Houston voters elected a progressive as mayor and returned a gay incumbent to City Council on Saturday, but don't expect them to revisit the city's failed non-discrimination ordinance anytime soon.
Or at all.
State lawmaker turned Mayor-elect Sylvester Turner defeated Bill King 51 percent to 49 percent, ending a nearly 6-week sequel to the November election in which Turner placed first after courting LGBT votes. But throughout the runoff, Turner distanced himself from HERO, which suffered a crushing defeat on Nov. 3.
At times during the runoff, King – who opposed HERO during the election – appeared more open to revisiting HERO than Turner, who supported the non-discrimination ordinance during a nasty campaign to defeat it.
In interviews since his win on Saturday, Turner sidestepped offering specifics about any plans for a new non-discrimination ordinance.
Q: Houston's equal rights ordinance was a defining part of the general election campaign. How, if at all, would you address nondiscrimination protections in your first year in office?
A: I have always fought against discrimination. That's not changing. This is the most diverse city. It needs to be a very welcoming and inclusive city, and I've said that repeatedly. Now the question then becomes, 'What are the mechanics to effectuate that belief?' And that's something we'll continue to work on.
Two weeks after voters defeated HERO in early November, Turner said he heard that message loud and clear. Via Houston Public Media:
Sylvester Turner has supported the equal rights ordinance throughout his campaign. But he sounds less inclined to bring it back — even a modified version — saying the voters have spoken.
“This is a democratic process,” Turner said. “The people voted on Nov. 3, and I think it’s important now to deal with a whole host of issues that are important to every Houstonian.”
Days before the runoff, though, Turner said during the campaign's final debate that those comments were taken out of context. Via Outsmart:
Rep. Turner, who endorsed HERO, was asked about recent reports that he wouldn’t revisit the ordinance out of respect for the will of voters. But Turner suggested his remarks were taken out of context, saying he doesn’t believe the repeal of HERO was a vote in favor of discrimination.
“When it comes to discrimination, I will continue to fight against discrimination as I have done for the last 26 years I’ve been in public service,” Turner said. “Anybody in this city, regardless of who they are, regardless of their orientation, ought to be allowed to take advantage of the full opportunities that exist in this city.… No one should be discriminated against based on their group affiliation.”
If Turner moves ahead with a new non-discrimination ordinance, he's likely to face a favorable reception from the City Council. Mike Laster, one of two openly gay council members, easily won his runoff election on Saturday for a third term in District J. Laster beat Jim Bigham 64.7 percent to 35.3 percent. The council's other gay member, Robert Gallegos, coasted to a second term in District I in November.
A whip count of the new City Council shows a non-discrimination could pass with as little as nine votes or as many as 11. Via Off the Kuff:
Here’s my guess at a whip count if and when another HERO comes up:
Likely Yeses – Robinson, Edwards, Davis, Cohen, Cisneros, Gallegos, Laster, Green
Likely Nos – Knox, Kubosh, Stardig, Martin, Le, Travis
Voted No originally, but maybe could be swung – Christie, Boykins
Counting Mayor Turner, a worst case vote would likely be 9-7 in favor. It would be nice to focus some effort on Christie and Boykins and maybe get that to 10-6 or 11-5. It’s a small thing, but I’d hate to give the other side the talking point that HERO 2.0 was less popular on Council than the original was. If it’s not possible to move that needle, then aiming to take a couple of seats to make up the difference and trying again after 2019 might be the best course of action. Christie’s term will be up, while Mike Knox and Steve Le could be targeted. By the same token, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, and Mike Laster will also be termed out, and those seats would need to be defended, so this strategy has some risk as well. I’m just thinking out loud here. Point being, it’s never too early to start thinking about this sort of thing.