By Houston City Council Member Michael Kubosh, At-Large 3
This year marks the 800th anniversary of the birth of Magna Carta, the Great Charter of liberties that holds that no one is above the Rule of Law – neither a king nor a parliament, or a group of self-serving politicians. But instead of celebrating Magna Carta’s principle that no one is above the law, Houston Mayor Annise Parker is doing her best to violate it.
During a July 28, 2015 City Council meeting, Mayor Parker announced that the City of Houston would implement a “new policy”. Mayor Parker said she would ask her hand-picked City Attorney to review all petitions for “accuracy and relevance” before she permits the City Secretary to begin counting the signatures on a voters’ ballot-petition. Mayor Parker’s “new policy” violates the constitutional right of Houston voters to place a charter-amendment or referendum election on the ballot and vote in such an election.
The Mayor announced her “new policy” just three weeks after the Texas Supreme Court, on July 7, overruled her denial of Houstonians’ right to call an election about the Mayor’s equal rights ordinance. “With all due respect to the Texas Supreme Court,” Mayor Parker stated in an August 19, 2015 press release, “it is clear that politics is driving the law in this case … I strongly disagree with this decision and find it to be contrary to the court’s established law regarding previous ballot initiatives.”
Mayor Parker does not respect the court’s decision to enforce the Rule of Law that she and her City Attorney violated. The court acted to stop Mayor Parker and her associates from running roughshod over voters’ century-old constitutional right to challenge the City’s political elites at the ballot box. In 1912, a supermajority of Texas voters amended the Texas Constitution to grant voters a right to call issue-elections, whether mayors, city councils, or any other political bodies want to conduct such and election or not. A century later, Article XI, Section 5, of the Texas Constitution still proclaims a citizen’s constitutional right to amend a city charter (its constitution) or call a referendum vote:
“Cities having more than five thousand (5000) inhabitants may, by a majority vote of the qualified voters of said city, at an election held for that purpose, adopt or amend their charters…”
Voters’ constitutional right to call and conduct an election is inalienable. Neither the Mayor nor her supporters can deprive voters of that right by adopting a “new policy.”
In its July 7, 2015 Woodfill decision, a unanimous Texas Supreme Court responded to Mayor Parker’s disregard for voters’ constitutional rights. The Court ruled that “The legislative power reserved to the people of Houston is not being honored.”
Rather than learning the lesson of the Magna Carta – that no one is above the law – the Mayor seeks to strip voters of their constitutional right to govern their own city. She seeks to permit the City Attorney to say that an election is not “relevant” to the Mayor’s agenda and that it does not “accurately” portray the world the way the Mayor sees it. Whether or not voters agree with the Mayor’s efforts to enact her equal rights ordinance, the voters, Houston City Council, and this state’s courts have a duty to preserve and protect the citizens’ right to call an election. The only “new policy” that the Mayor and the City Attorney should adopt is that of respecting, rather than violating, voters’ constitutional rights.