Your Green candidate for Harris County Judge will have another chance on Houston Media Source next Wednesday, 1 October. The Harris County Green Party's long-running cable access program GreenwatchTV will turn its attention to the upcoming midterm election. It should be a lively hour of cablecasting, as Brian Harrison plays host to these candidates (if they can all show up):
Kenneth Kendrick, Texas Agriculture Commissioner
Martina Salinas, Texas Railroad Commission
Deb Shafto, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Remington Alessi, US House District 18
Don Cook, US House District 13
David B. Collins, US House District 18
I would like to thank Judge Ed Emmett for giving me a chance to appear on tonight's Conversation with the Candidates. Sincerely. To my great surprise, I discovered that I had not responded to the League of Women Voters' invitation, and I always respond to their correspondence, so they were not expecting me.
Aimee Mobley-Turney had said that it was up to the Judge to let me have a portion of the half-hour he had been allotted. My half of that half-hour should have been about 12:30, but on-air hosts Durrell Douglas and Reda Hicks wound up giving me about 9:30. No major deal, but it did make me feel a bit rushed, and I didn't get to cover everything I wanted to. Still, I am grateful for the Judge's generosity, even given that he has nothing to lose.
While Judge Emmett is indeed affable, and a throwback to a time when "Republican" did not necessarily mean "troglodyte," I will not extend my gratitude to withdrawing from this race. The voters of Harris County deserve a Progressive alternative. Even if Ahmad Hassan had stayed in the race, that Progressive alternative would still have been Yours Truly. However, I can offer my respect to the world's oldest living former president of Lovett College at Rice University (he moved into Lovett in its first year of existence).
After a break to swap guests, the Judge took over the candidate's seat on the set at Houston Media Source. The other half-hour was devoted to candidates for Harris County Treasurer, Orlando Sánchez (R) and David Rosen (D); we did not stick around to watch them, but will catch their bits online later.
The Judge deserves credit for handling the questions posed to him in a very professional manner, without ideological posturing or bloviating. He clearly cares about the job that he is doing. He brought up the issue of mental health in two places, once in some detail: in particular, how the largest provider of mental health care in Harris County is the Harris County Jail. "That's just wrong," he said. "You're right," I said as I watched from the lobby. A true conservative, he noted, would recognize that it costs the public more to keep serial offenders incarcerated then to treat them for mental illnesses and addictions.
We also agreed on sensible transit policy for the county and region, which Judge Emmett got to talk about on the program but I did not. He recalled the time Union Pacific decided to abandon the MKT tracks along the Katy Freeway, which they were willing to cede to Metro for commuter rail from the West Side, and Metro said, "No, thanks!" Those tracks are gone now, and there's no putting them back.
Where we part company is that I would like Harris County to become a bellwether for the renewable energy revolution of the next century. There are other issues as well, but let's start with that one. I truly believe that the Green New Deal, articulated by Green presidential candidate Jill Stein, is the key to a new kind of prosperity and to rolling back climate change.
Harris County does not need more business as usual. We, and the world, cannot afford it.
Take a look at the 2014 Texas NORML Voters' Guide. Tell everyone you know who is concerned with the legal status of The Herb to look at it, too.
Candidates for County Judgeships and other county offices are pretty far down the page. You will find my responses there, but not Ed Emmett's. I'm sure Judge Emmett is too busy to answer questions from a public policy advocacy group like the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Most of the candidates who bothered to complete NORML's brief questionnaire support either legalization or decriminalization of cannabis. Some candidates apparently were afraid they'd get a contact high just from opening email from NORML. You may not be surprised to see a lot of G's and L's represented. Those would be Greens and Libertarians, not Gays and Lesbians.
I was surprised not to see Remington Alessi's responses (Green Congressional candidate in District 18), but an interesting entry from an Independent candidate for the same seat, Vincent Duncan. Says Duncan, explaining his opposition to medical marijuana, legalization, and decriminalization:
"In My Mind We Are An Overly Medicated Society, Prescribed Or Recreational." (Initial Caps His.)
For the record, my friend Remington has hosted fund-raisers at the Last Concert Café. Anyone who spends much time at Last Concert knows the attitude of most patrons toward cannabis, and Remington certainly does too.
Toward the bottom, NORML prints some quotes from candidates who did not respond to the questionnaire, but have expressed their positions previously. In the race for Governor, Sen. Wendy Davis is cautiously in favor of decriminalization; Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott "supports current drug policy." Libertarian Kathie Glass articulates her party's line and favors complete legalization: "Medical or recreational, treat marijuana like beer. Green candidate Brandon Parmer and did not get his answers in on time.
For what it's worth, the Democrat candidate for District Attorney in Harris County personally favors legalization, but would not be in a position to advocate for it.
David Wager is the perennial Green Party of Texas and Harris County Green Party treasurer, except when he takes time off from his treasury duties to be co-chair or something similar. He is also a rock-solid. down-to-earth presence in the party and an excellent facilitator of the party's business, electoral and otherwise. He took me to lunch today at Katz's on Westheimer—and by "me" I mean "the person me," not "the candidate me."
Between and around bites, we talked about a whole range of topics, both political and personal. One topic that came up was Laredo. The two of us traveled to Laredo on a campaign visit in 2012, and the following year, GPTX had its annual meeting there (which sadly I missed). Travis County (Austin) and Dallas County have very little going on in the way of organized Greenery, but Webb County (Laredo) is abuzz with activity.
The hub of Webb County's Green goings-on is Dan Monahan, an attorney in Laredo, who helped get the party started in Webb a few years ago. He didn't run for office in 2012, and he's not running for anything this year. His gifts lie in organizing and convincing other people to run.
Our US Senate candidate, Emily Sánchez, lives in Del Rio now, but she lived in Laredo until just recently. Emily is scheduled to Skype into the Green Candidates' Forum Monday night.
Through his professional connections, Dan found Lakshmana "Vish" Viswanath, who is now running a strong campaign for Justice of the Peace in Webb's Precinct 4.
But the most amazing story of 2014 is Erika Martínez, Green candidate for Webb County Commissioner in Precinct 1. She has an excellent chance of winning that seat in November.
I can't find a website for Erika, but there is this article from the 21 August Laredo Morning Times, most of which is hiding behind the paywall. The seat she seeks was vacated earlier this year, when Commissioner Michael Montemayor pled guilty to bribery charges and resigned. Democratic nominee Frank Sciaraffa, a former County Commissioner, weathered an old-fashioned Democratic sex scandal last year, first denying allegations of sexual harassment, then copping to them. (Yes, there's a partial article on that in the Morning Times, too.)
There is no Republican in the race: We're talking about a very urban portion of the county, in a city and county that are about 95% Latino.
So all that information is about the disgraced and departed Democratic Precinct 1 Commissioner and the dodgy Democrat who is trying to take his place. What about Erika herself? I wish I could enlighten you. Those who have met her say she's an excellent person and candidate, a middle school teacher, a dynamic presence. I must refer you to her Facebook page (link above). No website, no Twitter. She's a teacher. She just got into this race a few months ago. She doesn't have time or money for such business.
I hope the Texas Greens will focus more on getting their message out, electronically and otherwise, to voters in 2016. Meanwhile, we'll have to be content with getting more votes per dollar spent than any other party in this state. Please tell any friends in Laredo that the Green Party offers an alternative to sordid business-as-usual.
Texpatriate never got back to me to let me know that they had published my responses to their questionnaire. They put this up almost four weeks ago. I finally thought to use the search box on texpate.com, & whoa, look what I found!
A lot of readers will wonder about my response to this question:
Texpatriate: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
DBC: I don’t.
I wish that I had taken the trouble to elaborate. Judge Ed Emmett has not been an abysmal failure. Running county government in a rapidly growing county is a difficult job. The county's problems pre-date Emmett's tenure as our chief executive, and many of them will still be there after he ends that tenure. No elected officials can fix everything.
The problem with the job that Emmett and his Commissioners are doing is this: They are doing exactly what their sponsors and the two major parties have put them there to do. The county provides some services, taxes get collected, and the business climate stays friendly to businesses, especially large businesses. They do just enough, in other words.
But the county deserves more and better than just enough.
I would like to see the county provide more and better services; that requires broader and deeper levels of taxation, a far less regressive scheme for property taxes in particular. I would like the large businesses in this county to pay more toward those services that make a high quality of life possible for their employees.
Let's do what we can to attract manufacturers of alternative-energy and energy-saving technology to the county. West Texas may have a tracking boom in progress, but it is also witnessing a proliferation of wind farms on the high plains and in the Permian Basin. Could we get companies to build windmills and photovoltaics right here? In fact, could we convince all those energy companies downtown that their best play for the post-boom world is to start building solar and wind infrastructure now? I believe so.
Houston has established Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones to attract businesses and encourage startups; it's not a perfect plan, but it's something that county could adapt. The city and county also have vacant manufacturing facilities into which startups could move fairly cheaply. We have one of the busiest ports in North America ready to ship out the goods. We have a diverse, multi-national workforce; we have a network of community colleges to retrain workers for these new processes.
I would keep preaching, but it's time to put this blog and myself to bed. See you on the 22nd.
A little change in the campaign calendar worth of note: The fundraiser originally planned for 27 September will happen the afternoon of the following Saturday, 4 October, instead. The Loes, those incredible perennial stalwarts of Houston's Peace & Justice community, have graciously consented to host us yet again.
Two candidates for statewide office are scheduled to come to Houston from elsewhere and appear at this event: Railroad Commission candidate Martina Salinas and Agriculture Commissioner candidate Kenneth Kendrick. Kendrick has actually seen the failure of our state's agriculture policy and its devastating effect first-hand, having blown the whistle on a peanut processing plant that was giving away free salmonella with every package of peanuts.
So there are two big Green events coming up soon in Houston: the candidates' forum at Trinity Episcopal Church on 22 September, and this catered affair on 4 October. You and your contributions will be welcome at both.
September 22: Harris County Green Party candidates' forum, 7 pm
Trinity Episcopal Church Fellowship Hall, 1015 Holman Street, near Ensemble/HCC MetroRail stop. If you want to know what the Greens really stand for, please join us, and invite lots of friends.
Invite your friends who are inclined to vote Green, perhaps as a protest vote, perhaps because they are true embodiments of the Green Vision.
Invite your friends who are considering not voting at all because "both major parties suck," but who don't know about the Greens beyond the occasional joke on late-night TV.
Invite your friends who will likely vote for Democrats, but maybe don't know that I am the only alternative to Ed Emmett on this year's ballot.
In a press release, Blogmeister Perry Dorrell of Brains & Eggs has actually referred to the Harris County Judge election as the most significant for Greens in this area, owing to the lack of a Democratic candidate in the race. I take that as a profound compliment on my long-considered decision to put my name in for the position.
The County Judge gig was not my first choice, I will admit with all due frankness. I am much more the legislator type than the executive type. At the 2012 Green Party of Texas convention, in my nomination speech I told those assembled that I would be willing to run again in 2014. However, when Emily Sánchez indicated that she wanted to run for the US Senate seat currently housing the tush of John Cornyn, I yielded to her because I relished the thought of our running a smart Latina for such an exalted position.
My next thought was to run for Sheila Jackson-Lee's Congressional seat in District 18, where I have lived for nearly three years. Last fall, however, Remington Alessi and I worked it out where he would run against Sheila. He's really the better choice for that, because it takes someone with Remington's raw irreverence to challenge SJ-L: She occupies one of the safest seats in the nation.
I told Remington the story of my traveling to Palm Center for the only Sunday of early voting in the 2012 General Election, when the women who came out to represent SJ-L were telling voters to vote a straight Democratic ticket. That made him even more eager to run in District 18.
I don't pin the blame for the Palm Center episode on SJ-L herself. There were not many cameras on the scene, so she did not appear. Let the Democratic Party Culture of Inevitability wear the blame.
There's this tragic notion in low-income and African-American neighborhoods that the Democratic Party and its candidates are actually working for them; that there are only two political parties, and no matter how unresponsive and ineffective the D's are, the R's are openly hostile and therefore worse. Anything or anyone challenging the Democrats is a mere annoyance to be ignored or swatted away. Democrats keep getting elected, but even though many of those elected are black or brown, racism and de facto segregation don't go away. Good jobs don't come running to the neighborhoods. We still get government of, by, and for the corporations.
If Sheila is guilty, it's guilt by association with a party that continues to run interference for corporate titans, to support the US "all I got is a hammer" foreign policy, to talk about the changing climate but (to paraphrase Mark Twain) not do anything about it. Whatever the Green Party is, it's not that.
See you at Trinity Episcopal on the 22nd.
Let me state for the record that my visit to Lone Star College, Kingwood, was not a complete disaster. It wasn't the best I could hope for, and I didn't take full advantage of the circumstances. First, I got the room wrong: It was not at the Performing Arts Center (PAC) as I incorrectly gleaned from the web page, but at the Student and Conference Center.
Also, I may have given complex answers to a few questions where simple answers would serve better; I'm known for that.
There were about a dozen people, and I could have spent time connecting with them person-to-person instead of making a windy speech about the Green Movement and its platform.
I didn't drop in any Green Party buzzwords like "Grassroots Democracy" and "Social Justice." There's a first time for everything, I guess. I'd like to think I didn't need to, that I represented myself and the Green Party well for the dozen-plus who showed up, for whose presence on a Tuesday night I am truly grateful.
The appearance, which I pulled off without a script or even a rehearsal, was something of a civics lesson, which is half the job of a County Judge candidate. Who even knows what county governments do in Texas? What is that Commissioners' Court thing, anyway? How much power do the County Judge and Commissioners have? None of these educated folks could articulate answers to those questions, or at least they weren't willing to try. So together we spelled it out.
In Harris County, it comes down to five people setting the budget for agencies that serve more than 4 million, as well as determining how property taxes will be collected and apportioned. There are a lot of countries in the world with fewer than 4 million people, but most of them have parliaments, or at least a council of advisors serving the monarch. We have Commissioners' Court.
I did not expect a full house at Lone Star, and it didn't even come close to filling the multi-purpose room of the Student and Conference Center. That's quite all right.
I did not expect any other Green candidates for judgeships to show up, and none did. Our candidates for State Supreme Court and Criminal Court of Appeals could have shown up, but they're busy attorneys. Jim Chisolm lives in Houston, and he could have made a good showing, but he's not known for actively campaigning. I honestly didn't mind having to be the entire show, because I had plenty to talk about.
Politicians are often loath to admit mistakes. I'm usually willing to admit mine, even if I require some convincing first. My biggest mistake was not preparing sufficiently for The Astrodome Question, the highest profile question of this entire County Judge election.
Some people think that the 2012 referendum to demolish the Dome is all the justification needed to knock it down and turn it into more parking for NRG Park. Others think the Dome's historical designation is all that's required to preserve it. Incumbent Judge Ed Emmett is talking about refashioning the Dome as an indoor park, and he is building a coalition of business interests (corporate sponsors) to make it a reality. Despite all these ideas, the Dome's future remains in legal limbo.
I should not have even answered the questions about the Dome and the decades of dubious benefits to the county that it represents, great Astros and Oilers memories notwithstanding. I did not have the facts to give good answers, and for that I humbly apologize.
The bigger mistake was not pushing the idea of turning the Dome into an urban farm.
Here is an article from CultureMap just last week that proposes something similar.
The Dome is ideal for a gigantic greenhouse. Replace the painted-over roof tiles with transparent solar collectors. Don't even bother to air-condition the interior, because without air conditioning it will rain inside, which is exactly what is needed. Have an irrigation system installed just in case. Place mosquito-proofing plants strategically inside and outside. Allow individual farmers and organizations to lease portions of it and sell their produce at a market right on the NRG Park grounds, or at any other area farmers' market. Teach homeless and jobless folks who may be so inclined to grow fruits and vegetables, and let them benefit from their labors.
I did mention quipping at dinner recently that Texas should legalize the production of cannabis, so we could grow tons of it inside the Dome every year. That's a guaranteed money-maker for the county. That money could be used to fully fund county health services including the Harris County Hospital District and the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Administration, particularly for our tens of thousands of addicts.
But I believe the people of Houston and Harris County could benefit more from growing food in there.
Having a local supply of fresh produce, especially in the event of natural disasters (whether drought or hurricane), may not stimulate the business climate like a casino, but it would make Houston a bellwether in the field of urban agriculture, which is the proverbial wave of the future. We cannot continue to depend on distant lands, or even California, for our produce.
If this initiative is successful, it could lead to a boom in urban farms, not just in Harris County, but in urban areas all over North America.
Houston-Area Urban Agriculture Links:
Last Organic Outpost
Plant It Forward.
Here's the thing: While I am the Green Party's 2014 candidate for Harris County Judge, I don't have time or money to campaign seriously. The Democratic candidate has withdrawn from the race. Even so, I have precious little chance of defeating the incumbent. It will interesting to see how many people will vote for me this November just because I'm not Republican Ed Emmett—and how many won't bother to choose between us.
This month I will make a few educational appearances, and I'll show up at a multi-candidate fundraiser, but that's because I've been invited. I am not actively pursuing appearances.
The focus of my "campaign" is to inform people of the Green Movement and its principles, not necessarily to win. Yes, Green Party candidates do win elections in this country, especially at the local level. We are a viable political force, to the extent that we frighten the Democrats and make them try (and fail miserably) to "out-Progressive" us.
No time because I work for a living and for my housing co-op. No money because I'm still catching up on bills after a period of unemployment and a recent accident.
What I do have is friends. I wouldn't normally ask my friends to put in any more effort than I can (hey, that blog takes WORK!), but I will ask this:
1. Give my website a look: www.dbcgreentx.net. Yeah, I know what iCarly said: "dot-net is for losers."
2. If you like what you read there, pass the information on to friends and relatives of yours in Harris County.
There are more than 2 million registered voters in Harris County. About a third of them will vote in the general election on 4 November—say 700,000. It seems like I'm thinking small, but in light of everything stated above, can this campaign pull 10% of that? Let's do what we can to make it happen, shall we?
Blogging Sporadically since 2014
Here you will find political campaign-related entries, as well as some about my literature, Houston underground arts, peace & justice, urban cycling, soccer, alt-religion, and other topics.