Transitioning from observer to neophyte participant has been an eye opening experience for me. Often in business, science, and politics we have an idea about why a particular situation exists. So as our neighborhood was merged into one of the two, new city council districts, I had a simple idea. I felt strongly that we would find ourselves in an economically and politically weak district, with little leverage to influence government to provide our fair share of resources. But what data and evidence supports this theory?
The lack of city wide incumbents who participated in our civic association candidate forum was a barometer of our political influence. Historical election data at the precinct level also provides a clue, and voter participation in the recent three way race for District J is a large indicator. Fewer votes were cast in J in the 2011 general than in any other district (barely 4000), with the CM winner getting less than 2800 votes. Meanwhile, our neighbors in District C cast more than 21,000 votes, five times as many as we did. But the hard evidence of weakness presents itself in the 2012+ Capital Improvement Project (CIP) list. District J currently has $40 million in projects scheduled (and proposed) over the next five years, second to last behind the District E (Kingwood), while over $330 million is in the plan for District H. We are not even in the ball game folks!
For those that need a little more proof, consider the lack of resident participation at the recent CIP meeting held in March for District J. The audience was overwhelmingly City of Houston staff, with less than a handful of residents in attendance. Have our neighbors simply given up trying to communicate with City Hall? My question about the lack of turn lanes and poor conditions at the Beechnut-Gessner intersection was rebuffed, with the Public Works Official declining to address my main concern. Then he directed me to ask a follow up after the meeting rather than giving me a chance to clarify publicly. There were only TWO questions and the meeting was finished in barely an hour, so no excuse for the push off. CM Laster graciously recalled me to the microphone so I could clarify my question and the reply was predictable. PW&E knows that this project has been requested every year, year after year, but there will be no changes or improvements. Why would City Officials be concerned about our community when there is little potential political repercussion for ignoring us? We simply have no clout.
However, the situation may not be as bad as you think. Our voter registration rate exceeds the city wide average by a reasonable margin, so we actually have a large number of registered voters in District J. We do lack voters who will show up and cast a ballot. The At-Large and Mayoral candidates know this, and just give us little attention, if any at all. This is not a criticism of those who seek or hold elected office, it’s just the reality of the current situation.
We don’t need to worry with new voters, with over 45,000 registered voters (RVs) and sufficient turnout, we have the potential to swing any city wide election. If we were able to sufficiently organize and motivate an additional 20% of RVs to participate, we could not only influence, but we could swing every city wide initiative, not the least of which is the race for Mayor. That my neighbors is clout, and we’ll be well on our way to improving our community.
I’m ready to start, will you join me?