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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

HOUSTON NEEDS A HERO



Generally odd-numbered elections do not garner a lot of attention. They are not very attractive affairs and the further down the ballot they take place, the lower the turnout. However, these elections are very important and usually have more impact on your community than the decisions in the state capitol or even in our national capitol.



I remember a conversation I had with someone affiliated with the Dallas Stonewall Democrats a few years ago while I was cutting my political teeth in Texas. This person, a gay man actively involved with the organization, said (and I am perhaps paraphrasing, but understand the idea), “Obama will give me my equality, but he is not going to fill the potholes on Harry Hines.”

I understood that line then and understand it better now. Senator Cory Booker (NJ, D) understood that concept when he was mayor of Newark, NJ that local issues matter. Whenever there was a major weather event, Booker would direct resources in his city to help those in need. And even at times, Booker would go out and assist when it was possible to show that he was willing to help out.

Right now there are several elections I am keeping my eye on. The gubernatorial races in Kentucky and Louisiana that have potential implications on the Republican presidential nomination contest.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is not exactly popular in his home state and it does not help that Senator David Vitter (LA, R) made it into the runoff to take place later this month. Vitter, a self-described family values politician, was implicated in a sex scandal in 2007 that revealed that he liked wearing diapers during sex. Vitter refused to resign his senate seat because at the time Louisiana had a Democratic governor thus would have meant a Democrat would have been appointed to replace him. And despite these revelations about his personal life, Louisiana voters re-elected him in 2010.

Senator Rand Paul (KY, R) still believes that he can run for both president and his senate seat in 2016. He lobbied for his state party to change their nominating process from a primary to a caucus. There is still the issue of the Kentucky legislature not allowing a change in their election law to allow Paul to appear on the ballot for both president and US Senate in the general election. Even if the Republican wins the gubernatorial election, Democrats still control the state house and will not take up a bill to change the law. Even public opinion in Kentucky is against changing the law for Paul. Though that is not the only race that is concerning for Paul. Supporters of Paul in Kentucky are pouring in resources to defeat incumbent Democrats running statewide to clear the way for Paul.

The Secretary of State is Alison Lundergan Grimes who failed to unseat Senator Mitch McConnell in 2014. She is rumored to be eying a senate run again in 2016, a year that would be more favorable to a Democrat. Also she could provide a roadblock to Paul’s electoral plans should he somehow win the presidential nomination by not placing his name on the ballot for the US Senate because of the Kentucky law. Another statewide election that is also is in Paul’s eye: the race for state auditor. If Adam Edelen should win, he too could consider the Democratic nomination for senate.

The polls available show the Democratic candidates in those races leading and should the polls mirror tonight’s results.

Here in Colorado there are the efforts to recall members of the Jefferson County school board. I voted in my county’s school board election, but I also know that turnout will be key to the people I voted for and the Republican machine is powerful in the area where I live at so the odds of unseating the incumbents are very low.

There is one election that has flooded my Facebook feed over the last couple of months in part due to the connections I made in Texas and still keep an eye on to this day.

Houston is not only having an election to replace term limited Mayor Annise Parker and members of the city council but also to vote on the city’s Equal Rights Ordinance or Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance henceforth known as HERO.

I know several people who attended city council meetings to lobby for HERO and are also involved in the campaign to support its passage. John Gorczynski, president-emeritus of the Texas Young Democrats whose father is a judge, testified not only because of his commitment to the Democratic Party, but also has a familiar stake in this issue. His sister, also politically active, married her girlfriend in 2015. Lou Weaver, originally from Colorado, is a transman and is volunteering with Houston’s Human Rights Campaign to get out the vote. Blake Ellis is a diehard Arkansas Razorbacks fan who calls the hogs, but is using his time to call voters.

Oh and it would be a grave injustice if I did not mention my fellow football prognosticator, Monica Roberts, who has been writing about the city council meetings, the whisper campaign to scuttle support, and the current electoral campaign to affirm HERO in her blog.

There are many others so if I did not mention you I apologize. This is just a small sample of the people working to ensure that Houston lives up to fairness, equality, and justice and I am certain there are others who are equally dedicated to this cause in their own way.

The roots of HERO began with efforts to pass a non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) on several attempts that was scuttled when the measure went to the voters. The election of Annise Parker in 2009 and her subsequent re-elections in 2011 and 2013 really sped up the process of a more inclusive NDO that included gender identity and expression. Her election was historic as she became the first openly gay person elected Houston mayor, and the city gained the notoriety as the largest city to elect an openly gay person mayor. You would think that cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco would hold that title, but Houston… in deep red Texas?!

Yes, you will be surprised to learn there are 1) gay people in Texas, and 2) there are Democratic-liberal-progressive minded people that live in Texas and not just in the blue bubble of Austin.

In September 2013, the San Antonio city council debated their NDO, and the debate turned ugly. Those that opposed the NDO claimed that the policy would persecute and exclude religious conservatives. Opponents also revived the meme that criminals would exploit this ordinance in order to attack people in bathrooms. I cannot begin to tell you how many levels of wrong that is, and it is obvious these people do not have an understanding of gender identity/expression issues. It is disturbing and sickening on so many levels.

The lowest point was when opponents booed a veteran for testifying in support of this policy.

The veteran was Eric Alva.

As in was standing on stage with President Obama as he signed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repeal Act of 2010.



As in testified before the House Armed Services Committee in July 2008 on why “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be repealed.


As in United States Marine, Iraq War Veteran, Purple Heart recipient for the injuries he sustained in the first days of the war.




Then-Mayor Julian Castro was nominated as President Obama’s new Secretary of Housing & Urban Development and is rumored to be tapped as Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential nominee should she win the Democratic nomination. Castro’s departure to Washington elevated Ivy Taylor to mayor.

Taylor voted against the NDO, but in April 2015 supported efforts to expand San Antonio’s NDO to fund the Diversity and Inclusion Office (DIO). Taylor won her own term as mayor after surviving the first round of voting that pitted her against 13 other candidates including former State Senator Leticia Van de Putte and former State Representative Mike Villarreal and then defeated Van de Putte in the June 2015 runoff. Mayor Taylor should receive credit for her willingness to move forward from the debate over NDO and the ability to make improvements to the law so that it best represents ALL of the citizens of San Antonio.

As for the gloom and doom that was predicted… strangely it did not come true.

In 2014, Houston had their own NDO debate and passage that like San Antonio drew large crowds of supporters and detractors of the proposed law. I saw my fair share of posts from my Houston Facebook friends chronicling the debate.

Again like in San Antonio those that opposed the bill claimed that the law would be used to persecute religious conservatives and revived the “assaults in bathrooms” meme. And like in San Antonio, the bill passed. Mayor Parker stressed that the law was not solely written to protect members of the LGBT community but was to address concerns addressed by Houston’s black community. In 2012, two members of the Houston Dynamo, a Major League Soccer franchise, were denied entry into a Houston bar because members of their party were black.

So that is the end of the story, right?

Actually, there is more.

Those opposed collected signatures to challenge HERO. It failed.

When the Texas Legislature convened for the 84th session, many legislators attempted to find ways to invalidate NDOs. They failed.

The efforts to invalidate NDOs because they are now being expanded to include protections concerning gender identity and expression was a preemptive campaign in the event of a favorable ruling for marriage equality. That ruling came in a 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) last June declaring that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. There are still some segments of the Republican Party that do not believe that the fight over marriage rights are over, but it is. It appears that the consensus from the Republicans and their anti-LGBT forces have come to this conclusion: “Fine, the gays can get married, but we will find ways to make their lives miserable.”

And they have found a way through the ruling by the Texas Supreme Court concerning HERO. Essentially the ruling states that Houston had to either repeal HERO or put it up to a ballot measure.

As Rachel Maddow noted on Meet The Press in June 2013 in a discussion with Jim DeMint of the Heritage Foundation and Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, “gay people exist. There's nothing we can do in public policy that makes more or us exist or less of us exist. And these guys have been arguing for a generation that public policy ought to essentially demean gay people as a way of expressing disapproval of the fact that we exist. But you don't make any less of us exist, you just are arguing in favor of discrimination. And more discrimination doesn't make straight people's lives any better.”

Creating policies that demean and single-out LGBT persons does not magically make them go away. Bans on same-sex marriage did not stop same-sex couples from getting married. Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage was in place until October 2014, but it did not stop my aunt and now her wife from their long courtship. Texas may have some draconian policies towards LGBT persons, but my cousin still exists.

And that is what it comes down to concerning the HERO vote: what kind of city is Houston going to be: one that acknowledges that different kinds of people exist and are willing to build a better future; or one that desperately clings to the values of hate and division from a not so honorable past?

HERO does not just cover gender identity and expression, but it also covers race, religion, age, veteran status, disability, gender, and any other measure used to discriminate people in housing and employment. It is also used as a means to redress grievances without building a federal case which at times can be time consuming and costly. You know, that whole idea about local control that Republicans are so in favor of. Ask Denton about when Republicans suddenly were against the idea of local control when the voters passed a ban on hydraulic fracturing and then the Texas Legislature in the recent session overturned that ban.

HERO is similar to any other NDO that was passed by San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Plano.

The anti-HERO vote that is focusing on the gender identity and expression provision is disturbing. Just watch this ad by the group Campaign for Houston who is against HERO validation:


So far 213 have voted it down on YouTube for its blatant fear mongering. It is disturbing that they are choosing to play this card as it is sounding a dog whistle similar to the infamous Willie Horton ad from 1988. It also forgets a Houston law that has been on the books since 1972. As Jonathan Capehart points out in his column for the Washington Post:

According to Code 1968, § 28-42.6; Ord. No. 72-904, § 2, 6-2-72, “It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly and intentionally enter any public restroom designated for the exclusive use of the sex opposite to such person’s sex without the permission of the owner, tenant, manager, lessee or other person in charge of the premises, in a manner calculated to cause a disturbance.”

Capehart sums it up as follows (bold for emphasis):

In short, if you’re in the bathroom for any purpose other than relieving yourself, you’re breaking the law. And if you’re in there to molest children or commit rape, you’re also a monster.

It appears that this fear campaign is working as well as that this is a continuation of Texas’ culture of non-voting, documented complaints of progressive organizations failure to reach out and mobilize communities that generally support their causes, and the fact that non-presidential elections are low overall turnout affairs. Even though I am citing low overall turnout it should come with a stipulation: it is about WHO is showing up to vote.

The Texas Monthly reported on Friday that while turnout is higher than from previous years it is not from the areas of Houston that are expected to support HERO. As the article points out from a link via Texas Leftist, the turnout among Houstonians 18 to 24 is at 1%. The turnout among those 65 and older is 56%.

That is not a good sign for HERO’s survival at the polls.

The Houston Chronicle asks if Houston is headed towards historic turnout as through Thursday over 107,000 people participated in early voting. Houston saw over 204,000 voters show up on election day for the 2003 city elections. The only parallel I can attempt to draw on is in 2014 Colorado Republicans built up their early vote bank in the anticipation that registered Democrats and other liberal-progressive identified voters would show up to vote on Election Day either by casting a ballot or returning their mail-in ballot. There was a surge, but it was not enough as Democrats underperformed in Jefferson, Adams, Arapahoe, and Pueblo Counties resulting in Democrats losing control of the state senate and Cory Gardner unseating Mark Udall.

These down ballots do matter as they shape the policy of your local community and eventually work their way to the national level. If you are reading this from Houston, there is still time to vote.

The polls in Houston close at 7 PM (CENTRAL TIME).

There is still time to go vote.

Be a hero.

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