August 06, 2014

Fallout From HERO Repeal Failure

I'm not going to get into the merits of the so-called "Houston Equal Rights Ordinance" in this post. Whether or not said ordinance is needed,whether or not its goals are proper, and whether or not it creates an inequality of rights or violates the property and/or religious rights of business owners is not the focus of this post -- and not a matter I choose to get into in this post, given that the ordinance was adopted some months ago and I am not a resident of the City of Houston.

No, I instead want to focus on the decision announced on Monday by the city that petition effort to get a repeal referendum on the city ballot in November has failed due to a lack of valid signatures.

Houston officials say the city's non-discrimination ordinance will not be put on an election ballot after they deemed the ordinance's repeal petition invalid.

Houston City Attorney Dave Feldman says the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance repeal petition failed to garner the signatures to put the ordinance to vote.

"The charter requirements are in place to ensure a fair and credible process absent of fraud," Houston City Attorney Dave Feldman said. "In this instance ... this petition filed to repeal the HERO ordinance, there are simply too many documents with irregularities and problems to overlook. The petition is simply invalid, there is no other conclusion."

Apparently the problem with the 30K or so signatures turned in by the group seeking to repeal the ordinance centered around signatures by non-residents, signatures by those not registered to vote, and circulation of some petitions by individuals who are not registered voters in the city. This does not mean the end of the effort to do away with the ordinance -- there is already litigation in the works to challenge the decision of city officials. But what it does mean is that there will almost certainly be no repeal measure on the November ballot.

However, I see three things that are likely to come out of the setback dealt to repeal opponents.

  1. This is good news for Republicans in Harris County. Yes, I know that many advocates for repealing the ordinance are active Republicans. However, the repeal effort was a potential disaster for Republican electoral efforts this fall. After all, the repeal vote would have brought out a great many supporters of the ordinance -- folks who are likely to be more liberal and less likely to vote Republican than the average voter in a non-presidential election year. In addition, repeal supporters were counting on a high turnout from the African-American community, meaning a high turnout of voters who might cast the "right vote" on the social issue but would then cast votes for Democrats on the rest of the ballot. This would have been unlikely to harm statewide candidates, but it could have endangered some candidates in close races for the state legislature. More critically, it would have made it likely that the down-ballot judicial races would have had outcomes more like 2008 and 2012 than like 2010, meaning we would have seen more Democrats on the bench here in Harris County. I'd therefore argue that Republicans dodged a bullet on this one, and are likely to sweep the judicial races.
  2. This harms Jared Woodfill's chances to become chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. Steve Munisteri, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, has indicated he is unlikely to serve out his entire term and may resign shortly after the 2015 session of the Texas Legislature. Among those being mentioned as a potential candidate to replace him -- either at the time of Munisteri's resignation or in 2016 -- is recently defeated Harris County GOP chairman Jared Woodfill, who has been one of the key leaders of the repeal effort. Had this measure made it on to the ballot (and especially if it had been successful), Woodfill would have been well-positioned for such an effort. Instead, Woodfill is among those who looks rather inept after conducting a high-profile effort to get this matter on to the ballot -- especially since it should not have been difficult to get a sufficient number of valid signatures.
  3. A court challenge to the residency requirement is likely to succeed. Let's be honest -- the city charter here in Houston has some rather stringent requirements for petition circulators. Not only must they be registered voters, but they also must be city residents -- a requirement that invalidated a lot of otherwise valid signatures. But there have been a number of federal court decisions in recent years that have invalidated such requirements on the state level -- including a 1999 decision by the Supreme Court that did so. It therefore seems unlikely that the requirement in the city charter would stand up to constitutional scrutiny. This means that the repeal measure may make it on to the ballot -- just not this November. Whether or not it will succeed at the ballot box is another question.

So as you can see, the failure of the repeal initiative has some important implications for politics in the city, the county, and the state. Keep watching to see how this all plays out.

|| Greg, 10:21 AM || Permalink || Comments (28) || Comments || TrackBacks (0) ||

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Wasn't there some controversy about the Early to Rise initiative too, centered around non-residents circulating petitions? I remember getting called about that. I didn't know that was a thing.

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