Below are Houston Democracy Project recommendations for 2023 Houston municipal elections.
The Houston Democracy Project works to inspire, organize and strengthen pro-democracy coalitions in Houston and Harris County. The focus is promotion and protection of democracy. This endorsement slate is for Houston municipal races and the two city propositions, and concerned only on how these campaigns and issues impact the fight for democracy in Houston.
It's clear freedom is on the line, and that Houston and Harris County are at the center of the fight:
*Houston has lost its elected school board in what just 60 years ago was a Jim Crow City.
*Defeated Republicans from 2022 Harris County elections are STILL in court trying to undo election results.
*The far-right Texas legislature has taken over Harris County elections.
*Far-right corrupt Ken Paxton is Attorney General of Texas.
*Donald Trump is easily the leading candidate for the 2024 Republican Presidential nomination and his second term plans are a nightmare.
Before I get to the ballot, I want to discuss ideas. Ideas translate into action. Candidates and elected officials come and go. Our need and our opportunity to be free, to make use of our power as citizens and to work with one another is constant.
Each link in the three paragraphs below is to a Houston Democracy Blog post. Each paragraph relates a theme of the Project.
Houston city elections are not in reality non-partisan. Party identification of candidates matters and should be discussed. Houston municipal candidates put us at risk when they ignore threats to democracy. It is like ignoring a hurricane warning in the hope the storm will just dissipate. It's also so that Houston voters could be more kind to themselves and each other.
Houston municipal candidates saying we should reach out to Republicans must make the case it is safe and pragmatic to do so. Shouldn't we at the least ask that people we talk to respect election results? Even elected officials with strong establishment connections are not safe from Republican intimidation. Sometimes there is no common ground between opposing viewpoints and we must be ready to protect our rights on those terms. One way to protect ourselves is to not give up our rights in advance.
We can't allow the threat of violence and acts of violence from the right force us from political activity. The people of Houston deserve protection from the right. There is no public safety without democracy. It's an attack on democracy for law enforcement unions to seek removal of elected judges. It is one thing to call for defeat at the polls or for a judge to resign. It is another thing to appeal to a far right state government for removal. Democratic candidates who receive police union endorsements should ask those unions to step back from election deniers.
Four candidates so far have added pro-democracy language to their websites after talking to the Houston Democracy Project.
They are Conchita Reyes in At-Large #1, Obes Nwabara for At-Large #2, Donnell Cooper for At-Large #3 and Ivan Sanchez in District J. Ethan Michelle Ganz for At-Large #3 and Travis McGee in District D also have strong pro-democracy language on their campaign websites.
I'm proud of the impact the Project is having.
Recommendations for 2023 Houston city elections:
City Propositions: Both city propositions A and B expand democracy. Prop A would allow three council members to bring an agenda item before City Council. Currently, only the Mayor can do so. Prop B looks to extend greater and more fair representation to the City of Houston on our regional transportation council. Vote Yes on A and B.
Controller: Chris Hollins was running for Mayor and then shifted to the Controller's race when Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee got in the race. Mr. Hollins talks about his time as county election administrator and his fights with Greg Abbott and far-right Republicans. This is good because all elected positions must be involved in protecting our rights. You don't know who will show up or be brave in the face of an ever-growing authoritarian threat. Mr. Hollins is off to a good start.
At-Large #1: Conchita Reyes is the certain pick. Ms. Reyes has made clear her concern about anti-democratic trends locally and in the nation. She's pragmatic and sees the full picture at the same time. It's important to note that Ms. Reyes is a moderate Democrat with plenty of support from established local political leaders. The issue here is democracy. Not ideology. Ms. Reyes is also one of the few 2023 candidates who was active for the Harris County Democratic ticket in 2022 when so much was at stake.
Leah Wolfthal has centered her campaign on talking to all sides. I've never heard her say that acceptance of democratic norms be a condition of such discussions. In minute 11 of her interview with blogger Charles Kuffner, Ms. Wolfthal appears to place equal blame between the city and the state regarding the Texas General Land Office refusing to give the city needed Hurricane Harvey relief funds. If Houston was a Republican-voting city, we would have gotten that money right away. She pitches unconditional talk with extremists as moderation or pragmatism. In so doing, she defines the democracy advocate who establishes even the low bar of acceptance of election results as rigid and unreasonable. Ms. Wolfthal has it upside down.
Melanie Miles is a Democrat now. Up until 2018, she was a Republican. She previously lost a race for judge running as a Republican. The party shift is fine. Every day is a new day to do right. But Ms. Miles has never made fully clear the reason for her shift. It feels to me opportunistic. Her many endorsements from law enforcement unions heighten my wariness.
Julian Ramirez is a Republican. I had a conversation with him where he told me he'd been a Harris County judicial candidate in 2022 who lost by a small margin. He said he refused to join the Harris County election redo lawsuits because he didn't think they were valid. That's good. But he wouldn't distance himself from Trump. I don't have a problem with bipartisanship. But bipartisanship must be contingent on full commitment to democracy.
At-Large #2: Obes Nwabara has worked hard over the past three years to establish his name. He was a consistent presence on the 2022 Harris County Democratic campaign trail volunteering to elect Democrats against Republicans with little regard for democracy. He was the first candidate to add democracy to his campaign website after talking to the Project. As a Council Member, Mr. Nwabara's strong belief in freedom for all will help keep Houstonians safe from the right.
Danielle Bess is aware of the anti-democratic challenges confronting Houston. She's been open and accessible in talking to the Houston Democracy Project. She could do more to focus on these issues as a candidate. I'm hopeful this focus will emerge more clearly as we confront the 2024 elections.
Holly Flynn Vilaseca has run an uninspiring and overly-cautious campaign that offers little hope she would act with imagination and energy in a circumstance where her voice and courage was required.
Nick Hellyar is essentially a Republican though he still claims to be a Democrat. He's the first Democrat I've seen in a long time to send a mailer out that did not include a label showing use of a union printer. His campaign rests on relationships with Republicans and law enforcement unions with no indication that he cares if these folks accept election results or not. It's a reckless approach to public safety. Please don't vote for him.
At-Large #3: Donnell Cooper is mindful of the extreme nature of the political right and has no illusions about its intent in this political climate. He has commitment to democracy on his list of campaign issues. I believe he'll be willing to confront the anti-democratic challenges ahead.
Richard Cantu is a decent and thoughtful person. I had a good conversation with about democracy issues in Houston. I believe as an elected official he would take risks for the rights of others.
Ethan Michelle Ganz is a dedicated community advocate with a strong record of showing up for others. They have an aggressive defense of democracy on their website and have acted as an activist and a citizen with a concern and care for all people of Houston.
It is good there are three candidates meriting support in this race.
At-Large #4: Incumbent Letitia Plummer made an effort to address police reform issues at the time of the murder of George Floyd. She got a lot of blowback from fellow Democrats on Council, and the reality is that there is not a sufficient progressive or reform-minded community in Houston willing to take those issues on. Councilwoman Plummer has since taken up the issue of improving conditions in the large number of Houston apartments that are not up to acceptable standards. She merits your vote.
At-Large #5: Incumbent Democrat Sallie Alcorn is disappointing. She is an energetic member of Council, but with focus on everything but the fires burning around us. Her emphasis on the nuts and bolts of city issues is fine, but in this political climate leads to short-sighted and constricted judgment like valuing relationships with Republicans more so than strongly advocating for Houstonians made most vulnerable by relentless attacks on our rights. I've seen Councilwoman Alcorn at Democratic Party meetings asking for Democratic support. But she was invisible on the 2022 Harris County Democratic campaign trail and her only apparent endorsement of a fellow Democrat in 2023 is of Nick Hellyar in At-Large #2. Again, poor and narrow judgment. Councilwoman Alcorn doesn't have strong opposition and doesn't need my vote.
District C: This is my district. Incumbent Abbie Kamin is the likely Election Day winner. If you talk to her she says the right things about threats to democracy. But as Chair of the Council Public Safety committee, she looked the other way at police excesses against George Floyd marchers in Houston. Would she take career and personal risks to protect democracy? I hope so.
District D: Travis McGee has a long record of strong involvement in his community and advocacy on behalf of Houston public schools. His commitment to democracy is front and center on his campaign website.
District H: I've spoken to both Cynthia Reyes-Revilla and Mario Castillo about the Houston Democracy Project. Ms. Reyes-Revilla expressed interest and asked questions. Mr. Castillo listened politely. Ms. Reyes-Revilla has my support.
District J: Ivan Sanchez is running hard and gets the seriousness of the political situation in Texas. His opponent is a political-shape shifter who raises an awful lot of money. Please vote for Mr. Sanchez.
Council Districts A, E & G are all likely to be won by Republicans with no hopeful opposition to choose at the ballot box.
Council Districts B, F, & K are represented by Democratic incumbents seeking a new term. District I will likely be represented by a current staffer of the term-limited incumbent. Those districts and all people would benefit from an aggressive focus on voter turnout in 2024 and an active voice on matters of democratic freedom going forward by the Councilpersons from B, F, I, & K.
District B is Tarsha Jackson, F is Tiffany Thomas, I is Joaquin Martinez and K is Martha Castex-Tatum.
Here is a map of Houston City Council districts.
I'm voting for Shelia Jackson Lee as the best chance to stop John Whitmire. Rep. Jackson Lee, like many longtime elected officials in safe districts in Houston and Harris County, has had years to build a voter turnout operation and promote a culture of voting in every election. She hasn't done so. (Nor has Senator Whitmire in his safe Democratic district.) Now Rep. Jackson Lee needs voters and so do people worried about the future of democracy.
Rep. Jackson Lee has often spoken up for good and just causes. As our institutions strain to preserve an already flawed democracy, Congresswoman Jackson Lee must see that the logical extension of her consistent positions in favor of social justice is empowerment of people beyond the advice of consultants, insider politics and big name endorsements. Hopefully it is not too late in this race for the Congresswoman to undo years of neglect by our local leaders in building a strong and healthy culture of voting and engagement in Houston.
Senator Whitmire has spent his 50 year political career part of systems that have lost Roe, lost most of the Voting Rights Act, messed up the weather and left Texas in the control of authoritarians. Surrounded by his right-wing friends and having spent a lifetime in this rot, how can he even know right from wrong at this point? Senator Whitmire tells us his connections to Republicans will benefit Houston. But he has proven powerless to stop the cruel excesses of Texas legislative Republicans. He's the wrong person to help democracy-loving Houstonians stand up to Republicans and their anti-democratic allies.
Gilbert Garcia had the opportunity to add something new to our politics as a fresh face with a lot of money. Instead his campaign has often been the same old crime narrative.
Early voting is October 23-November 3. General Election Day is November 7. An additional resource for the election is Daniel Cohen's endorsement list. Daniel runs Indivisible Houston and does a lot of good work. And here is the Eric Manning spreadsheet to help you figure out what political party Council candidates support.
The Houston Democracy Project offers an autonomous voice for freedom in Houston and Harris County. I have no connection to any campaign, elected official, non-profit or union. The Project will extend at the least through Election Day 2024. A goal of the Project in 2024, will be to insist that Harris County elected Democrats in safe seats take an active role in supporting the full 2024 Harris County and Texas Democratic ticket.
The Project consists of the following:
*This website with its blog. You are reading the blog. Please check out the front page of the website as well.
*Numerous and ongoing one-on-one conversations in-person and otherwise with candidates and officials, opinion leaders & rank and file Houstonians.
*A weekly Thursday morning segment on the Egberto Willies Politics Done Right broadcast and webcast on Houston station KPFT.
*My attendance and participation at local Democratic Party meetings, human rights groups meetings and other political events.
*Weekly participation in the John Cornyn Houston Office Protest. Now at 350 weeks and going strong, the Cornyn Protest sets the essential example in Houston of advocating for democracy in a confident manner and in a visible place no matter the weather.
*A section of photography.
*My consistent study and reading about attacks on democracy in Houston and in Texas. This effort in combination with my strong commitment to autonomy from politicians and local institutions, makes me a creative and effective advocate.
This work relies on your contributions to keep it going. Please support and share word of the Project. It is our work together. All people need to be free.
I'm happy to answer any questions about the Project at email@example.com.
I'm Neil Aquino