to be the face of all this. Am I the only one who has noticed that Mayor Parker was largely invisible during the pro-HERO campaign? I’m sure some of that is because of a wholly understandable desire on her part to stay out of the Mayor’s race, and some of that was a strategic calculation that having her front and center would not be an asset in African-American neighborhoods. Whatever the case, this is the Mayor’s initiative, and the Mayor needs to be the focal point for it. Given that a lot of the people he would need to persuade to support this proposal are already supporters of his, there’s no other way to do this.

Now it may well be that a Mayor Turner will not be terribly enthusiastic about spending his time and political capital on this issue. There are plenty of other things on his to-do list, and there’s only so much time in the day/week/year. It’s going to be on HERO supporters to hold his feet to the fire and get him to devote time and energy to this. HERO may have lost this week, but Sylvester Turner isn’t going to win in December without a big showing from HERO proponents, and I’m sure he knows that. I’m sure he also knows that the business community is concerned and is expecting him to take action on this. The time to act is sooner rather than later, but it won’t happen without a push.

Does this guarantee a better outcome? Of course not. The haters will never go away, and some number of people we’d like to persuade won’t buy it. Some people will argue to wait till some undetermined later date when the things they deem to be higher priorities have been solved to their satisfaction, and others will come up with new and more egregious lies to tell. I’m sure there are things I’m not thinking of, and I’m sure some of the things I’m suggesting are much easier said than done. I think we all agree that for all the good work that Houston Unites and others did, there were things that could have been done differently. Some of that was a lack of time, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling. No one knew we needed to be prepared to wage a campaign like this. All I’m saying is that this time we do know, so we may as well start preparing for it. Danny Surman, who has another perspective on what happened, has more.

The pessimism of the poli-sci profs

A trio of academic pundits thinks things aren’t going well for the pro-HERO forces.

HoustonUnites

Turnout is up sharply from previous Houston municipal elections, with the largest increases occurring in predominantly Republican and African-American precincts, where a majority of voters are likely to oppose HERO, according to Bob Stein, a political scientist at Rice University.

“I’ve actually looked at the scenario, and think [HERO] could go down, and go down by a big margin,” Stein said. “That’s the worst part. If it goes down closely, the council members and the mayor might try to amend it, but if it goes down by a big margin, it really becomes difficult to do much with.”

Mark Jones, another Rice political scientist, agreed that early voting returns, along with public opinion polls showing only a slim margin in favor of the ordinance, should be cause for concern for HERO supporters.

“If I had to do an even-money bet, I’d say it may not pass, but I think it really is too close to call,” Jones said.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist, said the rare ballot presence of a viable Republican mayoral candidate, Bill King, is driving up GOP turnout. Meanwhile, well-known Democratic state Representative Sylvester Turner, the mayoral frontrunner, is fueling an increase among African-American voters, who polls show as less likely to support HERO than whites, or Hispanic or Latino voters.

“There are significant splits in communities that are otherwise inclined to vote more with Democrats or vote more liberally on HERO that create problems for its passage,” Rottinghaus said. “We’ve had kind of a perfect storm of alignment between conservative politics and conservative voters in a way we don’t normally see in Houston mayoral elections.”

[…]

HERO supporters suggest the increase in turnout is part of a historic trend toward more voters casting ballots early as opposed to on Election Day.

But Stein countered that much of the increase has been among “unexpected voters,” which he defines as those who haven’t cast ballots in at least two of the last three mayoral races. A significant number of those unexpected voters are from heavily GOP and black precincts.

[…]

“I just think the anti-HERO people have the right message, and I think the pro-HERO people may have the money, but like in the Spanish Civil War, having the right song might in this case be more valuable,” said Stein, who helped conduct the KHOU/KUHF poll. “Whether it’s true or not doesn’t really matter.”

Groups supporting the ordinance have raised more than $3 million, swamping opponents, but Rottinghaus said no amount of paid messaging can overcome an energized voter base.

Stein said Houston Unites should have done more to highlight the potential negative economic consequences of repealing HERO, an argument the KHOU/KUHF also found to be persuasive, rather than trying to humanize transgender people or characterize the ordinance as “the right thing to do.”

Jones said a lack of Spanish-language outreach to Hispanic voters could also contribute to HERO’s possible demise, pointing to the pro-HERO campaign’s failure to advertise on Univision or Telemundo.

Rottinghaus said the anti-HERO campaign simply beat supporters to the punch.

“They established early on the narrative about this being about public safety as opposed to being about discrimination, and that took hold and was difficult to undo,” he said.

I’ll stipulate up front that a lack of Spanish-language advertising is puzzling and disappointing (Campos pointed this out on Thursday). As far as the messaging goes, when one side of a campaign is completely unrestrained by any concern for the truth, they’re likely to have an advantage. It certainly would have been nice if the good guys could have gotten an earlier start, but campaigns don’t just materialize out of thin air, and all things considered I thought Houston Unites came together pretty quickly. I also think there’s been a fair amount of messaging by the pro-HERO side about economic consequences, but that’s a subjective evaluation and is likely colored by how you see the big picture.

My main complaint about this story is the lack of context. When I hear someone say that there’s a surge in “unexpected” voters, I want to know what the numbers are. I’ve already shown that 30 to 35% of voters in a given city election are “unexpected” by the “voted in at least two of the last three elections” definition, so when you say there’s a lot of these voters, give me a number. Forty percent? Fifty? More? The work I did was on the city as a whole – I didn’t break it down by geography, since the Council redistricting of 2011 makes that a much harder task for me – so even saying there’s fifty percent “unexpected” in this place or that, you’ve got to tell me what that number was in 2013 and/or 2009 so I can get a basis for comparison. If you yourself don’t know that answer, then maybe this isn’t a “surge” but something we see all the time but hadn’t thought to look for it before now. It would also help to know if you are distinguishing between people with no recent history and those who are regular even-year voters who are showing up for the first time in a city election. Show me your work and I’ll have more faith in it.

Another point that may be worth considering here is that Stein’s own poll showed that the opinions of African-American women were not set in stone on HERO. They were persuaded by both the reprehensible bathroom lie, and also by the economic argument; the latter actually moved their opinions more than the former. It would be nice to know what the last thing they heard about HERO before they voted was. Stein’s poll is the one being cited here, but of course there were two other polls that showed HERO leading, too. I don’t know what they had to say on this subject, though.

To be fair, my issues here may be a failing of the writer and not the quoted experts. Maybe the number of people like me who care about this stuff is small enough that no one thinks it’s worthwhile to put it in a general-interest story. I’m not disputing the overall points that are being made here – I do think this will be a closer vote than the polls have shown, and I am concerned about who is and isn’t voting – I’m just frustrated by not having my own questions answered.

One other thing:

LGBT advocates say if HERO is repealed, it could have far-reaching consequences, with HERO opponents’ strategy being replicated in other campaigns across the country. The HERO vote is the nation’s most significant referendum on LGBT equality since the United States Supreme Court’s June ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.

According to Rottinghaus, it’s also about the future of state politics.

“How much can the Democrats push Texas to be more liberal?” he said, pointing to an anti-HERO TV ad from GOP Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. “The fact that he’s put his own money behind this shows there’s a growing concern amongst Republicans that as the demographics in Texas change, that some of the politics will change, and the Republicans need to find ways to counteract this progressive movement before it starts.”

There is clearly a disconnect between what the people of Texas think and what the people who are elected by the people who show up to vote think. At some point, that becomes unsustainable. Along similar lines, there’s an increasingly obvious disconnect between business interests who have strongly supported HERO (and who oppose draconian immigration restrictions, among other things) and the Republican leadership they have also generally supported. Again, at some point that becomes unsustainable. I don’t know where that point is, and for all I know I won’t live long enough to see it. But it’s out there, and we may get to it when we least expect it.

8 day finance reports: Pro- and anti-HERO

First, from the inbox:

HoustonUnites

Houston Unites has raised nearly $3 million in support of Proposition 1 from late August through last Saturday, according to the campaign’s finance report submitted to the city today. Almost 75 percent of all donors were from Houston.

“Compared to the handful of wealthy opponents funding the rollback of needed protections for African-Americans, Latinos, women and veterans, we have put together a massive, diverse grassroots coalition backing Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance,” said Richard Carlbom, campaign manager of Houston Unites. “We anticipate this to be the closest of races, so these final days are critical for HERO supporters to keep investing in the campaign.”

Highlights of the finance report include:

  • More than 85 percent of the total donors to Houston Unites were from Texas.
  • More than 1,100 of the 1,500 total donors were from Houston.
  • Total raised was $2,971,491.
  • More than $100,000 was raised online from more than 1,000 donors.

Here’s their report. Here also are the reports for the Human Rights Campaign for HERO PAC, the Business Coalition for Prop 1 PAC, and the anti-HERO Campaign for Houston PAC. In case you’re wondering, the name Bob McNair does not appear anywhere in that report. I assume this is because he had merely pledged to give $10K before having his mind changed, so with no money actually changing hands there’s nothing to report. Those of you who are more in tune with the legal requirements, please correct me if I’m wrong on that. There’s also the No On Prop 1 PAC, but they had not reported as of yesterday, so the antis do have more than this, we just don’t have all the details yet.

I did not scan through the Houston Unites report last night – I may do so later, and we have their summary, so we’ll go with that for now. The Business Coalition has four donors – cash donations from Bret Scholtes ($500) and Haynes & Boone LLP ($5,000), and pledges from the Greater Houston Partnership ($71,760) and United Airlines ($10,000). They spent all their money on print ads – $77,500 in the Chronicle, $9,760 in the Houston Business Journal – which may sound weird until you remember that the average age of a Houston voter in this election is expected to be about 69. Newspaper print ads seems like a reasonable way to reach that demographic.

As for the Campaign for Houston, they listed 45 contributions, for a total of $62,495 raised. Forty-one came from individual donors, 21 of whom were non-Houston residents (one Houston person gave twice), with two familiar names: Andrew (son of Phyllis) Schlafly, and former HCC Trustee Yolanda Flores (no middle name given, but the ZIP code points to her). One donor listed in this group rather than the “corporations or labor unions” line item on the subtotals cover sheet page 3, was TriStar Freight, which gave $2,500. Don’t ask me why they did that, I couldn’t tell you. What I can tell you is the names of the three corporate donors:


Contributor Name             Amount
===================================
Trinity Equity Partners LLP  50,000
Texas Outhouse Inc            5,000
The Education Valet Inc         250

I shit you not (sorry not sorry) about that middle one. They list $88,195 in expenses, of which a bit less than $45K is for media buys. They’re running that disgusting bathroom ad during the evening news, or at least they did last night on KPRC at 6. I have no idea how many of those spots that kind of money can buy. This Chron story documents the ad wars; I can confirm that the pro-HERO folks have mail going out as well, one of which landed in my box yesterday. Campaign for Houston also lists a $50K outstanding loan, which isn’t detailed on this form but is presumably the same Hotze loan from their 30 day report.

Other 8 day reports are coming in as well – you can find them here and by searching here. I’ll do my best to update the Election 2015 page as we go this week.

McNair rescinds anti-HERO contribution

Well, what do you know?

HoustonUnites

Earlier this month, billionaire Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans NFL team, donated $10,000 to the Campaign for Houston, a coalition working to defeat the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). That campaign has repeatedly attempted to demonize transgender women as sexual predators in an attempt to defeat the LGBT nondiscrimination protections.

On Friday, ThinkProgress received a statement from McNair declaring that he disagrees with the language the Campaign for Houston has used in its efforts and that he does not “believe in or tolerate personal or professional discrimination of any kind.” As such, he has demanded they return his campaign contribution:

I recently made a personal contribution to Campaign for Houston because my thorough review of the HERO ordinance led me to believe that a thoughtful rewrite would provide a better ordinance that would provide strong non-discrimination protections for all Houstonians, which I would support, and would be less divisive of our city.

It was on these principles that I made my personal contribution to Campaign for Houston. To my great dismay, Campaign for Houston made numerous unauthorized statements about my opposition to HERO in print, broadcast and social media – including attributing certain statements of belief to me. Their actions and statements were never discussed with nor approved by me. Therefore I instructed the Campaign to return my contribution.

I do not believe in or tolerate personal or professional discrimination of any kind. I also believe that we Houstonians should have an ordinance that unites our community and provides a bold statement of non-discrimination. I encourage all Houstonians to vote on November 3.

Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work together to change a small portion of events, and in the total of those acts will be written the history of our generation.”

Conservatives had praised McNair’s donation, claiming that it ruled out any possibility the NFL might pull the Super Bowl from Houston if HERO didn’t pass.

Richard Carlbom, director of the Houston Unites campaign advocating for the passage of HERO, praised McNair’s decision in a statement to ThinkProgress:

Like Bob McNair, many Houstonians are taking a step back and realizing the opposition’s ads on the Equal Rights Ordinance are intended to raise anxiety with outright distortions and quite frankly lies. When you take a second look, the Equal Rights Ordinance protects all Houstonians from discrimination and makes Houston a place everyone can be proud to call home. And that’s why the majority of small and large businesses in Houston support Proposition 1.

McNair had previously justified his donation by claiming that he believes Houstonians “should be treated with the utmost dignity and respect” but that HERO had “begun to separate rather than unite our community.”

See here for the background. Gotta say, I didn’t expect this. I wonder where the pressure came from that got to him. I don’t think he’s uninformed enough to have not been aware of what the Campaign for Houston was about – if he was so uninformed, he probably needs to yell at a staffer or three – and I’m not nearly naive enough to think he went out and educated his own self about this and came to this conclusion on his own. Whoever was able to make him see the light of day, kudos to you, and kudos to ThinkProgress for their excellent coverage of the HERO referendum. Be sure to read this story of theirs, about which I hope to say more later. The Chron story on the McNair mind-change is here, and the Press and BOR have more.

30 day finance reports: Pro- and anti-HERO

Some good news here.

HoustonUnites

Supporters of Houston’s contentious equal rights ordinance raked in $1.26 million during seven weeks of official fundraising, more than doubling opponents’ efforts and fueling a fierce and frenzied media campaign to court voters before the law hits the November ballot.

In campaign finance reports filed Monday that reflect late summer totals, both sides spent more than $550,000, largely on dueling TV and radio ads. But the more than $521,000 that supporters of the law still had left in campaign coffers as of Sept. 25 dwarfed the $58,000 that opponents reported in cash-on-hand.

[…]

In the battle over the city’s equal rights ordinance, Jared Woodfill, spokesman for opponents, said the campaign is unfazed by supporters’ significant fundraising totals.

Opponents reported a $100,000 donation from conservative developer Al Hartman, $25,000 from Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle and $5,000 from Houston state Rep. Gary Elkins, among others. Longtime anti-gay activist Steve Hotze also loaned the campaign $50,000.

“We’re absolutely not intimidated at this point,” Woodfill said. “I believe the momentum is in our favor and clearly this is an ordinance that the people in Houston don’t want.”

In a news release, the Houston Unites campaign said it expected to spend $2 million before the November election.

The campaign said 80 percent of its nearly 700 donors are Houston residents.

But its efforts were also fueled by big-ticket contributions from national groups and figures.

The Washington, D.C.- based Human Rights Campaign contributed more than $200,000, and New York philanthropist Jon Stryker, a frequent donor to LGBT causes, pitched in $100,000. Colorado’s Gill Action and New York-based American Unity Fund, both LGBT advocacy groups, donated a combined $200,000.

Campaign manager Richard Carlbom, in a written statement, said the group had “certainly done well on the money front so far.”

“But, there is a great sense of urgency around fundraising this week and next,” Carlbom said. “We know from past ballot campaigns that equal rights opponents spend significant dollars in the final weeks. We must remain competitive with them in what will, no doubt, be a close election.”

The story has some highlights of candidate finance reports as well. Those can be found here, same place as the July reports. Reports for PACs can be found on the usual city finance webpage – here’s the Advanced Search link; select either the “Specific-Purpose Political Committee” or “Both” radio button, then click the “Search” button next to the “Candidate/Committee” name boxes. Latest results are on the last pages, so go to page 4; the only relevant result on page 3 is for Brenda Stardig’s campaign PAC.

There are three PACs of interest regarding HERO. Two are pro-HERO: the Houston Unites Against Discrimination PAC and the Human Rights Campaign Houston Equal Rights PAC. One is anti-HERO, the Campaign for Houston PAC. There is a “No on Houston Prop 1” PAC that shows up in the search results, but it reports no funds raised or spent.

Here’s a summary of the reports for the three active PACs mentioned above:

PAC name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ============================================================== Houston Unites 1,262,893 597,299 0 521,462 Human Rights Campaign 218,480 205,810 0 11,503 Campaign for Houston 274,785 492,231 50,000 18,494

Houston Unites had $901K in cash contributions and $359K in kind. It also reports $6,800 in loans on summary page 3, though I didn’t see any explanation of that. Some of their big donors are as follows:

Human Rights Campaign 205,810 Gill Action LLC 100,000 American Unity Fund 100,000 ACLU of Texas 95,000 Freedom For All Americans 50,000 Wes Milliken 50,000 Texas Freedom Network 25,000 Equality Texas 12,500 Annise Parker campaign 5,000 Robert Gallegos campaign 1,000

So basically, the HRC PAC was a passthrough, as all the funds they raised ($200K of which came from themselves) went to the Houston Unites PAC. A lot of these same big donors were also the main suppliers of in kind contributions, which mostly amounted to staff time and office space:

ACLU Texas 137,187 Freedom for All Americans 124,017 Human Rights Campaign 50,144 ACLU (national office) 16,750 Texas Freedom Network 15,139 Equality Texas 10,625

The expenses listed were fairly straightforward. About $360K was allocated for advertising. Some $158K was for consulting to a group called Block by Block; there were some smaller consultant expenses as well. There was about $37K for printing, and $5K for polling.

And here are the big donors for Campaign for Houston:

Allen R Hartman 100,000 Jack Cagle PAC 25,000 Ralph Schmidt 25,000 Mickey Ellis 20,000 Texans for Family Values PAC 10,000 Mac Haik Ford 10,000 Law Office of Melanie Flowers 10,000 Ryan Sitton 10,000 Anthony McCorvey 10,000 Johnny Baker 10,000 Edd Hendee 5,000 Paul Pressler 5,000 Dan Huberty 5,000 William Carl 5,000 Jay E. Mincks 5,000 Malcolm Morris 5,000 Gary Elkins 5,000 Dwayne Bohac 1,000 Jodie L. Jiles 1,000 Norman Adams 1,000

That’s $268K of the $275K they reported raising. Grassroots, they ain’t. There are some familiar names in this list. Jack Cagle is County Commissioner in Precinct 4. Ryan Sitton is a Railroad Commissioner. Dan Huberty, Gary Elkins, and Dwayne Bohac are all State Reps. Texans for Family Values is the main source of anti-gay wingnuttery at a state level. Edd Hendee is (was? I don’t listen to AM radio) a talk radio host and the owner of the Taste of Texas restaurant. I don’t recognize a lot of the other names, but I’m glad I’ve never bought a car from Mac Haik or sought legal services from Melanie Flowers.

The expense side of their report is weird. Two line items totaling $200,350.50 are to American Express for unitemized expenses. I mean, these are presumably credit card bills, so they could be for just about anything – office supplies, food, consulting expenses, strippers and porn downloads, who knows? It’s their responsibility – requirement, actually – to specify what these expenses are. My guess, if I were forced to make one, is that these are their line items for advertising costs, as there’s basically nothing else for that. But that’s just a guess, and I should note that while they listed $492,231 in total expenses on their summary page, the individual expense items only add up to $291,880. Is there an error in their form, or are there another $200K in expenditures they’re not reporting? Like I said, it’s on them to tell us. I for one will feel free to speculate wildly until they do so.

Those are the highlights for now. I am posting 30 day reports as I find them to the Election 2015 webpage. I’ll have a closer look at the reports for citywide candidates next week. Any questions about this, leave ’em in the comments.

Interview with Richard Carlbom

HoustonUnites

This week’s interviews are going to be about the referendum for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which the Supreme Court ordered to be on the ballot. It is City of Houston Proposition 1, with a Yes vote being in favor of keeping the ordinance, which as a reminder prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy. Houston Unites is the primary campaign for Proposition 1, so it only made sense for me to speak with the campaign manager for Houston Unites, Richard Carlbom, whose name I unfortunately mangled in the opening of the interview; I had originally read the “m” at the end of his surname as “rn”. I can’t even blame my glasses for that, as I have a new pair with a tighter prescription. Anyway, here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Business groups get into the HERO campaign

Welcome to the table, fellas.

HoustonUnites

Three major local business and hospitality groups are warning voters that the city’s economy could take a hit if Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance is repealed in November, boosting supporters’ attempts to cast the law as not only a moral issue but also a practical one.

The Greater Houston Partnership, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau and Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Houston released a joint statement Thursday backing the ordinance and calling Houston “a diverse and welcoming city.”

“Discrimination of any kind is not a Houston value; it’s bad for the people of our city and it’s bad for our economy,” the statement read.

[…]

Though the Partnership originally expressed reservations about early drafts of the law, it eventually publicly supported the ordinance before City Council passed it 11-6 last year. A.J. Mistretta, a spokesman for the Visitors Bureau, said Partnership President Bob Harvey encouraged the group to issue the joint statement.

Houston Unites campaign manager Richard Carlbom said the groups’ support demonstrates a desire in the business community to remain competitive with other large cities that already have similar nondiscrimination policies in place.

“If this gets repealed, I think a lot of folks will look at Houston and wonder if they should send employees here or hold conferences here,” Carlbom said. “They will wonder whether or not there are the appropriate protections in place.”

The argument is not new. Mayor Annise Parker and other officials long have warned that Houston’s selection to host the 2017 Super Bowl and the 2016 NCAA Final Four, for instance, could be in jeopardy if the law is repealed.

“Houston simply isn’t the City it was 20 or 30 years ago,” Parker said last month. “It is this open and inclusive atmosphere that helps make Houston attractive to new residents, new business, major sporting events like the Super Bowl and more. The ongoing effort by this group threatens to hurt that image and our progress.”

Gotta say, I was a little afraid that the GHP was going to sit on its hands during the campaign, and let others do the heavy lifting. I’m delighted to be proven wrong about that, though I hope this statement isn’t the extent of their involvement. And again, however you feel about HERO, if you think there won’t be consequences if it gets repealed, you’re kidding yourself. We can argue about what the extent of the consequences might be, and whether or not the Super Bowl and Final Four are really in jeopardy – I personally don’t think the NFL or NCAA would move them on that short notice, but for sure we’d be out of the running for future events like those, and other already-scheduled events could get canceled – but the question is not “if” but “how much”. I would like for the GHP to reinforce that message as much as possible. And just as a reminder, despite what the likes of Jared Woodfill and Ben Hall would like you to believe, HERO is about a lot more than bathrooms.

Houston Unites’ first ad

Not bad:

The story:

HoustonUnites

Supporters of Houston’s equal rights ordinance released their first official radio ad Friday, countering opponents’ claim that the law presents a public safety threat and seeking to reframe the debate before voters consider the issue in November.

The ad, airing on seven local stations during the next two weeks, features Servants of Christ United Methodist Church Rev. Will Reed tackling the message that critics of the law released last week in a one-minute radio spot. In the piece, a young woman said the non-discrimination ordinance allows men to enter women’s restrooms – which she called “filthy” and “unsafe.”

Critics of the law have long alleged that it would allow male sexual predators dressed in drag to enter womens’ restrooms.

“What’s being lost is that it’s already illegal to go into a bathroom to harm or harass someone,” Reed says in the ad. “This law won’t change that. We looked into it, and HERO is actually about providing a needed local tool to protect Houstonians from discrimination based on their race, religion, age, gender, military status, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.”

Houston Unites staff said the media buy cost about $100,000 and will air for two weeks on KHMX-FM, KKBQ/KTHT-FM, KODA-FM, KPRC-AM, KTRH-AM, RODA-FM and RTRH-AM.

That’s as much as the antis’ ad buy. If you listed to terrestrial radio in Houston, you’re probably not going to be able to avoid these ads for the foreseeable future. As for the content itself, it’s good, I like it. I hope it’s effective. There will be a lot more to the campaign than this, but it’s good to get this part of it going. Soundcloud link via Stace.

First anti-HERO radio ad airs

Here it comes.

HoustonUnites

In the ad, a young woman talks about the perceived threat to public safety the ordinance presents. Critics have long asserted that the broad non-discrimination law, which includes protections for gay and transgender residents, would allow male sexual predators dressed in drag to enter women’s restrooms.

A heated legal battle between opponents seeking to place the law on the ballot and the city ended with a Texas Supreme Court decision in late July ordering City Council to either repeal the law or vote to affirm it and place on the November ballot. After a 12-5 vote, City Council opted for the latter.

The two-week, $100,000 buy will air on several radio stations, including Mix 96.5, Sunny 99.1, KNTH AM 1070 and the conservative KSEV Radio.

In the ad, an unidentified woman says that she would like to give birth to a child in Houston but is concerned about the equal rights law.

“There are already federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination against pregnant women, but this ordinance will allow men to freely go into women’s bathrooms, locker rooms and showers. That is filthy, that is disgusting and that is unsafe,” the ad states.

The Houston Unites campaign, supporters of the ordinance, responded to the ad in a written statement Monday dismissing the message. The campaign has yet to make any media buys, but manager Richard Carlbom has said the group will hit the airwaves and TV in the coming months.

“The ad is vulgar and grossly misleading. Nothing in the equal rights ordinance changes the fact that it is – and always will be – illegal to enter a restroom to harm or harass other people. And the ad leaves out the fact that the law protects tens of thousands of Houstonians from job discrimination based on their race, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability,” the statement said.

It’s all of those things and more, but that doesn’t mean the ad won’t be effective. This is exactly what I expected from the HERO haters, and it’s why I was hoping the pro-HERO forces would have something out first. It’s hard to dislodge that kind of fear once it takes hold; facts just don’t get you very far. If any of these radio stations are ones you listen to, by all means feel free to contact them and tell them that you don’t approve of this dishonest and hurtful ad. If the ad really makes you mad, get in touch with Houston Unites and find something you can do to help protect HERO in November. PDiddie has more.

UPDATE: The Press and Lisa Falkenberg add on.

The contours of the HERO fight

We’ll see how this goes.

HoustonUnites

When City Council sent Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance to the November ballot two weeks ago, the vote raised the curtain on dueling campaigns that had been bracing in the wings for a political showdown more than a year in the making.

Council’s 12-5 vote to affirm the ordinance and place it on the ballot, part of a Texas Supreme Court order, followed months of heated back-and-forth in City Hall and various Harris County courtrooms. By the next week, campaign managers had been selected, ads were drafted and pollsters were working to take the pulse of voters.

Supporters quickly appealed to Houston-native and superstar Beyoncé on Twitter for a plug. Opponents, meanwhile, touted presidential candidate Rand Paul’s remarks during the national GOP debates chiding Mayor Annise Parker, though not by name, for a political fumble during the court case surrounding the law. Both camps warned that the eyes of the nation are on Houston.

Political scientists, however, said that is a tad dramatic; unless the law is repealed, the fight over Houston’s non-discrimination law will amount to a largely local affair bolstered by some national money.

Opponents will push a public safety campaign driven by the perceived threat that male sexual predators dressed in drag will use the law as cover to enter women’s restrooms. Supporters, meanwhile, will seek to debunk that and warn that repealing the law would irreparably harm the city’s image.

Both groups said they will need to spend at least $2 million to pepper voters with targeted direct mail and a few choice ads.

“HERO will be competing head to head with the mayoral election for oxygen and energy,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. “There’s only so much space in an election like this, and a lot of that space is going to be occupied by HERO because it’s a charged issue. It’s going to make it even more difficult for down-ballot races to emerge and obtain the attention of voters.”

[…]

At dueling launch events last week, both sides offered a glimpse of the campaigns to come.

On Wednesday, equal rights ordinance supporters unveiled the “Houston Unites” campaign.

Leslie Jackson, the minister of education at Cathedral of Hope church in Midtown, said opponents “confuse religious freedom with the freedom to discriminate.”

“Religious faith does not undermine the value of equality for all under the law,” Jackson said. “Religious faith demands it. As a Christian minister, I must oppose misguided efforts to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.”

The task for supporters, Campaign Manager Richard Carlbom said, is twofold: explaining the ramifications if the ordinance is repealed and countering opponents’ contention that male sexual predators will use the ordinance to enter women’s restrooms.

“Houston and Houstonians don’t believe in discrimination, and so, HERO simply says everybody should be free from discrimination and that’s why folks should support it,” Carlbom said.

The challenge for supporters is to fend off the public safety allegations without losing their own message, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said. The business angle – that events such as the Super Bowl and Final Four could go elsewhere in the event of repeal – likely will factor into supporters’ argument, he said.

The onus, he said, largely falls on opponents of the ordinance to turn the tide as LGBT issues continue to pick up public support. As the ordinance was embroiled in litigation, a slew of states and then the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.

“In part, because it’s hard to get people to undo something, opponents have a harder job,” Rottinghaus said. “Once the inertia is developed in a certain direction, it’s hard to get people to do something different.”

Jared Woodfill, former Harris County GOP chairman and a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the ordinance, said opponents would target female voters and men concerned about the safety of their wives and daughters. The pitch to voters, Woodfill said, is simple: “No men in women’s restrooms.”

Yeah, that’s exactly how I thought the opposition would go. The good news, I suppose, is that I really don’t think the leaders of the opposition are capable of keeping their frothing homophobia under wraps, and I think that will hurt them. I agree with Campos that the more they let Steven Hotze talk, the better it will be for HERO supporters. But it’s increasingly clear to me that the bathroom argument has taken hold, and has been internalized by a lot of people. I don’t think facts are going to help counter that. To the extent that persuasion is part of the pro-HERO campaign, I think it has to be about making people feel that supporting HERO is the right thing – the Houston thing – to do. I’m hopeful, but there’s an awful lot that can go wrong, and a lot at stake. BOR has more.

Houston Unites

The pro-HERO campaign has been launched.

Supporters of Houston’s nondiscrimination ordinance launched a formal campaign Wednesday urging voters to defend the measure this November.

ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke urged Houstonians to “send a message that this is a city that doesn’t discriminate.” Businessman Bobby Singh, invoking the threat of losing sporting events and conventions if the law is repealed, added, “Let’s send a strong message to people across the country and across the world that Houston is open for business.”

[…]

Foes have seized on the protections the ordinance extends to transgender residents, specifically the perceived threat of transgender women — people who were born male but identify as female — using women’s restrooms and locker rooms. They allege “transvestite men” may enter women’s facilities and commit sexual assaults.

Opponents also accuse Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major American city, of seeking to “criminalize faith” by forcing “individuals, families, churches, schools and businesses to accept, affirm and celebrate the LGBT agenda.”

Supporters on Wednesday indicated they will address both sets of allegations head-on.

Sonia Corrales, chief program officer at the Houston Area Women’s Center, said the majority of women and more than 90 percent of children are assaulted by someone known to them, and that similar nondiscrimination laws have been passed in 17 states and 200 cities without accompanying public safety concerns.

“It is a disservice to the public to continue to perpetuate myths about how and why sexual assault happens,” she said. “Nothing in HERO changes the fact that it is illegal to enter a restroom to harm or harass people or invade their privacy.”

Leslie Jackson, a minister at Cathedral of Hope, also decried the “voices of division” who “confuse religious freedom with the freedom to discriminate.”

“Religious faith does not undermine the value of equality for all under the law,” he said. “Religious faith demands it.”

Here’s their website, and here’s their Facebook page. I’ve said my piece about how I’d go about this, so I look forward to seeing how this goes. In the meantime, this is a team effort, so visit both pages and see what you can do to help. No bystanders allowed.

Addressing the bathroom question is certainly going to be important, because bathroom hysteria is going to be a central part of the repeal campaign. Sadly, I don’t know how useful facts will be, which is why I took a more indirect approach. Still, it’s important to emphasize how dishonest the claims being made about bathrooms by repeal proponents are. I’ve quoted Daniel Davies before, and this is as good a time as ever to bring his sage words back up: Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.

And look, regardless of the efficacy of any particular campaign tactic, I can’t overstate how much the repeal effort is based on vicious lies against people who live, work, go to school, and pay taxes here in Houston. Our neighbors, to put it another way. Most of the people who are leading the repeal effort call themselves devout Christians. I’m not a devout Christian – I don’t go to church, I don’t feel faith the way many people do – but I did grow up in a strongly Catholic family, and however un-devout I am now the teachings I learned as a child are still very much a part of who I am. If there’s one thing I know from those teachings I got as a child, it’s that there’s nothing remotely Christ-like about telling vicious, hateful lies about one’s neighbor. I don’t know what motivates someone who calls himself or herself a devout Christian to do such a thing. I was taught to love my neighbor. I have no idea how anyone could think this kind of behavior is loving. I’m glad that religious leaders will be part of the pro-HERO campaign. It’s important to convey the message that being religious is entirely compatible with supporting equality for all. I just hope that message can get out there as well.

HERO affirmed by Council

It’s official – HERO will be on the ballot this fall.

RedEquality

City Council voted to affirm Houston’s equal rights ordinance Wednesday, a move that will send the law to voters in November per a Texas Supreme Court ruling.

City Council voted 12-5 to leave the law in place, with Councilmen Dave Martin, Oliver Pennington, Michael Kubosh, Jack Christie and Councilwoman Brenda Stardig voting to repeal the ordinance. A Texas Supreme Court ruling issued last month ordered the city to either repeal the ordinance or put it on the November ballot.

“All we’re saying by this is that everyone should have an equal opportunity to equal rights,” Councilwoman Ellen Cohen said.

Here’s the longer version of the story, and a story from Tuesday previewing things. HOUEquality reported the vote as 13-4; I’m not sure where the discrepancy lies. CM Dwight Boykins, who voted against HERO last year, voted to keep the law in place, though not because of a change of heart; he sent out a press release saying his constituents wanted to have a change to “vote up or down on HERO”. Whatever. He did include the full text of the ordinance, which as it happens will be on the referendum:

“Shall the City of Houston repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, Ord. No. 2014-530, which prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy?”

Not sure why anyone would want to vote against that, but hey, I’m not Jared Woodfill. Or Bill King, for that matter.

“Voters are put to a false dilemma by the politicians,” King said in a statement Wednesday. “If you vote for repeal, you are in favor of discrimination. If you vote against repeal, you are in favor of men using women’s restrooms. Like most Houstonians, I favor neither. I cannot in good conscience advocate either for or against the proposition.”

King, who bills himself as a moderate fiscal conservative, is seeking the support of Houston’s conservative west side — a group of voters City Councilman Stephen Costello and 2013 mayoral runner-up Ben Hall also are courting.

Hall is a staunch opponent of the nondiscrimination law, while Costello and the candidates to his left support it.

That puts King in a difficult position, Texas Southern University political science professor Jay Aiyer said.

“He needs to make a runoff on the strength of conservative voters, but he recognizes that winning a runoff opposing HERO might be difficult,” Aiyer said, noting that Houston voters are predominantly Democratic. The top two vote-earners in November will advance to a December runoff.

By continuing to straddle the fence, Aiyer said, King may alienate both sides.

King refuses to take a position on HERO. That Chron story calls it “straddling”; I call it “avoiding”, and I think it’s gutless. If Bill King would like to articulate a sober, non-bigoted rationale for opposing HERO, I say go for it. I’m sure the Greater Houston Partnership and all the Fortune 500 companies in town that have their own non-discrimination policies and have supported HERO as being good for their businesses would love to hear it as well. I’d suggest that he might want to do a little research first, lest he ignorantly parrot one of the scurrilous lies being propagated by those bigoted opponents he doesn’t want to be associated with. Maybe if he does that, he can then figure out what he should do, and let the rest of us know.

Anyway. As we know, a lot of the opposition will be coming from a group of pastors, plus scoundrels like Woodfill. I’m hearing that he and his pals are trying to scare up a “straight slate” for various Council positions, because nothing says modern and forward-moving like harking back to 1985. I’ve said my piece about how I think the campaign ought to go; I’m glad to see that the idea of using beloved celebrities to advocate for HERO, which occurred to more than just me, is catching on. If you want to get involved locally, check out and give a like to Houston Unites. All hands on deck, y’all. We can’t have anyone sit this one out.