Allow me to be direct in answering the question some people have brought up recently:
Tony Buzbee and Bill King are not acceptable choices for Mayor.
Don’t try to sell me on it, don’t ask me about it.
I said no, and I meant it.
I actually know the impetus of people suggesting King or Buzbee. They’re fed up with the current mayor. Houston’s progressive left has never gotten along with Sylvester Turner, and he hasn’t exactly made overtures to them. Instead, he has ruled with the same political center of gravity as other Houston Mayors in catering to the mildly right center and the Greater Houston Partnership, but has coupled that with righteous indignation at the slightest dissent on policy grounds. From concerns about an overbearing group home ordinance to opposition over his dare-I-say-DeVos-like education policy to showing a high degree of anxiety to the aftermath of Prop B, Houston’s left has some bones to pick, and they deserve to pick them.
Mayor Turner has gotten a few things right, as any mayor would. But generally, the progressive left in Houston has meaningful concerns that have not been addressed, and the Mayor hasn’t exactly shown interest in addressing them.
Yet I repeat:
Buzbee and King are not the answer.
If you lean Left and are upset with the policy and actions of Turner, but you’re considering these other two men, you have a lot of cognitive dissonance going on. While you have to vote for someone at the end of the day, King and Buzbee aren’t it. Not if you practice all that stuff you’re preaching.
The Issue with King
King, as we recall, has run against Turner before and lost by a hair in spite of trying to run a populist campaign on filling potholes and basic services. He is the Right’s answer to Turner’s claim as the “business-as-usual” Mayor. He was Mayor of Kemah and masquerades hard right stances as “unapologetically moderate”.
That’s the name of his book.
Not only is he lying about being a centrist, but he is absurdly proud of being one. And the kind of “centrist” he is would be a mayor who kneecaps public works projects in favor of local “austerity” while retaining or worsening the same sort of draconian, corporatist laws surrounding business-as-usual issues such as homelessness, poverty, and gentrification. He’s against using local policy to impact poverty and claims it’s counterproductive to do so; he argues the problem is “global” and therefore cannot be impacted by the city in a positive way. He’ll use pension crises as a method of “buckling our belt” and bragging about taxes while lining the pockets of the wealthier parts of the city. Houston already has a bad enough problem with inequity and segregation. We cannot afford to let these problems fester longer.
He'd block transit expansion on par with that of defeated Congressman John Culberson. And last election, he simply answered “No” to the question “The streets currently are being rebuilt to handle a "100-year" rain event, meaning the worst 1 percent of storms. Would you increase the design standards, and if so how much more money would you spend?” That was pre-Harvey, of course. But after several other major floods.
Houston just elected a young, powerful woman to be the County Judge in Lina Hidalgo, a face that the progressive left in town unapologetically touts. Bill King would be a letdown after that.
If we want an unapologetically moderate mayor who will sell us short, we may as well keep the one we have.
Something Buzbee and King share is their place as Marshalls in the alternative MLK Parade, an event that elevated a number of public figures with shaky positions on HERO. This undoubtedly suggests a certain social conservatism that could put underserved communities, such as the undocumented community and LGBTQ community, in serious harm.
The Trouble with Buzbee
Buzbee is a Trump-south style candidate. No one can really tell what Buzbee stands for, but he does like to throw his money around. He has loaned himself $2 million for his campaign and supposedly opposes “corruption at City Hall”. Yet Buzbee gave $250,000 to Donald Trump for his inauguration committee… just a short while after denouncing him.
Defenders of Buzbee will say his personal fortune insulates him from corruption or big money mistakes. Buzbee has claimed he will entirely self-fund and turn down all donations. Unfortunately, self-funding a campaign as a wealthy individual does not remove money from politics, but rather demonstrates you can buy an important seat with your own money if you have enough of it.
(Also can we talk about this robbery thing? This is weird. All of a sudden, this wealthy guy running for mayor gets robbed of guns, jewelry, and art. This after a previous break-in which a woman allegedly broke in and destroyed other art pieces in 2017. He says the robber was trying to take a scooter when he came back with a gun, and that he would have shot him, but that his gun misfired, and he chose not to shoot again because his kids were in the house.
Has Buzbee revealed himself to be a deep thinker with ideas about the city? No. He has four bullets in the issue section of his website. He launched a campaign on four positions that are easy to talk about and hard to do well with: corruption, firefighters, crime, and infrastructure.
He did bring horseshit to City Hall, though.
And hey, I do like a good gimmick.
But a wheelbarrow full of horseshit doesn’t make for a good Mayor of Houston.
Less than 9 months from Decision Day and Tony Buzbee is still no more than a decorated trial lawyer candidate with a knack for publicity stunts.
You don’t get to be Mayor just because you’re a careerist with a lot of money.
Are these choices really the best we can do for Mayor?
It’s time to stop flirting with Buzbee and King. They do not demonstrate the politics you want, and unfortunately either can win, because anything can happen in politics. Cities have had mayors both duller than King and wilder than Buzbee before. We don’t want it. They are not a challenge to Turner any more than Trump was an actual challenge to the whole left-center guard, and they do not represent progressive values in Houston.
But another candidate could. Houston’s recent progressive uprising demonstrates a positive new opportunity for the city. In contrast to the cynical, aggressive, anti-Jewish rhetoric at the Harris County GOP, or even the defenders of norms coming from our state legislators, , left tides are rising in Houston. Judges have revolutionized the Harris County court systems, wildly overhauling bail and popularizing a completely new approach to criminal justice reform. Immigration activists, voting rights activists, organizers for environmental justice, education, and more are all catching fire, gaining numbers, and gaining attention. They are unafraid to knock doors and think outside the box. They even have a few bucks to put in on someone who reminds them of some of their progressive heroes around the United States.
Surely, Houston has someone like that. The most diverse city in the United States, long history, good mix of native Houstonians and people who have moved here, plenty of degrees and educational institutions, commerce, arts… people with street smarts stacked so high it’s spilling over… people with deep understanding of the city…
Surely, someone in Houston is closer to the candidate the progressive left wants than anyone in the race.
That person should run.
Some might say that a challenge from the Left will hurt Turner too badly to win, that a fracturing will lead to a Republican taking City Hall. However, the issues facing Turner are not a flash-in-the-pan. Whether or not a “primary opponent” to Turner enters the Houston mayoral race or not, discourse surrounding Prop B and drainage funding aren’t going away. Opposition from the Left can actually open the door to someone gaining power for progressive thinking and holding the eventual Mayor more accountable for what they do. As for Turner, loyalists may want to consider whether or not having an open discussion about the very real criticisms coming at him from all sides are reason enough to encourage some healthy competition so the conversations that need to happen take placeand allow the movement toward a better world to grow.
That suggestion might make people nervous and have flashbacks of Clinton-Sanders, but look: hiding from these conversations doesn’t work. It never will. They have to happen.
And honestly, Houston needs to look toward the future of what it can be: a city that leads the way in sustainability, transparency, accountability, and collaborative communities that only Houston knows how to nurture. We can test solutions in an environment that is often more challenging than other locations thanks to our extensive pollution, backward transit, media gaps, odd zoning or lack thereof, and other challenges unique to the city. But we also have advantages that other cities don’t have: space, diversity, world class arts, and a can-do spirit. This unique combination leaves us in a city that births as many poets as it does engineers, and boasts as many peewee football leagues as it does music studios.
But no mayoral candidate has produced a platform for that— yet.
If and when that person shows up, that person will start out as more than a gnat to Turner’s left.
That person will be viable.
That person can win.