It seemed as though this November’s elections might unfold quietly, predictably.
A quick peek at the Texas Legislature’s “joint resolutions” (the legal vehicle for amending the state’s constitution) shows that most of the potentially-controversial issues that could come before voters will not do so this year, having already missed key deadlines. I haven’t been following Houston’s municipal term limits lawsuit especially closely, but no one seems to be behaving as though city council elections are imminent. Incumbents on the HISD Board of Trustees (both elected and appointed) looked set to claim pole position in most of the seats up for election to that body.
Then Mayor Turner announced that he would seek a referendum on the city’s revenue cap in November, instantly raising the stakes for Bayou City voters. Predictably, my friend and former client Bill King wasted little time in raising the banner against Turner’s proposal. Outside of Turner’s core allies (the public unions) and core opponents (the anti-tax true believers)–both of whom will surely be headed to the barricades–it’s tough to say right now how successful each side might be in bringing lower-propensity voting constituencies on board. One thing is for certain, though: adding these new constituencies to the November electorate will diminish the focus on public education.
Successful school board candidates, unfortunately, are likely to spend more energy talking to groups for whom quality public education is not a top priority. District I Trustee Anna Eastman’s decision not to seek re-election further increases the chances that political forces outside of the public education community will determine control of at least one seat on the HISD board. HISD is not the only school board elected within the Houston city limits, of course, so candidates in Spring Branch and Aldine might do well to start thinking through their outreach plans as well.
Mayor Turner will want to frame the revenue cap debate much like he framed the Mayor’s race in 2015: that a win for him is a win for Team Blue. The strategy has merit: I certainly wouldn’t want to be associated with any candidate or cause that gets on the wrong side of the Resistance in a blue county this year. But voting on a tax referendum is different than voting for an Obama-endorsed mayoral candidate. Plenty of educated, liberal homeowners will see no harm to The Cause in voting themselves a lower tax rate.