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Ray Hill

RIP, Ray Hill

We have lost an icon.

Ray Hill

Ray Hill was in the cross hairs, and if the Louisiana hitmen actually showed up in Houston to rub him out, he wanted the media to be wise to what had happened. Hill breathlessly related the menace, obviously delighted that he could be the target of such a delicious conspiracy. Every UPS deliveryman, every knock on the door might be a summons to eternity. He’d hunker down in his apartment until we talked again — if we talked again.

Hill exuded drama like some people sweat. Whether he was telling tales of his career as an East Texas teenage evangelist or his escapades as a jewel thief, Hill kept an eye peeled for the best presentation. And as one of the city’s most visible advocates for gay, lesbian and inmate causes, he rarely failed to sharpen his talent to entertain into a formidable weapon.

Hill, who late in life eschewed leadership roles in activist circles to hone a career as a monologuist — a dramatic undertaking that gained him appreciative audiences in New York, Pennsylvania and New England — died of heart failure in hospice care Saturday. He was 78.

A legend in his own right — and in his own mind — Hill’s business card described his profession as “citizen provocateur,” a proudly worn label he received from a Supreme Court justice after a long-ago legal battle with the cops.

“I was born to rub the cat hair the wrong direction,” he once said.

Excerpts don’t do the man justice, so go read the whole thing, then go read Lisa Gray’s pre-obituary of Hill that came out on Tuesday. I met Ray a couple of times but didn’t really know him, which makes me kind of an outlier since basically everyone knew Ray Hill. The late Carl Whitmarsh called Ray “Mother” in his emails, a tribute to Ray’s role as an originator of LGBT activism in Houston. You can’t tell the story of Houston without at least a chapter on Ray Hill. He may be gone, but his legacy will live on. Rest in peace, Ray Hill.

Jon Buice granted parole

This stirs up a lot of emotions.

Paul Broussard

Jon Buice, serving 45 years in state prison for the 1991 gay-bashing murder of Houston banker Paul Broussard, has been granted parole.

Buice, 42, was one of 10 youths from The Woodlands who assaulted Broussard, 27, in the Montrose nightclub district.

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles spokesman Raymond Estrada said a three-member paroles committee Friday voted 2-0 to grant parole. The vote was made by the department’s Angleton office, Estrada said, noting that cases occasionally are assigned to offices with no direct connection to the case.

Buice previously was granted parole in 2011, but subsequent protests led to its reversal.

[…]

Estrada said factors leading to the parole included Buice’s “satisfactory institutional adjustment,” including no major disciplinary cases, loss of time or demotion in classification since his last review. Buice also had successfully completed one or more vocational or academic programs while confined. Lastly, Estrada said, Buice was only 17 at the time of his crime.

He will remain under parole supervision until April 9, 2037.

I said my piece on this in 2013. Rereading what I wrote then, I still feel that way. Reasonable people can disagree in good faith on the role of punishment in our criminal justice system, and how much of it is enough, in general and in a particular case. In this particular case, I don’t think there was enough. The Press and Lisa Gray have more.

On Jon Buice and Paul Broussard

Grits has a provocative guest post from Michael Berryhill, an author and journalism professor, about the murder of Paul Broussard, the way it has been portrayed by the media, and the effort of convicted killer Jon Buice to win parole for himself. It’s worth reading and thinking about, and it’s also worth responding to.

Paul Broussard

To the Readers of Grits for Breakfast,

Last summer I wrote a letter of support for the parole of Jon Buice, a young man who pleaded guilty to the stabbing death of a 27-year-old gay man named Paul Broussard in 1991. Buice comes up for parole again this summer, and chances are his case will again become a public spectacle. Broussard’s mother, Nancy Rodriquez and her ally, the Houston victims rights advocate, Andy Kahan, will continue to argue that Buice should serve 27 years, one year for every year his victim lived. What follows is a revised version of that letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

I became intrigued by his case during the summer of 2011 when his parole was approved and subsequently reversed after a great deal of publicity. I decided to make Buice’s case the subject of a graduate seminar in journalism at Texas Southern University, where I am associate professor and chair of the department of journalism. The title of our project was “The Death of Paul Broussard, the Parole of Jon Buice,” and the subtitle was “How the News Media Have Played and Were Played.” Six graduate students and I delved into the history of the case. In addition to researching the media history of Buice’s story, we interviewed Jon Buice’s father, Jim Buice; the gay activist who drew media attention to the Broussard’s murder, Ray Hill; and the victims’ activist who is determined to keep Buice from obtaining parole, Andy Kahan.

Our goal was to understand how the news media works: how Hill used the news media to see to it that Buice and other young men who were with him were characterized and captured, and how Kahan has used the news media and politicians to see to it that Buice continues to stay in prison. Jon Buice is caught in the middle, as is, I believe, the parole board.

The theme is this: What is the meaning of forgiveness, legally, morally, religiously, ethically and politically? And how will the Texas parole board respond to the pressures of politics and publicity in this case? Will it do the right thing?

This story is about messages, and Andy Kahan, the City of Houston victims’ advocate said it best during an interview in November 2011. Kahan took credit for the reversal of Buice’s parole in the summer of 2011. He is proud of doing whatever it takes in using the news media to make Buice an example of his power. During our interview he questioned whether Buice should even be brought up for parole annually.

“It’s disappointing there haven’t been more setoffs,” Kahan said. “I’ve been barking in the media about this.”

Paroling Jon Buice “sends the wrong message,” Kahan said. But question is who is supposed to receive that message? Does paroling Jon Buice send the wrong message to teenaged boys out on a drunken night on the town? Are kids like this likely to even know of Jon Buice, much less connect his tragic actions to themselves?

[…]

The question the parole board has to answer, is not whether Andy Kahan will create so much bad publicity and political pressure that Buice should be held longer. The question is whether imprisoning Buice longer serves any purpose in his rehabilitation. Is Buice likely to come out of prison and commit a similar crime? Is he a rabid hater of homosexuals who will return to the Montrose and look for someone to kill? Who is Jon Buice today?

We know a few things for certain about him. At the age of 17 he pleaded guilty to stabbing Paul Broussard in a Montrose parking lot near a gay nightclub called Heaven. On July 4, 1991 Buice and nine other friends had driven in two cars from their homes in the Woodlands to the Montrose area. They had been drinking heavily and taking drugs. They challenged three men walking down the sidewalk and got into a fight and chased the men. Paul Broussard, 31, was cornered in a parking lot, and was defending himself well. Buice took a pocket knife and stabbed Broussard twice.

Broussard lay conscious on sidewalk for a long time before the EMS showed up. He asked the drivers to take him to the St. Joseph Hospital Emergency Room rather that one of the better-known trauma hospitals such as Ben Taub. According to medical records, it took several hours for Broussard to be diagnosed. He had showed few signs of external bleeding, but was bleeding internally and died the next morning, some would argue from medical negligence as well as the stab wounds.

The question about the mission of the Parole Board is a valid one, and I have no particular sympathy for Andy Kahan. What I find most interesting about Berryhill’s essay is that while he on the one hand condemns “the media” for sensationalizing aspects of the murder, he himself does a pretty good job of minimizing aspects of the murder. Consider:

“Paul Broussard, 31, was cornered in a parking lot, and was defending himself well.” Defending himself against ten attackers who were trying to kill him. Would it have made any difference if Broussard had curled into a fetal position instead, crying for his God and his mother to save him? Would it have made any difference if Broussard had managed to land a few good punches against his attackers, perhaps bloodying a nose or breaking a jaw before Buice stabbed him to death? To imply that this was somehow a fair fight seems more than a little slanted to me.

“Broussard lay conscious on sidewalk for a long time before the EMS showed up. He asked the drivers to take him to the St. Joseph Hospital Emergency Room rather that one of the better-known trauma hospitals such as Ben Taub.” The implication here is that Broussard couldn’t have been that badly hurt, even if he didn’t have the strength to get up. Berryhill is pushing the idea that Broussard himself bears some responsibility for his death. Let that be a lesson to the next poor soul who gets jumped by ten thugs from The Woodlands: Be sure you know which hospital to ask for.

“He had showed few signs of external bleeding, but was bleeding internally and died the next morning, some would argue from medical negligence as well as the stab wounds.” Again, Berryhill is trying to deflect the blame. Some would argue he’s playing the role of defense attorney here and not media critic.

I’m not here to argue the facts of the case, or whether the media did in fact report some things that weren’t true. We can certainly argue about the effect of media and public opinion on the parole process. I’d agree that the Andy Kahans of the world play an outsized role in the process, and that parole boards should be better shielded from such pressure. But the facts as Berryhill presents them, once stripped of their own bias, just aren’t that compelling to me.

Recent stories in the Houston Chronicle and the Austin American Statesman have high-lighted the improvements to Texas parole. Texans have come to realize that incarceration is expensive and not necessarily the best option for many criminals. Wouldn’t it be better to have Buice out on parole earning a living and paying taxes, rather than costing the state at least $18,000 a year to house in prison?

[…]

If Buice had killed a man in a bar fight, chances are would have long ago been paroled. Most murders are crimes of passion, committed under duress and intoxication. But he did not commit an ordinary murder. He committed a publicized crime, a crime with labels and exaggerations.

By 2010, Buice had become an invaluable member of the work team at Wynne prison, which rehabilitated old computers. Microsoft had awarded him certificates for his technical expertise, certificates that would enable him to work in the free world. Prison officials at Wynne constantly called on him to help them with computer problems. He had completed an undergraduate college degree in prison and was in line to be accepted in a graduate program. His disciplinary record was good. He was doing everything the prison system expected of an inmate to win parole.

But Buice didn’t kill a man in a bar fight. He killed a man that he and nine of his friends attacked without provocation. It was a deliberate act, not a heat of the moment reaction. I absolutely agree that more incarceration in general is a bad thing that has contributed to massive overspending on prison building and way too many people being locked up for things that aren’t worth being locked up for. I agree that many inmates are served better by things other than being locked up, and I commend Buice for his efforts to make a better person out of himself. But rehabilitation and public safety aren’t the only aspects of incarceration. Punishment is a part of it as well, and I am not particularly sympathetic to the argument that Buice has been punished enough. Berryhill suggests that denying Jon Buice parole sends a message to other offenders that the system is unfair, and that if theirs is a highly publicized case there may not be anything they can do to help themselves. Some would argue that by denying him parole, there’s a message being sent to would-be offenders that the penalty for killing someone is greater than they’d want to pay. Which message will be heard more clearly is another thing we can argue about.

The out candidates

There are four LGBT candidates running for the Lege this year.

Ann Johnson, Carlos Vasquez, Ray Hill, and Mary Gonzalez

Since 2003, when Austin Democrat Glen Maxey left the Texas House, no out LGBT person has served in the Texas Legislature.

The Lone Star State is now one of only 18 states that lacks an openly LGBT state legislator, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the Washington, D.C.-based PAC that backs out candidates nationwide.

But at least four LGBT candidates for Texas House will be seeking to change that this year.

Victory Fund spokesman Dennis Dison said the group has not yet endorsed any of the candidates, and the filing period for May 29 primaries just ended last week. But Dison said he believes electing openly LGBT candidates to public office is a crucial part of passing pro-equailty legislation.

“No state legislature has instituted [same-sex] partnership rights without having out LGBT officials in the legislature,” Dison said. “We have seen in cases where there is just a sole legislator, that it can have a huge impact in terms of our community and changing people’s minds about who we are.”

This story was run in March, and it’s been on my to-be-blogged list since then. Of the four, I knew about Ann Johnson and Ray Hill, both of whom are here in Harris County. I did not know that Mary Gonzalez (HD75, El Paso) or Carlos Vasquez (HD90, Tarrant County) were gay prior to reading this. Apparently, Gonzalez’s sexual orientation has become an issue in the campaign, though thankfully not without some pushback. Gonzalez, who is running for the seat that has been vacated by Rep. Chente Quintanilla, appears to be the frontrunner; she has been endorsed by Annie’s List, she is working hard, and she’s the leading fundraiser. Of the four, only Johnson is assured of being on the November ballot, but she’s also the only one who goes into November as an underdog – the others are all basically assured of election if they win in May. Hill, who is running what can fairly be described as a quixotic campaign against State Rep. Garnet Coleman, is highly unlikely to get that far. Vasquez is running against Rep. Lon Burnam. That’s unfortunate in the sense that there are many other districts where a Vasquez win would advance the cause of gay rights and other progressive ideals a lot more than a win against Burnam would, but that’s how it goes. Burnam was recently endorsed by the Star-Telegram and also has a significant fundraising lead, but he’s in a district that was drawn to be won by a Latino and the heightened turnout generated by the CD33 primary is likely to work against him. This one could go either way. Anyway, read the story and see what these candidates are about.

On a related note, a more recent edition of the Dallas Voice has a profile of George Clayton, the Dallas-area SBOE member who won his seat in an out-of-nowhere victory in the 2010 primary against long-time member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller. Clayton is the first out gay person to be elected to office in Texas as a Republican (and only one of 20 out of over 500 total nationwide), though his orientation was not widely known at that time. He’s opposed by Miller and two other candidates in this year’s primary and says his sexuality has not been an issue on the campaign trail; nonetheless, if he wins again I’d have to say it’s at least as remarkable an achievement as his first win was. He’s generally been aligned with the non-crazy Republican wing of the SBOE, so I wish him the best of luck.

30 day reports, Harris County candidates for state office

We’re now 26 days out from the May 29 primary, which means more campaign finance reports from candidates for state and county offices who are in contested primaries. I’m going to post about all of these, starting today with reports from Harris County candidates for state offices. Here are the Democrats, whose reports are linked from my 2012 Democratic primary election page:

Candidate Office Raised Spent Loans Cash ==================================================== Nilsson SBOE6 1,100 1,267 0 1,092 Jensen SBOE6 8,105 9,462 0 4,699 Scott SBOE6 200 474 0 346 Allen HD131 103,451 52,965 0 60,002 Adams HD131 17,930 70,768 411 24,110 Madden HD137 15,968 12,232 0 13,987 Smith HD137 29,352 24,993 0 6,255 Winkler HD137 15,575 4,170 20,000 35,914 Wu HD137 35,579 30,539 0 73,468 Perez HD144 48,120 20,238 0 40,729 Risner HD144 9,315 15,158 0 4,156 Ybarra HD144 4,650 7,586 0 27 Miles HD146 16,600 27,776 730,000 58,573 Edwards HD146 14,449 13,685 0 764 Coleman HD147 41,525 39,052 0 84,433 Hill HD147

My post on the January reports is here. Some thoughts about these reports:

I think we can say that Rep. Alma Allen has eradicated the early lead Wanda Adams had in cash on hand. The establishment has rallied to Rep. Allen’s side, as is usually the case with an incumbent in good standing. A lot of money has already been spent in this race, and I don’t expect that to change over the next four weeks.

Usually, establishment support and fundraising prowess go hand in hand, but not always. HD137 is one of the exceptions, as Gene Wu has been the strongest fundraiser despite garnering only one endorsement (that I’m aware of) so far – HAR, which is certainly a nice get but not a core Democratic group. Joe Madden and Jamaal Smith have racked up the endorsements but don’t have the financial support to match. Other than there will be a runoff, I have no idea what will happen in this race.

For a variety of reasons, many organizations have not endorsed in HD144. The candidates got off to a late start thanks to the changes made to the district in the second interim map, and no one had much to show in their January finance reports. HCC Trustee Mary Ann Perez, who has the backing of Annie’s List, clearly distinguished herself this cycle, which will undoubtedly help her in a part of town that’s not used to having competitive D primaries for State Rep. The other news of interest in this race has nothing to do with fundraising. Robert Miller reported on candidate Kevin Risner having had three arrests for DUI, a fact that I’m sure was going to come out sooner or later. Miller, who’s a Perez supporter, thinks Risner is in a good position to win the primary. I’m not sure I agree with his analysis, but we’ll see.

Poor Al Edwards. It’s hard running a race without Tom Craddick’s buddies, isn’t it? I think Rep. Miles is going to break the pattern of alternating victories this year. On a side note, the Observer’s Forrest Wilder listened to my interview with Rep. Miles, even if he didn’t link to it. I guess he’s not much of a fan of either candidate in this race.

As of this writing, Ray Hill had not filed a 30 Day report. He finally did file a January report that listed no money raised or spent.

Here are the Republicans:

Candidate Office Raised Spent Loans Cash ==================================================== Cargill SBOE8 4,474 10,059 0 18,626 Ellis SBOE8 6,614 2,795 0 5,224 McCool SD11 5,957 4,959 0 997 Norman SD11 6,200 44,086 30,000 1,007 Taylor SD11 344,708 330,586 0 169,468 Huberty HD127 77,536 44,423 0 64,691 Jordan HD127 791 1,731 0 0 Davis HD129 49,816 42,193 0 70,317 Huls HD129 1,482 1,314 0 167 Callegari HD132 67,385 27,632 0 258,286 Brown HD132 2,275 2,380 0 93 Murphy HD133 110,665 89,167 0 211,004 Witt HD133 9,043 139,943 240,100 34,207 Bohac HD138 38,975 18,931 0 44,094 Smith HD138 22,998 13,562 100,000 105,504 Salazar HD143 Weiskopf HD143 Pineda HD144 28,100 6,591 0 19,613 Pena HD144 3,968 1,368 0 0 Lee HD149 Williams HD149 Mullins HD149 Riddle HD150 8,175 24,461 0 92,216 Wilson HD150 11,900 8,520 1,100 4,272

Note that there are differences from the last time. In January, there was a four-way race for HD136, which was eliminated by the San Antonio court in each of the interim maps. Ann Witt, who had been one of the candidates in HD136, moved over to HD133 and replaced the previous challenger, who apparently un-filed during the second period. In that second period, HD144 incumbent Ken Legler decided to drop out, and incumbent Dwayne Bohac picked up an opponent, and multiple people filed in HDs 143, 144, and 149.

Candidates Frank Salazar in HD143 and Jack Lee in HD149 did not have reports filed as of posting time. Their opponents did have reports filed, but those reports are not viewable until each candidate in the race has filed.

Witt had loaned herself $100K as of January; she has since more than doubled that amount. Whet Smith dropped $100K on himself in his challenge against Bohac. Why he’d do that and not have spent any of it as of the reporting deadline is a question I can’t answer. His $23K raised is a decent amount for the time period, but having more cash on hand with 30 days to go than the amount you loaned yourself makes no sense to me.

I’m surprised there hasn’t been more money raised in HD144. That’s a key pickup opportunity for Dems. Gilbert Pena has run for office twice before – HD143 in 2010, and SD06 in 2008 – and I had assumed he’d be the frontrunner in this primary because of that. Am I missing something here?

That’s all I’ve got. I’ll work on the other Dem primaries in Texas and the Harris County races next.

Gay rights support in Houston

  • Good news.

    [A]ccording to the latest Houston Area Survey, fewer than half of Harris County residents believe homosexuality is morally wrong, 61 percent believe it’s an innate characteristic rather than a lifestyle choice, and 43 percent believe gay marriages should have the same legal status as heterosexual ones — up from 32 percent just two years ago.

    Every measure of support for gay rights has increased significantly in recent years, said Stephen Klineberg, the Rice University sociology professor who has directed the annual survey since 1982.

    He attributed the change partly to changing individual attitudes, but mostly to the emergence of a new generation that grew up amid positive images of gay men and lesbians who no longer felt the need to conceal their sexual orientation.

    Younger respondents to the survey, Klineberg said, were more likely to believe gay marriages should have the same legal status as heterosexual unions, to support allowing gays and lesbians to be school teachers, and to say they had a close personal friend who was gay or lesbian.

    Anglo voters over 60 were most likely to oppose increased rights for gays, Klineberg said.

    That’s basically in line with polling data all around the country. Slowly but inexorably, the bulk of the people who think homosexuality is wrong are dying off, and they’re being replaced by a generation that knows better. Great for the country, not so good for the Republican Party. I figure the GOP will eventually adapt. If not, their ultimate demise will have been well earned.

    Note, by the way, that Kilneberg’s survey covers all of Harris County. The City of Houston is surely more liberal than the county as a whole.

    Ray Hill, a Houston gay activist, said he vividly remembers the disappointment felt in his community on the night of Jan. 19, 1985, when Houston voters overturned the anti-discrimination ordinance by a margin of greater than 4-1.

    Hill said gays and lesbians drove the change in attitudes by coming out of hiding, allowing heterosexuals to see how they could contribute to families and communities.

    “It’s not about what they think about us, it’s about what we think about us,” Hill said. “There is almost no reason in the world for anyone to be closeted any more.”

    I had the opportunity a few months back at a panel discussion to ask Ray Hill when there would be an effort launched to try to undo City Charter Amendment 2 from 2001, which denies health care and other employment benefits to same-sex domestic partners of city employees and which passed by a narrow 51.5 to 48.5 margin (PDF) at the time. He said the votes were there now to do it, and I have to agree. We’re likely still a decade or so away from attitudes being sufficiently different in Texas as a whole, but we’ll get there. Time is on our side.