Defeat of HERO signals a campaign cycle of social conservatism ahead for Texas GOP


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick embraces former Harris County GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill following the defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance

The defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance Tuesday night came as a surprise only to those who had paid exactly zero attention to the politics on the ground – and for most of the campaign, the clueless seemed to include much of city leadership.

Prior to and after the vote, many HERO supporters had grumbled that the business community was presented with numerous options that could have blunted a lot of the opposition’s efforts and driven turnout citywide in favor of the ordinance. “Granted, those options were all expensive – but the cost was nothing that the business community isn’t willing to spend in a heartbeat if a stadium referendum is on the ballot,” said one HERO supporter disgusted with the result.

Others were certain that the Democratic coalition was too fractured following Mayor Annise Parker’s move to subpoena the sermons of African American pastors who had spoken out against the ordinance.

When the fight started about a year and a half ago, City Council members like Ellen Cohen said they were largely ignoring the efforts of former Harris County GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill. He helped lead the charge against the ordinance along with archconservative Steve Hotze. By that time, they were already working overtime against it.

“I don’t give him much thought, honestly,” Cohen said of Woodfill at the time. “I don’t think he represents Republican thinking” on non-discrimination, she told Quorum Report. Cohen, a brilliant problem-solving and well-liked former legislator, was incorrect back in June of 2014.

Fast forward to last night when Woodfill was joined at his celebration party by new Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and – as had been predicted by Sen. Paul Bettencourt – Republican Bill King has been propelled into the runoff for Houston mayor along with Rep. Sylvester Turner.

Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and many other Texas Republicans joined in the campaign to defeat HERO.

After it was quite clear what Bayou City voters had decided, Republican Party of Texas Chairman Tom Mechler released a statement saying the vote was what happens “when voters are given a choice to vote their values at the ballot box instead of having unelected judges enact laws upon them.”

“Conservatives from around the country – led by Harris County GOP Chairman Paul Simpson – answered the call to step up and defend Texas values and the results were decisive,” Mechler said. “This election foreshadows a very good 2016 Election Cycle for the Republican Party of Texas.”

You’ll notice Mechler did not mention the “Campaign for Houston,” which had Woodfill as its public face and Hotze as its wallet.

With Woodfill as a “likely” candidate for Mechler’s job at the 2016 RPT Convention in Dallas, the chairman who was installed by the State Republican Executive Committee following the resignation of Steve Munisteri can’t afford to be seen to the left of the former Harris County Chairman.

Woodfill has for years been aligned with Hotze and Patrick and was only unseated as local chairman after an unprecedented push by Republican Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, Texans for Lawsuit Reform Co-Founder Dick Weekley, former RPT Chairman George Strake and others who spent north of $300,000 to help elect challenger Paul Simpson.

Hotze was quite displeased with Gov. Patrick’s performance during this year’s legislative session after anti-gay marriage legislation failed to even make it out of the “more conservative” Texas Senate under its new presiding officer. Patrick has sought to make amends by campaigning against Houston’s equal rights ordinance and now he’s starting to reap the rewards.

Gov. Abbott’s opposition to HERO followed Patrick’s, just as the governor’s call for an end to “sanctuary cities” followed Patrick’s guarantee that such a ban would pass the Texas Senate in 2017. Patrick has since stepped up the pressure on that issue. His office has said the crackdown on illegal immigration would be “fast-tracked” in the Senate during a special session should Abbott call one. Abbott’s shown no interest in that.

Abbott and Mechler are in top jobs now but Patrick and Woodfill are politically ascendant in today’s Texas Republican Party.

Copyright November 04, 2015, Harvey Kronberg,, All rights are reserved. Reprinted with permission. 

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