It has been said that Texas, and more specifically Houston, is the picture of America’s future. What with our increasingly diverse population and strong, service-related economy, there is a lot of truth to this statement, both good and bad. Economically, due mainly to a geographic quirk and business-friendly policies at a state level, Houston is doing fine. It’s a city with a strong job market, affordable housing, and a vibrant cultural scene. However, when it comes to the fiscal and physical health of our public infrastructure, government, and marketplace of ideas, things are not progressing as smoothly.
Diversity, allowed to grow organically, is a good thing. Ideally, the inclusion of people from different cultural backgrounds offers up different opinions, which leads to a more vibrant economic climate and a wider marketplace of ideas. However, what we see in Houston is not true diversity in action. In reality Houston practices an idealized form of limited diversity where different ethnic groups are strongly segregated, their input sanitized, and the marketplace of ideas is staunchly defended from including thoughts that run counter to the accepted dogma. Diversity done The Houston Way doesn’t include dissenting opinions, or options that don’t include new-urbanist ideas that involve expensive (and dangerous) at-grade rail and running down the rabbit hole of public-private hotel spaces designed to draw in conventions destined for Las Vegas or Orlando regardless. Even after the approval for the latest downtown hotel was green-lighted, the convention and business bureau stated that “more will be needed.” In the “approved” marketplace of Houston thought, there is never a problem that can’t be solved through (frequently bad) regulation and the public money catapult. Ideas to the contrary are simply discredited and tossed to the side.
In a series of recent editorials, the Apple Dumpling Gang (the Editorial Board of the Houston Chronicle, who can not only seem not to get it right, but who have a peculiar habit of seemingly getting it intentionally wrong) has been taking a victory lap, praising Metro, while simultaneously giving them credit for something with which they will have no involvement. As an aside, the editorial praise has leaked into their supposed, hard news reporting which is in line with the tenets of their long-ago written rail memo calling for “a series of editorials, editorial cartoons and Sounding Board columns leading up to the rail referendum, with this specific objective: “Continuing our long standing efforts to make rail a permanent part of the transit mix here.”
The Gang has also penned a de facto love letter to Houston First!, whose mission is to increase government expenditures and involvement in private economy in order to advance the “New-Urbanist” dream of Houtopia (a mystical land where the homeless don’t intrude in the play-places of the affluent), has written a call to arms for zoning (which would achieve the goal of relocating the poor from those areas that are attractive to the so-called “creative class”), and has heaped praise on Richard Florida while backing the desire (again) for zoning that would capture Houston’s poor population in designated zones (through the use of “affordable housing”) and ensure that the affluent can ride nice, clean trains to their restaurants, bars and doggie poo parks without having to interact with the great unwashed.
On the other side of the equation? Crickets.
Bill King, the supposed “conservative” contender for Houston’s upcoming 2015 Mayor’s race, has also come into the fold by heaping effusive praise on Metro, which is odd when you consider the financial shape that the organization is in, how poorly they currently manage the transit they have and that they have on the board key decision makers who seemingly do not understand budgets and get distracted by “shiny things.”
All of the above lend credence to the argument that the battle for Houston’s fiscal soul is over, and that the progressive, big-spending crowd have not only won, but that the final result is a rout. Part of the blame lies with the “conservative” opposition. For a long time the fight against overspending was led by a flawed group of characters. Tom DeLay was a powerful rail opponent, but he overreached in some unrelated areas and now finds himself out of politics and more a punch line than a public figure. John Culberson has all but disappeared, and the Harris County Republican Party is busier worrying about infighting and pay-to-play controversies than they are worrying about governing. In short, the Houston establishment conservative movement is nothing more than a Roy Morales/Jared Woodfill dysfunctional sideshow. In place of serious policy we’re left with wars on Christmas and threats of a Blue Texas phantasm that are designed not to educate the voting public on sound financial principles, but to scare the base into voting for the latest ne’er-do-well that’s being placed on the ballot.
Even the politicians that should be leading the charge won’t. Ed Emmett, many times referred to as Houston’s Best Republican has dithered on the Astrodome decision, which has led to much money being wasted on the dilapidated hulk. Dan Patrick is on more of a personal quest for power and income than he is governing with the area’s best interest in mind, while the rest of the local conservative movement seem to be on the sidelines wringing their hands wondering how it all got to this point.
How bad is it? Well, based on a recently released “name ID” poll for the Houston Mayor’s race in 2015 (strangely, not available online and the media reporting of it has been deleted) the leader in the clubhouse is Chris “Perennial Candidate” Bell. Long-term it means that, as stated previously, the war for Houston’s fiscal soul is over. The progressive, sardine-urbanist crew has won, resoundingly. Congratulations to them, but it seems for the entire world that the devolution of Houston into a segregated, difficult to navigate, decaying mess is going to proceed apace. With no meaningful opposition to speak of, no watchdog reporting, and no clearinghouse where locals can debate a wide range of ideas, the future is bleak indeed.
A picture of America future? We had better hope not, but I’m afraid that it’s becoming more and more likely to be the case.