The Chronicle ran a predictable editorial on Friday blasting recent comments by Jared Woodfill, Harris County Republican Chair.
What was predictable about the Chron's editorial was not that it blasted Woodfill. Rather, it's that the Chronicle editorialists denied that political perspective has any role to play in policy formation:
Houston's nonpartisan municipal elections were designed from the start to keep partisan ideology and antagonism at bay. Mobility, garbage collection, parks and libraries defy pigeonholing by party. There is no Republican sewer line, no Democratic pothole. Opposing a solution just to score points against the official proposing it hurts everyone who lives in the city.
We agree with that last sentence. However, that's not the same as saying political ideology can't inform and lead to very different policy choices.
As we pointed out in our own criticism of Jared Woodfill, the problem wasn't so much Woodfill's criticism of councilmembers generally regarded as Republicans as the fact that the Harris County Republican Party has not itself been much of an advocate for conservative solutions to municipal problems. We characterized Mayor White's approach to municipal government as technocratic-progressive, and suggested that policy formation in the city certainly might benefit from a more vigorous conservative counterweight to some of the mayor's proposals -- but that, unfortunately, Woodfill's GOP hadn't been particularly helpful in that regard.
Later in the editorial, the Chronicle asserts,
The chairman did not explain how towing disabled cars off the freeway to keep traffic moving qualified as a liberal idea.
Woodfill hasn't provided a good explanation, but the mayor's original SAFEclear program is a perfect example of his general technocratic-progressive approach. It was crafted in part by unaccountable "experts" like Czar Saperstein and Bob Stein. It was crafted to raise $1 million in new revenue for the city (effectively growing the size of city government) by creating anti-competitive, anti-market SAFEclear exclusive tow zones, even though citizens weren't especially aware of this plan to grow revenue. And it created a new set of rules and regulations that required significant revision after many glitches on the first day of operation, as is true of many heavy-handed governmental programs created from thin air by technocrats.
Instead of the customer-friendly government the mayor promised, his original SAFEclear program was a draconian, anti-competitive, technocratic, revenue-enhancing "solution" to a problem that had not previously been on anybody's radar. Revisions to the program since then -- brought about by public outrage and threats from the legislature -- have made the program more palatable, but there certainly was a conservative case to be made against it in its original state. That case just wasn't made by Jared Woodfill.
Still, if the Chronicle editorialists are determined to lecture on the evils of partisanship in municipal government and want to be evenhanded, we'd like to point to this reporting from Kirsten Mack:
Mayor Bill White made his second appearance in Austin in as many weeks Wednesday.
During a three-hour visit to the capital, White met with state Sens. John Whitmire and Mario Gallegos, both D-Houston, and Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, who chairs the Intergovernmental Relations Committee where most of the city's business is heard. He also met with Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston.
He made a quick trip to Austin last week to negotiate a deal that led Whitmire to drop his opposition to White's Safe Clear mandatory freeway towing program.
But the mayor has yet to hold one-one-one meetings with all 32 members of the local delegation, and some legislators have complained that the mayor has been too much a stranger during the session.
"It's not our intention to ever slight any member," White said. "Every member is important to us."
It seems that members with a D beside their name are more important than others, however. We look forward to an editorial from the Chron encouraging Houston's nonpartisan mayor to represent the interests of Houston to Democrats AND Republicans in Austin.