Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5, and area residents will exercise their right to vote. Included on the ballot are City of Houston elected officials, school board trustees and the Metro bond measure.
The Defender asked three political observers to analyze what’s at stake in the election and tell why African Americans should vote: Dr. Malachi Crawford, PhD, assistant professor of History, Prairie View A&M University; Dr. Creshema Murray, PhD, associate professor of Corporate Communication, University of Houston-Downtown, andDr. Robert Stein, PhD, Lena Gohlman Fox Professor of Political Science at Rice University.
There are 12 Houstonians running for mayor. Crawford said the main question surrounding candidates in the race is, “Who can make Houston thrive and grow in the 21stcentury? He said major issues include the crime rate and police and community relations, along with education.
“Another major issue is infrastructure improvements,” Crawford said. “With climate change the city is going to be dealing with flooding for some time and the candidate who can best speak to how the city is going to be able to deal with flood control and drainage should be the candidate who will win the election.”
Murray echoed Crawford’s thoughts on what the pressing issues are but questioned whether they are being addressed.
“We currently see a mayor’s race that is filled with slanderous rhetoric yet no real debate on issues of environmental sustainability, flood control or crime and safety,” Murray said.
“Voting in this race is important for Houstonians to keep moving Houston forward. When you go to the ballot box reflect on who you believe will be the person to fight for Houston and who will best represent your voice as the city continues to traverse budget issues and systemic changes,” she said.
Stein noted the influence of political parties in the election.
“One issue that looms larger than it ever has is that this is a non-partisan race and yet party is becoming a dominant factor,” he said. “The city is so Democratic and virtually all elected office-holders from the city of Houston – state, county and federal – are Democrats.”
Murray said several City Council races will impact communities with large African American populations, including Districts D and K. She said District D, for example,
is one of the largest districts, and encompasses parts of the Museum District, Medical Center and Third Ward.
“The servant-leader elected to serve in this district will be expected to chart a new path for the district and think about innovative measures to deal with flooding, illegal dumping, technology enhancements and economic growth,” she said.
“Other races are just as important and all have implications on how Houstonians view themselves. These council seats will represent four years of advocating for resources for our roads, dealing with public safety concerns, fiscal responsibility, city expansion and poverty.”
Crawford listed job growth and small business growth as two issues incoming councilmembers will have to address and reiterated the importance of proper drainage. Concerning candidates, he said it’s interesting that a number of faculty members from Texas Southern are running for office.
Stein said it’s interesting “how many people are running” period.
“We’ve never seen this many people challenge incumbents and I think that is because of the four-year term of office,” he said. “The big change is when you’re in office for four years instead of two, people are not going to be willing to wait you out so incumbents are seeing significant challenges.”
Four seats that are being vacated have the largest number of candidates. There are 11 candidates on the ballot in At Large Position 4, 14 candidates on the ballot in District B, 13 on the ballot in District C and 16 candidates in District D.
The threatened takeover of HISD by the Texas Education Agency continues to cast a shadow on the board of trustees.
“Everything and nothing is at stake in HISD,” Stein said. “We all expect that TEA under state law is about to take over the governing body. A new governing body will be responsible for running HISD for the next period of time and it could be a year or two or three.
Stein added that the current board has obviously been divided, “and though it’s not something people like to hear, it was clearly divided along race and ethnicity.”
Crawford said the road ahead will be difficult for board members.
“How do you make any type of long-term, strategic plans?” he asked. “That’s going to be the most difficult issue.”
Murray said that although there is a “looming feeling that the state will take over HISD and the candidates vying for trustee positions will be left powerless,” Houstonians should still vote for the best candidates.
“Even if trustees are elected and stripped of their power in 2020, Commissioner Mike Morath could reinstate their power at any moment and the district must be prepared to have leaders in place that will fight to restore faith and prosperity in our classrooms and schools,” Murray said.
“Voters must be forward thinking in this election and express whether they want new leadership to direct change or if they are pleased with the current progress HISD is making.”
METRO BOND MEASURE
A $3.5 billion bond measure is on the ballot to expand Metro services, enhance mobility and ease traffic congestion. The proposition includes more light rail to connect with local bus routes, new community connectors to increase transit access with personalized bus service and bus stop improvements.
“I feel that there is not enough attention surrounding this very important measure,” Murray said. “When we think about the environment and think about the fact that Houston is moving from the fourth largest city in the country to the third, when we look at our public transportation system, this bond measure is extremely important.”
Stein believes the measure will pass.
“By downplaying rail and playing up the bus usage, Metro is able to make a very convincing argument, which is that if you get people on buses and off of single-occupancy vehicles you will reduce traffic congestion. There are a lot of people who support reducing traffic congestion who will never use a bus or rail. And that is clearly what is giving Metro’s bond very high levels of support.”
He added that African Americans and Hispanics tend to be heavier users of mass transit, whether it’s bus or rail.
WHY WE SHOULD VOTE
Murray said African Americans should vote on Nov. 5 “and in every subsequent municipal, state and national election because our voice and our vote matter.
“I recall voting in my first election in 2002 at the age of 18 in Montgomery, Alabama,” she said. “I drove my 89-year-old great-grandfather to the polls and we stood in adjacent voting booths casting our ballots in a gubernatorial election that still has political and legal implications in the state of Alabama to this very day.
“Why should African Americans vote? I think about my countless family members who never had the ability to vote, I think about the Black bodies that walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama for my right to vote. I think about the Black and Brown bodies being murdered at the hands of police bullets that will never vote. I think about illegal dumping taking place in my community, and victims of Houston flooding but most importantly, I think about my great-grandfather and the sacrifices he and countless others made just so I could safely engage in my civic duty,” Murray said.
Crawford also stressed the difference that voting can make.
“At the local level by far, African Americans can have an impact on the quality of life as well as the responsiveness of our elected officials to our concerns,” he said.
Stein agreed that Black votes matter.
“This is an election in which our second African-American mayor is pretty much under siege and if Black voters do not vote at rates I would expect them to vote at – 27% of the vote share should be African American – then I have every reason to be think that the mayor will not only be in a runoff but could be in trouble,” Stein said.