Houston mayor, County Judge retaliate against business group's neutrality on election law reforms

AP Photo/Eric Gay

Someone call the wahmbulance. The Mayor of Houston and the Harris County Judge are having a hissy fit. A large group of business leaders is refusing to get involved in the political fight over election law reforms despite pressure coming from both of the elected officials, both Democrats. What do they do? They cancel their participation in some annual events with the group.

The Greater Houston Partnership (GHP) is the largest chamber of commerce group in the Houston area. GHP is an economic development organization for the Greater Houston area. More than 1,000 businesses are members. There are more than 100 members on the board of directors. Every year GHP hosts “State of the City” and “State of County” addresses. The mayor and the county judge (county CEO, not a judicial position) announced Wednesday that neither of them will participate in the annual events this year. Why? This is their idea of retaliation against GHP for the group’s refusal to weigh in on the hot button issue of election law reforms with condemnation.

Mayor Sylvester Turner and County Judge Lina Hidalgo are partisan Democrats. Turner is term-limited, this is his last term as mayor. Lina Hidalgo is a 30-year-old political novice, an immigrant from Colombia. Turner, who is African American, is a longtime Texas politician. Hidalgo benefitted from the Democrats’ sweep of Harris County in the last election. Turner has nothing to lose from his partisan behavior. Hidalgo is a darling of Democrats nationwide. She was only 27 years old when she was elected to Harris County’s top political office. Harris County is the third-largest county in the United States and Hidalgo is working hard to turn Texas blue.

Turner and Hidalgo have been vocal opponents to the Texas legislature’s work in reforming election law this session. During the chaos of the 2020 presidential election caused by the pandemic, local leaders went about implementing new ways of accommodating voters. These accommodations are not necessary when there is not a pandemic, though, and many states, including Texas, are strengthening voting laws to clarify what is and isn’t legal. Democrats frame efforts to maintain election integrity as racist. Because, of course, they do.

GHP is taking a pass on issuing official statements of their position on the legislation making its way through the state legislature, despite pressure from Turner and Hidalgo. Frankly, I think it is mostly lead by Hidalgo and Turner joins her hissy fit so as not to be left out. Turner, at one time, used to pretend to want to be the mayor of all Houstonians but Hidalgo came in as a staunch Democrat partisan who envisions a Socialist utopia for the Houston area. She has embraced her inner authoritarian during the pandemic, relishing her newfound power, and keeping Harris County at threat level red though businesses are reopening and Governor Abbott has reopened the state as the pandemic diminishes.

Ten members of the board of directors (out of 100) pressured the group’s top leadership to take a formal position on election reform last month. GHP took a pass on doing that. The ten members then sent a letter to Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan to voice opposition to the proposed legislation. GHP issued a neutral statement on April 1 in support of open and accessible elections. The statement called for both sides of the aisle to work together for free and fair elections. Turner and Hidalgo aren’t having it.

During a Wednesday press conference, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner specifically decried House Bill (HB) 6 and Senate Bill (SB) 7 as attempts to restrict access to voting.

“These bills…would deny, restrict access to the voting booth, [and] literally would allow people to go around, partisan poll watchers, to video people while they are voting with the intent of intimidating people while they are actually voting.”

Turner however rejected characterizations of pending legislation as partisan, saying, “There is nothing partisan in voter suppression.”

Noting that corporations such as American Airlines, Microsoft, and Hewlett-Packard had voiced opposition to the reforms, Hidalgo said, “There’s a group sticking out like a sore thumb for failing to speak up.”

“Right now, voting rights are falling like dominoes in states across the country, from Georgia to Arizona, to right here in Texas, and yet, the largest chamber of commerce in the Houston area is silent.”

Hidalgo added that the legislative proposals were a direct attack on Harris County which had implemented significant changes to election procedures during the 2020 elections.

Turner and Hidalgo want the politicization of businesses to continue. The trend of businesses making public statements and taking stances during political debates is not what the majority of American consumers want, though, and GHP is reading the room. Texans don’t want an airline or a home improvement retailer offering up their hot takes on election integrity laws. Kudos to GHP for standing up to local Democrats demanding the group take sides in a political battle. Its general statement in support of free and fair elections is all that is necessary.

Both Turner and Hidalgo are turning to social media during their tantrums. Just like national Democrats, they misrepresent the legislation, describing it as voter suppression.

Hidalgo added that the legislative proposals were a direct attack on Harris County which had implemented significant changes to election procedures during the 2020 elections.

Some of the changes attempted by the county, such as the mass mailing of unsolicited mail ballots and mail ballot applications, were blocked prior to the election, and one federal court judge expressed doubts about the legality of the county’s drive-thru voting stations leading the interim clerk to close them down before election day.

It is right for states to reform and tighten up the specifics of election law before the next election cycle. Local officials must not be allowed to change procedures in order to go around election law, allegedly for the benefit of targeted communities. Preventing voter fraud and nefarious acts from those who wish to corrupt the voting process must be a top priority for state legislatures.

By canceling their annual speeches, the two top elected officials in the Houston area are signaling that they only wish to support tropes about voter suppression. The speeches are for the business community and the absence of the events this year won’t be noticed by most Houstonians. This is just political theatre, red meat for the far left. Turner and Hidalgo are only too happy to perform for them. They will both deliver their speeches but will choose different venues for them.