InsideOut At City Hall: Critiquing the Caucuses
A little confusion in the short term yields big benefits in the long term.
The long lines at Democratic precinct conventions provoked tempers and frustration for some, and confusion for most. But for old hands like me who have worked in and through the Texas precinct convention process for decades, it was an uplifting and gratifying night. Oh, I was frustrated too, and I complained about the lack of adequate accommodations for the numbers of both voters and caucusers. But if you turned off the audio and looked at the sea of smiling faces, how could anyone be less than elated at democracy in action?
Now, I know that some of the conventions were more contentious, and I fault both the Obama and Clinton campaigns for stirring some of that. Both campaigns warned their followers that “those horrible people in the other camp” would try to cheat them. Partisans were urged to go and “take over” the conventions.
If Democrats hadn’t had so few participants over the past few elections, there would have been more experienced hands on deck, but, rhetoric aside, the rules are actually pretty straightforward and were applied fairly in most places. I hope that those who are now complaining about a process that they never bothered with before will invest in improving it.
At my precinct, we were queued up for hours in the dark in a line that wrapped around the block. But the weather was good, and the evening took on something of the air of a block party as neighbors got to know each other. We were split about 60/40. I’ve seen more negative rivalry at a Texas/OU weekend. Once those in line found out that they could actually sign in and leave, the crowd really relaxed. And once the temporary chair decided that using the honor system was the best way to move the process along, rather than looking up each voter without proof, things picked up. Hopefully, the party would catch cheaters at the next level. And after all, we all knew that we’d see each other again at the grocery store and in our front yards. It was peer pressure at work.
The controversial and confusing Texas two-step Democratic primary system actually had a rational genesis and some really useful elements, although it is unique among primary methods. It allows those who get swept up in the fervor of the popular vote to cast their ballots and award delegates to a surging candidate. It reserves some of the delegates and a mechanism for electing the state party leadership and defining the state platform (governing principles of the state party) for the party faithful willing and able to come back and caucus face-to-face with their fellow Democrats.
So many Texans and Americans finally feel their vote makes a real difference. Countless people are incredibly excited about the presidential election. Hundreds of thousands of new voters turned out. That in itself represents great progress in a country where winners often represent only a small minority of adults in the district/state/country.
Voters marched out to make their vote count and endured long waits to make the great American system work. At last we can answer the question about why election turnout in America is often so dismal: When there are candidates or issues that motivate us, we will come. And when we care enough about those candidates, we will come back and wait in long lines!
Let us hope and insist that the wave of enthusiasm is accompanied by genuine engagement in the future of our country. Casting one vote is never enough, and no one candidate has all the answers.
The Treasury Division of the Controller’s Office has reviewed the city’s $2.3 billion investment portfolio and found we have no investments with any ties to Iran. In keeping with my previous request regarding investment in Sudan, I have urged the Houston Municipal Employees Pension System, the Houston Police Officers Pension System, and the Houston Firefighters Retirement and Relief Fund to conduct similar reviews and follow the lead of other cities and states that have already divested.
Houston, It’s Worth It
What do you call Houston? Bayou City? Space City? City of Trees?
Which slogan did you like? “Houston, it’s haute”? “Houston, a space of infinite possibilities”? “Houston, the new Texas”?
Maybe Houston can’t be summed up in a word or phrase. To many of us, it’s just home sweet home, and we love it for its friendliness, entrepreneurial spirit, incredible diversity, world-class fine arts, variety of restaurants, and low cost of living. OK, it’s hot, flat, and humid, and getting stuck in traffic, especially if it’s hot and humid, makes you want to book a flight to Alaska or Hawaii, which is easy and cheap because we’re such an airline hub. And, yes, we have mosquitoes the size of sparrows and cockroaches big enough to wear those fuzzy Chihuahua sweaters, but it is still a very cool place to live. It’s one of the few things I’ve ever felt about as if I knew a secret before anyone else. Like finding out the suddenly trendy restaurant has been your hangout for years.
As you might know, I adore my hometown. So I was quite excited when I opened a new book recently with the intriguing title, Houston. It’s Worth It. (HIWI) (www.houstonitsworthit.com). It’s a beautiful photo book that dares to show Houston’s underbelly, too. And it’s an unusual marketing campaign that’s attracting national attention. The book and campaign will be the subject of my next Money Matters TV show, which will be back on the air in April on HTV (Comcast channel 16), formerly the Municipal Channel.
Annise D. Parker is the second-term city controller and the highest-ranking openly GLBT-elected municipal official in any of the 10 largest U.S. cities. Her website is www.houstoncontroller.org. Parker’s television program, Money Matters, airs Monday on the Municipal Channel (Comcast) at 2 and 8 a.m. and 2 and 8 p.m. The City Controller’s webpage is www.houston tx.gov/controller/index.html. To receive the controller’s newsletter, send an email to [email protected]