Happy Labor Day! It’s the unofficial start of campaigning for the Municipal races. All politics is local, and the focus on each race will influence the discussion for next year. To that end, looking at the individual district races helps to identify what issues are in the district to help focus messaging for next year. Since I live in district J that’s the race covered first. This race is between the incumbent Edward Pollard and Ivan Sanchez. Remember, the purpose of the analysis isn’t to look at the merits of the candidates, but rather to look at the issues for more targeted messaging next cycle.
The southwest side of Houston has experienced a significant uptick in identity politics over the past year or so. Given the extent Councilman Pollard has be a leader in promoting novel ideas to improve all aspects of the district, this race appears to be a continuation of the identity politics. In addition to the overall city wide themes (crime, etc) and the identity politics element in play, the Sharpstown Mall has become a topic of interest in the election.
Local Hispanic organizations have been pounding the identity politics drum last year and this year, and southwest Houston and District J is ground zero for the identity politics activities. The lawsuit to try and remove the at large positions and convert them into new districts is based on an alleged underrepresentation of Hispanics on City Council. This is a borderline frivolous lawsuit. District J is a Hispanic plurality district.
Last cycle saw Sandra Rodriguez mount a significant campaign. It’s not that the district was gerrymandered to prevent a Hispanic from wining. If anything it’s the opposite – a gerrymandered district to elect a Hispanic. However, voter turnout in J is traditionally low. The issue isn’t demographics.
Outside of the litigation, two education based actions were identity politics driven. Houston in Action (who I reached out to but did not respond) raised concerns that the HISD redistricting did not create a Hispanic district in southwest Houston. The concern has some merit. Houston in Action is correct to the extent that a district could be made that would be Hispanic majority.
District VI is a spatially and ethnically diverse district where the northern portion of the district has almost nothing in common with the southern portion of the district. The borders of VI could be changed some to reflect the split nature of the district. However, making a Hispanic district would only be possible with a radical reorganization of several district boundaries.
The other push was made with the TEA takeover of HISD. Complaints were raised about the lack of Hispanic applicants for the Board of Managers. So much so, that the TEA extended the application period to allow for more applications to be received.
In the end, the actions of pure identity politics noted miss one significant fact. The opportunity for Hispanic involvement is present, but it’s not being acted upon. Even accepting that the Hispanic vote is a monolith – which is not nearly as true as in the past – the opportunity is not being taken by the Hispanic community in southwest Houston.
Ivan Sanchez is trying to make an issue of revitalizing the Sharpstown mall. While in theory this is good, it shows a poor understanding of the realities of the situation. To effect significant change to the mall will take changing the deed restrictions. Good luck with that. Efforts have been periodically made for as long as I’ve lived in Houston to get the change. The community would support a change, but it is intractably blocked.
From a how can republicans message next year this cycle us some good insight. We won’t win voters who embrace identity politics so we need to choose messaging to counteract the identity politics. Point out that immigration is a federal level issue and pivot to more unifying messages.
Crime, but without a vindictive tone, should make inroads. Something along the lines of needing to move trials more quickly, or how the criminal justice system should give priority to violent crime. Another good message would be amending the transportation code to remove administrative penalties when criminal or civil penalties have been incurred.
Regarding the mall that’s a tougher sell. It has grown some, but mainly jewelry stores and the other kiosk type of businesses. I don’t have a good message for this issue, but the collective brainpower of HCRP and candidates should be able to come up with a message, even if it’s simply something as using the venue to promote civic activates. The effort, more than anything, will show that candidates are concerned about the issue.