December 7th, 2009
Houston Mayor’s Race 2009: Locke or Parker? Parker or Locke?
In 6 Words: VOTE, Arts, METRO, Stadiums, BARC, Fiduciary
With the voting deadline in the runoff between Annise Parker and Gene Locke coming in five days, we here at The Loop Scoop decided it would be a good idea to give a quick rundown of the candidates. More importantly, we wanted to ask people to just get out and vote. The turnout for the initial election was beyond abysmal, with only 176,968 total votes. Yes, you read that right, less than 200,000 votes from a city with a population of 2.2 million. Let’s get out and vote.
If one thing was apparent during the run-up to the election, it was that the three main candidates: Gene Locke, Annise Parker, and Peter Brown, had very similar policy positions. All three focused on better infrastructure, improved schools, safe streets, and better neighborhoods. So, where are the differences now that we are in a runoff? In order to highlight the candidates differences, we will explore their stance on some of the major issues facing Houston.
Let’s start with Gene Locke. Mr. Locke seems to have a set of clearly defined goals across four general areas, transportation, Houston financials, safety, and the “greening” of the city. Concerning transportation, Mr. Locke wants to reduce the bottleneck areas around the city, citing the 290 corridor as one example. He champions expanding the HOV availability to areas such as Clear Lake and Kingwood and is also adamant about the moving forward on the 5-corridor commuter rail, reduced bus fares, and more freight traffic.
That last item should be of concern to anyone in the inner loop area. The current amount of freight traffic that goes through residential and retail areas is enormous and Locke’s plans provide no insight on how to handle the increased traffic. Another item that is missing is the possibility of more METRO bus availability. One of the major gripes from Houstonians is the lack of coverage that METRO has in certain areas and the limited, and sometimes fickle, schedule that it keeps.
The “Business Plan for Houston” is the next bullet point on Gene Locke’s website, and within it, are a number of goals. Here are a few of the bigger ones:
1. Non-partisan government
2. Job growth by attracting international companies
3. Supporting small businesses using incubators and public-private partnerships
4. Making Houston the center for alternative energy
These goals are great for the growth of Houston, but they make no mention of Houston’s city budget or fiscal responsibility when it comes to running the city. It is imperative that Locke be forward in his addressing of the monetary issues facing the city.
Mr. Locke’s last two bullet points are keeping Houston safe and making Houston more environmentally friendly. Both of these items are important and Mr. Locke’s plan for keeping Houston safe appears to be comprehensive and well thought out. In addition to increasing the number of police officers on the streets, he wants police forces to focus on working with communities and neighborhoods to ensure safety.
To “green” Houston, Gene Locke has proposed a few different ideas, ranging from reducing electricity requirements at wastewater treatment facilities to expanding the curbside recycling program. All of the ideas sound great on paper, but the cost involved to implement them may be high, something that Mr. Locke’s website does not address.
Let’s move on to Annise Parker, the current Controller of Houston. In a lot of ways Ms. Parker has the same ideas as Mr. Locke and looks at the greening of Houston and the small business development of the city in the same way. The areas where she differs from Gene Locke are fiscal responsibility, BARC, hiring Houstonians first, and supporting the arts.
Ms. Parker makes it very clear that she wants to reduce wasteful spending. She touts her record of uncovering millions of dollars of waste while managing the city’s billions in tax dollars as proof that she can do this. Annise’s plan is to take a bottom-line approach when making decisions regarding Houston’s budget and other resources. Because of this, I find it odd that BARC, although a sore area for a lot of Houstonians, is a major issue for Ms. Parker. She is firm in the idea that Houston needs a city funded, humane, no-kill shelter for animal care. While I think it is a noble and worthy idea, the question becomes how using our scarce monetary resources to make it happen align with Parker’s goals of fiscal responsibility. If Ms. Parker can outline how she plans to fund the BARC changes, I’m sure more Houstonians will feel comfortable with the idea.
Jobs are another one of the areas that Houstonians do not take lightly, and Ms. Parker has a plan for hiring Houstonians first for jobs in the city. She wants to engage the communities, within and around Houston, to create a regional jobs alliance that would encourage companies to hire local workers and contract local companies to complete work. This is good news for those out of work in the city right now and is a contrast to Locke’s plan to try and get international companies to come to the city. Both plans are on the right track to create jobs, but Ms. Parker’s plan lacks the forethought of bringing in new companies to keep the market fresh.
The last issue that Ms. Parker addresses differently than Gene Locke is support for the arts. Again, this is a noble goal, but conflicts with the idea of spending money where it needs to be spent. Also, funding of the arts is still one of those issues that a lot of Americans have some disdain for, because it allows city, state, and the federal government to decide what is and isn’t art. This issue, along with the job creation idea, are the two points that really set Ms. Parker apart from Mr. Locke.
Overall, both candidates share a lot of the same goals and ideas for Houston, but they differ on how to achieve them. One major difference in the candidate’s stance is the issue of a new stadium for the Houston Dynamo. Gene Locke is adamant that a new stadium can be built with little to no taxpayer money fronting it. Ms. Parker disagrees, and has cited Reliant Stadium as an example of a project where little to no taxpayer money was initially needed, but eventually turned into a large taxpayer investment. Because of this experience, she has stated that she is not in favor of building a stadium.
Lastly, is the issue of trash. Something needs to be done about the amount of trash and waste that is left on the streets, in people’s yards, and in drainage ditches by the city’s trash pickup system. While the single operator trucks are “efficient” they have proven a disappointment in cleanliness. Every morning after a trash pickup, I walk out to the street and see garbage spilled by the trucks that eventually blows away or blocks a gutter. If either candidate would address this and other issues with the public works, they could get some people on their side.
Both candidates are fighting for votes and trying to win over the Republicans who voted for Morales and the Democrats that voted for Brown. As Houstonians, our job is to figure out which candidate will lead the city in the right direction in areas concerning public safety, fiscal responsibility, and overall quality of living. Read about the issues; Make a choice, and vote, plain and simple. Early voting has already begun. The runoff election takes place on December 12th.
See you at the polls.