The race for Mayor is heating up, and so far three legitimate contenders have announced. Conventional wisdom held we were going to have Turner versus King round two this fall, but then Tony Buzbee entered the race. At first, I was skeptical; he didn’t have any prior political experience suitable for the position. All that I really knew about him was his comments after yet another Texas A&M football collapse that Kevin Sumlin should not be retained and his spat with his home owners association regarding a tank. Neither inspired confidence that he was a serious candidate, and even if he were, that he would make a good mayor. However, after having attended many of his campaign events and his campaign graciously spending around ninety minutes with me a couple of weeks ago he seems to be the best choice for mayor.
This isn’t to say he is the perfect candidate. He lacks political experience of consequence, and this is currently hurting his campaign. The race has some low hanging fruit for the taking – votes that will go to Mayor Turner and could be flipped to either King or Buzbee. However, the failure to recognize and act upon this opportunity doesn’t suggest that he will be a poor mayor. Rather it does the opposite; the fact that he is running a campaign on what he feels is best for the city without regard to taking easy political gain shows fortitude for focusing on the betterment of the city over politics.
Assessing the Race
Although an incumbent usually does better when seeking reelection, Mayor Turner has managed to make himself vulnerable. Mayor Turner, obviously, is going to lose the firefighter vote, and some degree of union sympathy vote will follow the firefighters – though it will not be as much as expected since both the police and municipal workers unions have benefitted greatly under the Mayor’s tenure. This loss of support from the unions will offset the gains that the Mayor otherwise would have made. Adding to the vulnerability is the nature of the last election. The last election margin of victory was razor thin and broken down along ideological lines so the ability to make gains is less than normal. This combination of elements leaves him vulnerable.
Despite this vulnerability, it’s a near certainty that Mayor Turner will be one of the top two finishers after the first round, barring a surprise democrat entry into the race splitting his votes. This leaves Tony and Bill King as battling to be in the runoff. The contrast in style between Tony and King is going to be fascinating to watch as the race develops.
Development as a Candidate
Tony’s initial wave of advertising introducing himself, and that he was running for mayor, was very well done. The commercial was high quality and appropriately toned as both professional and serious. This should have put to rest questions regarding his seriousness regarding the undertaking. However, a commercial is an indication of a candidate’s choice in media handling, not an indication of a candidate’s performance.
One big question that was stuck in the back of my mind was he’s a prominent attorney, will he be willing to listen to others advice, or will he want to have tight control? If it were the latter, then he’s no better than Turner. His early campaign appearances were rough. The first one that I attended happened to be the same day he was the victim of a home invasion so that doubtless impacted his performance. At the next event I attended his performance was only marginally better. The lack of improvement seemed to be a bad omen.
However, by the time he had his official kickoff at his headquarters it was apparent that he had obtained good advisers, and was listening to their advice. The willingness to reach out to seek good advisers and to listen is a sign of humility, and shows that although he is an attorney who is highly successful he understands his weaknesses and is willing to accept instruction.
This willingness to accept advice and instruction has become more evident as he continues to have campaign events. The nuts-and-bolts behind the scene mechanics of the events has become much more smooth over time. Some of this may be a matter of learning from experience, but more is a willingness to listen to others explain where improvements can be made and then empowering them to do what is needed.
His stump speeches have improved over time. This is partially attributable to him finding firmer footing as a candidate, but some of the speech change is clearly the result of listening to feedback from the crowds and incorporating their suggestions. That’s a stark change from what we’ve seen from Mayor Turner.
Results Versus Politics as Usual
A willingness to acknowledge his limitations and listen to others puts to rest the question of will he be different from Mayor Turner. It doesn’t answer the question of will he be a good mayor. Here is where the contrast with Bill King becomes apparent. Mayor Turner and Bill King went down to the wire, and King set himself up to run against Turner after the election. This has lead to a bunch of politics as usual since the last election. King has been very effective at making political points. That’s a good strategy in a politics as usual race. Tony has been focused on how he can achieve results.
Both Tony and King have been diligent in finding alleged significant wrongdoing on the part of Turner. Their response is what sets them apart. King found the exorbitant fees for information regarding the expenditures without City Counsel approval. Tony found the Clear Channel signs issue. Their reaction to their diligent discovery couldn’t be more different. Tony filed suit to correct the alleged wrong. King started whining about what Mayor Turner was doing without attempting to correct the problem. It’s a matter of being results oriented versus politics oriented. While King’s politics are more beneficial to the city he still is politics oriented. That’s a benevolent version of Mayor Turner. Tony is seeking to correct the wrong. It doesn’t matter if he prevails in his suit or not. His actions back his claims that he’s in the race for the good of the city.
The “Also Ran” Candidate’s Supporters Decide the Runoff
Tony has shown significant wisdom in the way he is running his campaign. When it is runoff time the “also ran” voters will decide the outcome. Tony has been steadfast in running on the issues and not acting to alienate King’s voters. While some conservatives may be uncomfortable with Tony for his past political contributions, at least they won’t be alienated and refuse to break for Tony. This is going to be very important come runoff time since Tony is positioning himself, perhaps not intentionally, as a centrist type of candidate who is picking off some of Turner’s voters and picking up some of the anti-Turner vote. This is going to leave Mayor Turner in a weaker position in the struggle for the also ran votes as those voters are going to, by and large, be in the anti-Turner crowd.
At first I was reluctant to support Tony. However, he has shown himself to be willing to listen to advice. He also has shown himself to be in the race for the good of the city. Although his stump speeches will need to have more “how to” details in the future, he is focusing on issues that matter rather than politics as usual. That gives confidence that he is in the race for the good of the city. Despite his stump speeches lack of detail, his demonstrated willingness to listen to others and take advice is a stark contrast to the current administration, and inspires confidence that he will be able to find good people to work with and advise him on the issues we face. That makes supporting him an easy decision.