Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

recall

Two more places that Uber won’t operate

Goodbye, Galveston.

Uber

Just days after the City Council passed an ordinance designed to regulate transportation networks, Uber has shut down its service in Galveston.

Monday evening, people in Galveston who tried to use the phone app to order a ride received a message that Uber is no longer available in Galveston

“Due to new regulations passed by Galveston City Council, Uber is no longer available in the city,” the message says. “We hope to resume operations in Galveston under modern ridesharing regulations in the future.”

The council passed those regulations on Thursday.

The rules require that ride-hailing companies apply for operators’ licenses from the city, and require the company’s drivers to apply for chauffeurs’ licenses.

As part of the licensing procedure, drivers have to go through a background check that includes a federal fingerprint analysis.

Uber has objected to cities, including Austin and Houston, who require fingerprint checks from its drivers. In other cities, the company claims that its business model does not allow for the time required to conduct such background checks.

“These new regulations will make it difficult for partners to earn extra money on a flexible schedule and create barriers to entry instead of improving access to reliable transportation options such as ridesharing,” Sharraz Maredia, the general manager of Uber Houston said in an message to drivers sent on Monday evening.

KHOU and the Chron have more coverage on this. I had seen a blurb on this a few days ago when Galveston City Council passed their ordinance, but it was behind a paywall so I didn’t know any of the back story. I did not expect this reaction to the ordinance, but all things considered I should have.

See ya later, Midland.

The rider-sharing sic company Uber has told potential customers it will no longer provide service in Midland County.

[…]

“Uber gives municipalities an ordinance and says pass this or we will leave,” said District 4 Councilman J.Ross Lacy on Monday night. “It is becoming an ongoing battle with cities in state of Texas that they don’t want to follow same rules as someone else.”

Lacy expressed disappointment with the result. He said he personally worked hours on negotiations with Uber. In December, City Council passed the second reading of an ordinance that Lacy said featured work from those negotiations.

[…]

“They (Uber) will not agree to terms of the ordinance because they don’t want to set a precedent,” Lacy said. “I worked a long time and had a handshake agreement, and for them to come back after the fact is disappointing. I negotiated in good faith. They didn’t.”

The Midland ordinance included allowing transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber to conduct their own background checks, which last I looked was a big deal for them. I don’t know if there was more to this story than what this report has, but if these rules were unacceptable them, I don’t know what they would accept. They’re really making the case for statewide regulations for TNCs, which is not a position I ever expected to support.

And here’s another reason to want to get this fight out of the local arena.

A group shrouded in mystery failed to deliver on its promise of a political blockbuster on Monday, in the process digging up new questions to pile upon a tall stack of older unanswered ones. After teasing a big announcement late last week, the group – known as Austin4All – declared that it had gathered enough signatures to force City Council Member Ann Kitchen into a recall election. However, as of Monday evening, the group hadn’t submitted its petition to the city clerk.

Austin4All’s co-directors, Rachel Kania and Tori Moreland, did not respond to an email from the Austin Monitor asking when – or, indeed, if – they plan on turning the petition in. In earlier messages, they explained that they were both in Iowa for the presidential nominating caucuses on Monday night.

The recall effort is purportedly a reaction to Kitchen’s attempts to tighten regulations imposed on transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft. Austin4All’s petition is a separate venture from another petition that aims to bring the regulations to a voter referendum. After announcing that they had collected enough signatures, the organizers of that effort quicklydelivered the petition to the Office of the City Clerk.

If Austin4All’s boasts prove to be true, Kitchen will have five days after verification of the signatures to resign or to face a recall referendum as early as May.

[…]

Austin4All’s existence may predate the city’s new system of geographical representation. In 2014, a group with the same name conducted a petition drive whose aim and organizers raised questions.

The Monitor found documents from January of that year showing that an Austin4All incorporated in Hays County as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit – which are forbidden from participating“in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.” When asked on Monday whether that was the same group, Moreland said, “We had no involvement and cannot speak to any affiliation.”

There are no other records of another Austin4All, let alone one that is filed as a political action committee, as the group appears to claim to be. According to campaign finance rules, any group that spends more than $500 must report the expenditures. As of the most recent filing deadline, no such records exist.

Kitchen said that she views the recall effort as an attack on her constituents, who made Kitchen one of only two Council members who were elected without having to face a runoff. “Now they’ve got someone from the outside,” Kitchen told the gaggle of press outside City Hall. “They don’t know who’s funding it, they’re telling lies throughout the neighborhood, they’re not identifying themselves. So it’s really a threat to the people of District 5 who have the representative that they chose. And I think it is a horrible precedent for this new system that we have and a threat for the entire city.”

Yeah, who doesn’t love a faux-“grassroots” organization with secret donors led by a couple of political pros (Moreland and Kania have ties to Ted Cruz and Rand Paul) coming in to try to overturn an election? Spare me. I’ll say again, I believe that there is an needs to be room for innovation in the vehicles for hire market, and that cities should find a reasonable way to allow such companies to operate. But by the same token, those companies need to actually abide by the legally enacted ordinances, and they need to accept that some oversight is necessary for the process of doing background checks on their drivers. Fingerprint checks aren’t the be-all and end-all, but they’re perfectly sensible in a way that “take our word for it” isn’t. I still don’t want to see a one-size-fits-all approach from the Legislature, but a law mandating some minimal requirements that includes fingerprints or the equivalent is something I do support.

In any event, the Travis County Clerk has certified the petitions to overturn the Austin ridesharing law on the ballot. City Council there will vote on that next week – they could simply ratify the alternate ordinance put forth by the petitioners or possibly some “compromise” ordinance that everyone can agree on, or it goes to the voters. That will make the month of May a lot more interesting around here. The Trib has more.

Churches and recall elections

This ought to be interesting.

BagOfMoney

Are Texas churches prohibited from campaigning to recall politicians?

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals [weighed] that question Thursday in a case set to clarify if and how a church as a corporate entity can influence the political process of ousting a sitting elected official.

A San Antonio congregation, Faith Outreach International Center, and two Houston churches, Joint Heirs Fellowship Church and the Houston First Church of God, sued Texas last year arguing state election code prevented them from supporting recall efforts in the two cities.

Ordinances to protect gay people passed in both cities in 2013. Upset with those measures, the churches planned to launch coordinated recall movements targeting former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, along with the entire City Council at the time, and Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

A lower court tossed the case, ruling the coordinated plans from the churches would have amounted to a “prohibited political contribution” because of their corporate status. The court also said the churches could band together under Texas law and form the equivalent of a state-level super PAC, which is allowed to accept corporate contributions to electioneer without coordinating with a candidate.

The state attorney general’s office has taken the position that there is nothing in state law preventing the churches from spending money in a recall election. Like the lower court, however, the state argues the churches would simply have to register as a super PAC, which is formally called a “direct expenditure only committee.”

“Not every payment of money, or transfer of a thing of value, by a corporation in connection with a recall election is prohibited by” state law, the attorney general’s office argues in a brief. “And the statute permits all the conduct in which Plaintiffs want to engage.”

However, lawyers for the churches have dismissed the idea of registering as any type of PAC and are taking aim at the state’s law banning corporate contributions in recall elections, claiming it infringes on their First Amendment rights.

“This is a very live dispute,” said Jerad Najvar, a campaign finance lawyer representing the three churches. “More issues like this are going to arise in which religious groups are going to want to participate in the political process.”

[…]

Corporations are currently allowed to give to a political action committee that is set up to support or oppose a specific ballot measure. But state election code also “specifies that a corporation is prohibited from making political contributions in connection with a recall election, including the circulation and submission of petitions to call an election.”

Lawyers representing the churches are arguing the two statutes dealing with corporate contributions are unclear.

They also point to a court ruling from a case out of El Paso, in which the former mayor successfully sued a pastor and a church spearheading recall efforts, as part of the “chilling effect” for churches wanting to engage, said Najvar, the lawyer representing the three congregations.

In the El Paso case, a state appeals court reached the conclusion that a corporation engaged in the support of a recall. The court said the church failed to use a political action committee designated for a specific ballot measure.

“As far as Texas law is concerned right now, the courts have already applied what is the law,” Najvar said.

I don’t remember the original filing of this lawsuit, so I don’t have any background to give you. I guess I don’t know why the law makes that distinction for recall elections, and without knowing any more than that it sure does seem like a fair target. Against that, I’m not sure what the problem is with using a PAC, as state law allows. Fortunately, this Press story on the oral arguments gives us some insight.

The hearing [Thursday] largely centered on whether the churches even had standing to bring the suit in the first place.

A lawyer representing the Texas Ethics Commission, which oversees political contributions, argued that the churches’ concerns that they would be breaking the law was actually a moot point. He held that, as long as the churches wouldn’t be making contributions to individual political candidates or officeholders, they could post as many recall promotions on their websites and submit as many petitions as they wanted. “The reason they don’t have standing is because there is no case for controversy,” he said. “It is the commission’s position that it is not going to enforce any provision of the election code in a way that restricts political contributions, as long as they’re not coordinated to a political candidate or officeholder.”

Nevertheless, the churches’ counsel continued to claim the churches faced discrimination, despite the state’s continued promise that everything they wanted to do—on the record, at least—was already allowed under state law. When Jerad Najvar, the attorney arguing on behalf of the churches, continued to press the issue, one Fifth Circuit judge told him, “Your clients can’t take yes for an answer.”

Najvar claimed that the “restrictions” the election code placed on his clients’ ability to promote a recall—which no one else seemed to believe were restrictions—were still content-based speech restrictions. Najvar said he worried that if his clients proceeded with recall efforts, they could still face legal troubles. He cited a 2012 case in El Paso , Cook v. Tom Brown Ministries, in which church officials faced jail time for trying to oust the El Paso mayor. The state, however, more than once reminded Najvar and the court that a 2013 case brought against the commission by Texans for Free Enterprise made the Cook case irrelevant and ensured that the churches’ actions would be deemed legal by the state.

Najvar wouldn’t buy it. “Our clients are very fearful,” Najvar said. “There should be confidence that you can proceed in the democratic process and not be concerned that your actions might somehow put you subject to criminal sanctions.”

Which led one judge to ask, “Isn’t that a little paranoid?”

OK then. It will likely be awhile before we hear back from the court. In the meantime, if you have more familiarity with these issues, please feel free to weigh in.

Wilson’s petitions

Here, courteously sent to me by reader and regular commenter Mainstream, is a copy of Dave Wilson’s petition for a charter amendment to “prohibit men (who perceive or express themselves as women) from using the women’s restroom. The petition itself is in addition to a scare-mongering letter from Wilson, sent from his current “residence” on 34th Street, and an offensive and misleading drawing. The latter was included in an earlier petition effort from last October for the same thing. Either I completely forgot about that one or I never heard of it in the first place. Hopefully that’s a harbinger for this one. In any event, the petition itself reads as follows:

Except as required by State or Federal law, the City of Houston shall only define “Gender Identity” as an individual’s innate identification, as either male or female, which is assigned at birth. Perceived gender Identification is not allowed in defining “Gender identity”. Furthermore, the City of Houston shall require entities doing business with the city to adopt the same definition of “Gender identity”.

If any portion of this proposed Charter amendment is declared unlawful, then such portion shall be removed and the remainder of the Charter amendment will remain in effect. Any ordinance or executive order in conflict with this section of the Charter is hereby repealed and declared invalid.

You know I’m not an attorney, but I have a hard time seeing how this drivel could survive a legal challenge, if it were somehow to be adopted. It’s so vaguely worded yet specifically targeted I don’t know how it could possibly be enforced. Any attorneys out there that want to weigh in on this, by all means please do. Note that this is also not a petition to repeal the ordinance, for which there is a 30 day window, or to recall Mayor Parker or any member of Council. I’m not sure what to make of that. If you receive this or any other petition for one or more of these purposes, from Dave Wilson or any other group, please let me know, either via comment or an email to kuff – at – offthekuff – dot – com. If you get a different petition than this one, I will be eternally grateful if you can scan it and send it in email to me. Thanks very much.

Post HERO, watch for the petition drives

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today really is the day for the NDO vote

And as we finally head for a vote, the hysteria and fearmongering have reached a fever pitch.

RedEquality

In just five words, Mayor Annise Parker handed her increasingly vocal opponents exactly what they wanted in the battle against her proposed equal rights ordinance: “The debate is about me.”

That comment, part of a longer utterance at Houston City Council’s last meeting, at which the body delayed a decision on the ordinance to this Wednesday, was just what political and religious conservatives have accused Parker – the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city – of doing for weeks: Pushing the ordinance to further her “gay agenda,” or to reward gay advocates for their political support.

In laying out the proposed ordinance last month, Parker acknowledged the debate would focus on gay and transgender issues because those groups are not protected under existing laws, but she stressed the proposal was comprehensive. It would ban discrimination based not just on sexual orientation and gender identity but also, as federal laws do, sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status.

Parker’s recent comments undercut that comprehensive message, however, as she sought to remind council members the issue is “intensely personal.”

“It’s not academic. It is my life that is being discussed,” said Parker, who faced death threats and had her tires slashed as a gay activist in the 1980s. “And while we can say around this council chamber that it applies to the range of protected groups – and it does and it is right and appropriate that the city of Houston finally acknowledges a local ordinance that respects African-Americans and Hispanics and those of different religions – the debate is about me. The debate is about two gay men at this table.”

Parker added to her comments after the meeting, saying she understands how “incredibly painful” it is for gay residents to hear opponents say, “I don’t hate gay people, I don’t hate transgender people, I just ought to have the right not to let them come into my business.”

[…]

Councilman Michael Kubosh – elected with a coalition of conservative and black voters last fall – drew scattered yells of support from the otherwise civil audience in rebutting Parker’s comments minutes later.

“I know you say it’s about you, but, mayor, this is really about all of us,” Kubosh said. “It’s not really about you; it’s about everybody here.”

Every successful politician in America has had personal reasons for running for office, and personal motivation for the causes they sought to advance through legislation. Most of them are very clear about this, as it’s a big part of the answer to the question of why they are running for that office. The personal connection they have to the cause they’re advancing – the hurt they’ve felt, or the help they’ve received – is a key component of who they are as a candidate and later (they hope) as an officeholder. It’s how they hope to win the support of the people they think should be voting for them. I’ve been there. I know how you feel. I can help. Would Michael Kubosh have established residency in the city of Houston to run for City Council if he had not been personally affected by red light cameras? I rather doubt it. Of course he will say that it wasn’t just about him but about all of the people that were affected by red light cameras and who felt they lacked a voice in the process. He wouldn’t have gotten himself into a position to be elected if it weren’t for that, and if he couldn’t make a connection to the people who felt the same way he did. How is that any different from Mayor Parker?

And I have to laugh at the “accusations” that Mayor Parker is pursuing the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance as some kind of sinister payback for her “core” (read: gay gay gay gay gay) supporters. Because of course only the gayest of her gay supporters support the HERO as something that is just and fair and right, obviously. And because of course no politician in America has ever been so crass as to pursue policies that their most ardent supporters wanted. I laugh because I can envision how the Dave Wilsons and Steve Riggles and apparently Michael Kuboshes imagine this must have played out in the backroom scented-candle-filled Secret Gay Power Broker Centers around Houston: “Our plan is foolproof! We will win multiple elections, then attempt to pass an ordinance via the public legislative process involving many opportunities for feedback and a majority vote of the democratically-elected City Council! That’ll show the bastards! Bwa ha ha ha ha!” I can sure see why that would be front page news.

But just for the sake of argument, let’s grant Dave Wilson and Steve Riggle and Ed Young and Michael Kubosh and Max Miller their fondest wish and stipulate that Mayor Parker is ramming this ordinance down their throats to appease her most ardent supporters The Gays, because as noted no politician in the history of America has ever done something like this before. Let’s remind ourselves what it is that she – and, you know, a majority of the members of City Council – are pushing: An ordinance that forbids the official discrimination against people because of who they are. Under this ordinance, you can’t be fired, or denied service at a bar or restaurant or retail establishment, or evicted, or any other thing that Wilson et al take for granted for themselves because you’re gay, or black, or Jewish, or a woman, or disabled, or whatever. It’s an ordinance that guarantees equal treatment for all people, with a mechanism to enforce it. I’m always…”amused” isn’t quite the right word, but it will have to do…when I hear a Dave Wilson or one of his intolerant brethren screech about LGBT folks demanding “special rights”, as if the right to hold a job or buy a house or not be arbitrarily tossed out of a restaurant is “special” in any meaningful sense. If you look up the word “projection” in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of one of these clowns begging to be allowed to keep his special right to discriminate against people he doesn’t like while complaining that their demand to be treated as equals constitutes the real special treatment. It would be kind of funny if it weren’t so very, very pathetic.

And finally, to bring it back to those five little words Mayor Parker said, I have to agree with Campos: With all due respect to the Mayor, this debate really is about all of us. I want to live in a city that values all of its residents. I want to live in a city that embraces its diversity and makes no group of people feel second class. I’m one of an increasing majority of people that sees the so-called “morality” of people like Dave Wilson for the toxic injustice that it is. I see where the country is going, and I want to get there now. There’s more people like me in this town than there are people like Dave Wilson. If we’re forced to prove it again at the ballot box this November, we’ll be ready.

[Council Member Ellen] Cohen said she expects, however, to see the mayor’s comments become fodder for a push to overturn the ordinance by referendum, an effort for which opponents say they already are gathering signatures. Houston voters twice have rejected protections or benefits for gays, in 1985 and in 2001.

“People who are opposed to the ordinance will use any and all methods they possibly can to destroy the credibility of anyone who’s trying to vote for it,” Cohen said, pointing to threats of recall elections targeting council members who vote in favor. “It saddens me. Intimidation is a terrible way to conduct a democracy.”

That’s presumably in addition to the recall effort, which who knows what will happen. In this case, we know from the red light camera experience that there’s a 30 day window after the ordinance passes to gather the signatures for a vote to repeal. We’ll cross that bridge when and if we get to it, too. The SEIU and Mustafa Tameez have more.

Recall effort against Mayor Parker?

The haters huff and puff with their last breath.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Opponents of Mayor Annise Parker’s proposed Houston equal rights ordinance have vowed to take the issue to voters in a referendum, but now they’re seriously discussing a sort of nuclear option at the polling place: a recall election to remove her and some council members from office.

Although recalling the mayor wouldn’t be easy and the opposition would have to work quickly, the threat alone could cause problems for some city council members.

“This is absurd, it’s unheard of,” said Dave Wilson, a longtime anti-gay activist and critic of Parker who’s fighting the proposed ordinance. “It’s nothing but pure payback for the mayor. She’s paying back her core constituents that supported her.”

Houston’s city charter prescribes the criteria for which an elected official can be recalled – incompetence, misconduct, malfeasance or unfitness for office – but opponents argue the proposed ordinance contradicts state law.

“We consider them to be incompetent,” Wilson said.

The charter decrees that citizens have 30 days to gather enough signatures on petitions to mandate a recall election. The number of signatures required varies for each office, because it amounts to 25% of the number of voters who cast ballots for the elected official involved.

And that’s where it gets interesting. Since fewer people vote in district city council races, it’s much easier to gather enough signatures to trigger a recall election.

Look at the numbers. About 170,000 Houstonians voted for mayor in the last election, so opponents would have to gather about 42,500 signatures to recall Parker. Given only 30 days, that would be difficult.

But substantially fewer people vote in races for district council seats, which are more like neighborhood campaigns. If 10,000 ballots are cast in a council race, only 2,500 signatures are required to trigger a recall election.

I’ll get to some details on this in a minute, but let me say this first: Bring it. Seriously. Let’s settle once and for all who the real majority is. I don’t think Dave Wilson is going to like the answer.

Now then. You can find Houston’s charter and city ordinances here. The provisions for recalling officers is Article VII-a. A few points of interest:

  • “The holder of any public office in the City of Houston, whether elected thereto by the people or appointed by the City Council, may be removed from office by recall.” That’s right there in Section 1. The only place where “incompetence, misconduct, malfeasance or unfitness for office” are mentioned is in the wording of the recall petition. Based on that, I don’t think there are any special criteria for initiating a recall – either you get enough signatures in the prescribed time or you don’t.
  • From Section 3a: “The petition may consist of one or more papers circulated separately, and the signatures thereto may be upon the paper or papers containing the formal petition, or upon other papers attached thereto; each signer of a petition shall sign his name in ink or indelible pencil. The verification may be made by one or more petitioners, and the several parts of the petition may be verified separately and by different persons, but no signature to such petition shall remain effective or be counted which was placed thereon more than thirty days prior to the filing of such petition or petitions with the City Secretary.” Emphasis mine. My read on this is that the clock starts when the first signature is collected. The petition itself is submitted when/if enough signatures have been gathered. I didn’t see anything in there to suggest there was a constraint on when the signature-gathering effort could begin, nor any cutoff point for when no further signatures could be collected. I sense the possibility of some shenanigans here, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here.
  • If this goes forward and if the haters manage to get enough signatures, the actual recall election would be this November – section 7, “the election shall be held on the next available uniform date prescribed by state law”. This would not be a low-turnout off-schedule affair. I’ll leave it to you to decide which side that favors.

So these are the conditions as I understand them. The one thing I know for sure is that if this happens – if the haters manage to collect enough signatures to force this issue onto the November ballot – it’s going to go national. I guarantee this recall election will be as big as anything else in November, and it will draw all kinds of attention and money. You have to wonder what kind of effect this will have on the other races. Like I said, you can make your case for who benefits from this, but generally speaking, the favorite doesn’t want anything unexpected. Look at it this way – to whatever extent Dave Wilson thinks his coalition includes black voters, do you think Greg Abbott wants there to be a campaign to boost black turnout in Harris County? Do you think all the Republican District Court and County Court judges on the ballot want that?

By the way, as long as we’re discussing the possibility of recalling public officials, does anyone know what provisions (if any) exist to recall HCC Trustees? I’ve seen some chatter on Facebook about mounting a counter-recall effort against Council members that vote against the ordinance. I don’t know how effective that might be, given that most of the No votes are likely to come from members in heavily Republican districts. Anyone else will be up for re-election in 2015 anyway, so one way or another they’ll be made to account for their actions. Personally, I think it would be nice to give Dave Wilson a taste of his own medicine. He can’t win if he can’t hide his identity as he did in 2013. If no such provision exists for recalling HCC Trustees exists, then perhaps one of our local legislators can file a bill to that effect. It probably won’t get anywhere, but it would make a point.

Like I said, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance actually has to pass. The vote happens tomorrow, after a public comment session, and you should be there to register your support for the HERO. After that, we’ll take it as it comes. The haters’ webpage is here, and I’m sure it will be more than just a landing page soon. I don’t fear these jackasses, but we can’t afford to not take them seriously. Be ready for the next fight, it’s as important as this one is. TransGriot has more.

No repeal petition for San Antonio non-discrimination ordinance

Good.

RedEquality

Opponents of San Antonio’s nondiscrimination ordinance spread the word at churches and parks about their petition drive to place the policy on a citywide ballot.

A few hours before Tuesday’s deadline, they informed city officials that effort had fallen short.

Pastor Gerald Ripley, a petition leader, estimated the group collected about 20,000 signatures, well below the required 61,046, or 10 percent of eligible voters.

[…]

The group had 40 days from the Sept 5 Council vote to adopt the NDO.

Apart from Cornerstone Church, few large religious groups joined the effort. Several of the city’s biggest evangelical megachurches and the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio sat it out.

The archdiocese raised its concerns in a respectful dialogue before the Council vote, archdiocesan officials said. They added that petition leaders did not distinguish well at first that the repeal effort was separate from recall drives against council members who voted for the NDO.

The archdiocese would have legal reservations about mixing the two, said Pat Rodgers, archdiocesan spokesman, citing nonprofit law banning churches from partisan candidate campaigns.

See here and here for the background. I’m glad to see this, of course, and just a little relieved because the Tuesday morning story said that the repeal backers were “preparing to submit” a petition, which sure made it sound like a closer deal than it was. Our super-litigious Attorney General will not be filing suit against the ordinance, so modulo the efforts of the recall petitioners, this matter is settled for now. Recall or not, there will be future elections, and as noted in my second link above, one reason why the NDO passed is because of favorable outcomes in two SA City Council elections this past May. So let’s not rest too easy. And let’s get cracking on a more comprehensive NDO for Houston.

The aftermath of the NDO in San Antonio

The Council vote is over, but don’t expect the fight to be.

RedEquality

In four separate public forums since mid-August, more than 1,500 people approached the dais at City Hall and addressed the council, speaking passionately in support of and against the ordinance that drew national attention. Final public comments were heard about three hours before the council took its vote.

In separate votes, the council approved adding veteran status 9-2, and approved adding LGBT protections 8-3.

“It’s a common-sense ordinance that’s going to treat everyone equally,” Mayor Julián Castro said after the vote. “Nobody will be a second-class citizen in San Antonio. Here, there will be basic fairness and common decency for everybody.”

When it was over, red-clad supporters of the policy walked victoriously out of the council chambers, waving rainbow flags. They spilled into Main Plaza shouting mantras of equality and justice.

And opponents, dressed in blue, left quietly in defeat, vowing to fight the ordinance in the courts and to unseat or recall elected leaders for ignoring their pleas to table or spike the measure altogether.

The possibility of legal action, which is probably close to 100% at this point, was raised before the vote was taken. I’m sure you can guess who’s leading that parade.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Greg Abbott, a candidate for Texas governor, wrote a letter to Castro, warning the current draft was vulnerable to lawsuits.

Among his concerns were protections for religious expression, including city officials and residents who voice support for traditional marriage. He noted the Texas Constitution recognizes traditional marriage alone. The proposed ordinance does not address same-sex marriage.

That sort of detail, or the fact that NDOs like this exist all over the place have never troubled Greg Abbott.

Nearly 200 cities across the country have enacted ordinances in recent years that prohibit bias by municipal employees or in city contracts over someone’s race, sex, age, religion or sexual orientation. Houston, Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth are a few of the Texas cities that adopted such measures.

Funny, I don’t remember such wailing and gnashing of teeth when those cities adopted NDOs. So what is this all about, really?

All of the major statewide elected positions are open contests in the Republican primary. And while voters do not head to the polls until March, many Republicans seeking statewide office have seized on San Antonio’s ordinance in what some see as a way to appeal to the grass-roots conservatives who make up the bulk of the electorate in the party’s Texas primaries.

“It is Republican statewide candidates signaling their base that they are true and trustworthy conservatives,” said Calvin Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “When you’re running for statewide office, you don’t control what the San Antonio mayor and Council do. So all you’re really doing is taking an ideological position that you then project toward the Republican primary electorate, so that they can see that you’re a social conservative and you are manning the ramparts against undesirable social change.”

There appeared to be other political reasons that the debate became closely watched.

Republicans sought to engage San Antonio’s mayor, Julián Castro, who supported the measure and has become one of the few Democrats in a Republican-dominated state with star power, political science professors said. A number of Democrats want Mr. Castro, who gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2012, to run for statewide office. The debate over the ordinance became as much about challenging Mr. Castro’s vision for San Antonio and his future ambitions as it was about gay rights.

“An issue that otherwise would primarily be confined to local media coverage and some protests by social conservatives has taken on a state and even national level scope, and that’s due to the fact that Julián Castro is involved,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

No surprise there. I can’t wait to see what clever nickname Erick Erickson comes up with for Mayor Castro. In the meantime, my advice for Greg Abbott is go right ahead, file suit. Let’s give the courts another chance to evaluate Texas’ retrogressive laws and policies. I for one do not fear that. As for the possibility of recall elections, apparently the efforts were already underway before the vote.

Several groups are now targeting Mayor Julian Castro for violating his duties according to the Constitution for supporting the proposed non-discrimination ordinance. The groups include the Bexar County Conservative Coalition, the San Antonio Family Association, and the Justice Foundation.

They are also collecting signatures to oust District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, who has been spearheading the issue, for the same reasons.

Opponent Gina Castaneda, who is block walking to collect signatures to oust Bernal from office, says the groups decided to launch a similar campaign against Castro. She said she and others believe Castro inappropriately signed off on the measure without receiving the proper number of signatures on the Governance Committee, which heard the proposal before it went to the full city council.

[…]

Castaneda said the groups need 70,000 signatures to recall Castro.

So far, she said, they have about half of the 6,000 signatures needed to recall Bernal.

As for future recalls, Castaneda said opponents to the ordinance are ready to recall any and all of the council members that vote in favor of the non-discrimination ordinance revisions.

Well, they’ve got their work cut out for them now. For what it’s worth, Mayor Castro got 66.5% of the vote this past May, in a really low turnout election, and CM Bernal got 63.5% winning a runoff two years ago. I’m not terribly worried about either of them, but if this goes through it’ll be up to everyone who supports equality to do what they can to help these two and anyone else who is targeted. Now is not the time to declare that we’re all done. Remember, as Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia points out, elections do have consequences.

For all the tireless grass-roots organizing and the passionate public testimonials by NDO supporters in recent weeks, their greatest victories during the process came June 15, when Ron Nirenberg and Shirley Gonzales won their runoff contests.

In a matter of hours, the pro-NDO cause gained two desperately needed council votes, because Nirenberg and Gonzales both faced opponents who opposed the ordinance.

In the case of Gonzales, the issue almost certainly salvaged her campaign against incumbent David Medina, a point that Gonzales acknowledged from the dais Thursday.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) had endorsed Medina before the May 11 election, but they reversed themselves and decided to back Gonzales for the runoff when it became clear that Medina would be an obstacle to the NDO’s passage. The combined runoff support of the Community Alliance for a United San Antonio (CAUSA) and SEIU were absolutely crucial to her narrow 117-vote victory.

In the case of Nirenberg, he might have caught a break because his adversary — the deep-pocketed but scandal-prone engineering consultant Rolando Briones — didn’t fully realize how intense the NDO opposition would become.

Briones spent much of his campaign trying to convince conservatives in his North Side district that he spoke their language, and he might have pulled it off with an all-consuming, stretch-run attack on the NDO issue.

With Nirenberg and Gonzales on board, District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal — the chief council architect of the ordinance — had a secure majority behind him. Without them, he would have faced a 5-5 tie going into the final week, with everything hinging on the uncommitted Rebecca Viagran (who ultimately backed the ordinance).

The runoff saga is a useful reminder that elections have consequences. While we saw citizens line up to speak to the council about the ordinance, we rarely see comparable municipal-election lines at polling centers, where voters have a chance to put in place the council members who will decide issues such as the NDO.

If there is a recall effort, we might see that kind of turnout effort that could have swayed things the other way in June. If so, as Josh Brodesky wrote before the NDO vote was taken, the anti side might want to reflect on the fact that they are their own worst enemy.

The louder they have shouted against proposed protections for the city’s gay community, the more necessary the nondiscrimination ordinance in San Antonio has become.

They took something that was commonplace — such protections exist in towns and cities across this country — and elevated it into something extraordinary.

All along, this was about providing equal protections to another group of people, but opponents made it about themselves: their beliefs, their speech, their morality.

To raise concerns about morality, and exemplify their freedom of speech, they rallied around disgust. Just like City Councilwoman Elisa Chan, they were disgusted by gays. And just like Chan, they were exercising their freedom of speech to express this disgust.

“At a certain point, when you listen to some people speak, what they are saying is, ‘I want to reserve the right to not serve these people. I want to reserve the right to discriminate against these people, and you are taking that away from me,’” City Councilman Diego Bernal said.

“And my response is, ‘Well, yeah. If there is one right I am taking away from you, it’s your right to discriminate against this group.’”

In this sense, opponents to the nondiscrimination ordinance were just as tone deaf as Aaryn Gries, the Texas State University student whose bigoted comments on the reality show “Big Brother” drew national attention.

And in that sense, it’s good to see these folks let it all hang out. Let’s all be clear about who stands for what. Since Brodesky brought up the infamous CM Chan, let’s go back to the first story linked in this post for one more point to make.

During the course of public testimony, many speakers said the opposite, citing scripture as evidence of what they consider immoral acts.

Councilwoman Elisa Chan, whose secretly recorded May 21 staff meeting on the issue thrust the debate into the national spotlight, has alternatively become a pariah and a heroine.

Last week, when the council met to discuss the proposal, she was greeted by a standing ovation. Later, ordinance supporters chastised her for disparaging remarks she made in the secret recording about the LGBT community.

In it, Chan called gays “disgusting” and said they shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children. On Thursday, Chan expressed disappointment in the process.

“Over the course of this debate, tolerance has separated itself from understanding and has become a dictate to agree. I have not heard a single person who said he or she agrees to any form of discrimination,” Chan said. “Just because I disagree with the lifestyle choices of the LGBT community doesn’t mean that I dislike them.”

No, Council Member Chan. You don’t get to be nice. You are working to deny other people their civil rights. You need to own that. If you were capable of hearing how your words might sound to someone who is directly affected by them, you might be able to understand that.

One can ban backer will face recall

The can ban battle in New Braunfels is not over yet.

New Braunfels city councilman Bryan Miranda, who supported a hotly debated container ban on the Comal and Guadalupe rivers, will face a recall election in May after voters signed a petition seeking to oust him from office.

[…]

Miranda did not return phone messages Wednesday. He told the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung newspaper, which first reported the news about the successful recall petition, that it was an attempt to circumvent the will of the people.

Supporters in New Braunfels approved the container ban in November with 58 percent of the vote.

“The efforts of a few individuals to divide our town and disrupt the democratic process is discouraging to say the least,” Miranda told the newspaper.

In the paperwork they turned in Tuesday, petition organizers accused Miranda of “incompetence and misconduct.” They needed 150 signatures and turned in 279. Of that total, city officials verified 215 signatures, said Danny Batts, deputy city secretary.

Batts said the recall election would be held May 12.

When the recall supporters failed to get enough signatures to take a crack out ousting NB Mayor Gail Pospisil, I thought that was the end of it for now, but clearly not. I have no idea why the deadlines were different for each of these; you have to be a subscriber to the Herald-Zeitung to see its contents online, so that’s no help. Anyway, one more election result to watch for in May.

No recall for New Braunfels Mayor

Looks like the can ban battle is over for now.

A petition for an election to recall New Braunfels Mayor Gale Pospisil failed when organizers submitted an insufficient number of valid signatures.

City Secretary Patrick Aten said that of the 1,117 signatures submitted Friday, city staff could only verify 668, 67 signatures shy of the the 735 needed.

Many signatures were thrown out because required information, such as a voter ID number or the date, was missing, Aten said. About 35 signatures belong to people who don’t live in New Braunfels, he said.

The petition was spurred by Pospisil’s support for an ordinance banning disposable containers on the Comal and Guadalupe rivers within city limits.

That’s a pretty sloppy effort if forty percent of the signatures lacked enough basic information to verify their legitimacy. Not having the date? Either they didn’t train their volunteers well or they didn’t get their money’s worth from whoever they paid to collect the sigs. There’s still a lawsuit pending, but otherwise the opponents of the can ban ordinance will have to wait till the next regular election to vent whatever spleen they have left over this.

Election results elsewhere

Results of interest from elsewhere in Texas and the country…

– Three of the ten Constitutional amendments were defeated, with Prop 4 losing by nearly 20 points. It drew strong opposition from anti-toll road activists, and I daresay that was the reason for the lopsided loss. The other two, Props 7 and 8, were pretty innocuous, and I have no real idea for why they went down.

– There was one special legislative election, to replace Fred Brown in HD14. Republicans Bob Yancey and John Raney will advance to the runoff for that seat.

– In New Braunfels, the can ban was upheld, and it wasn’t close.

The container ban ordinance, which goes into effect Jan. 1, was approved by 58 percent of the vote.

Ban supporters hailed the win as vindication of their claim that residents want the river protected from rowdy tourists and their litter.

“This was a landslide that can be disputed by no one,” said Kathleen Krueger, spokeswoman for Support The Ban. “New Braunfels has spoken loud and clear that we want to protect our rivers for the next generation.”

The lead spokesman for the opposition said the real issue was government transparency and vowed to continue the fight.

“I’m not disappointed,” said Mark McGonigal. “I have an opinion and so do other people. I knew one side would prevail. But the legality of this has yet to be determined.”

A lawsuit challenging the ordinance as illegal under state law, filed by a group of local business owners, is pending in state district court.

Nearly 9000 votes were cast in that referendum.

– Elsewhere in the country, there were a number of good results for progressives. Voters in Maine restored same day registration, while voters in Ohio repealed a law that would have curtailed collective bargaining rights. Each was a defeat for the state’s elected-in-the-2010-landslide Republican Governor. Mississippi voters rejected a radical “personhood amendment” that could have had far-reaching negative effects on reproductive choice. And finally, Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, the author of the anti-immigrant SB1070 and a notorious racist, was recalled by voters there. Small steps, but in the right direction.