Another Mayoral Forum, another opportunity missed by the candidates to distinguish themselves from each other. This forum was geared toward young Latino voters; it was obvious from the packed auditorium and the questions directed to the candidates. There was a unique characteristic of this forum, as compared to many others that I have attended, in that candidates listened to compelling personal accounts from pre-selected audience members regarding a topic before being asked a question germane to the story.
The Emerging Latino Leaders Fellowship, Mi Familia Vota – Texas, Hispanic Association for Cultural Enrichment at Rice (HACER), Student Government Association at University of Houston Downtown and Young Invincibles hosted the Houston Mayoral Candidate Forum at Rice University.
Although six candidates were invited, only five were present. Sylvester Turner, Marty McVey, Ben Hall, Adrian Garcia, and Chris Bell spent the early morning just before lunch to discuss issues regarding police brutality, college tuition, employment opportunities, immigration, and Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).
“It is dangerous to indict a group of people based on the actions of one.” – Sylvester Turner The first question regarding police brutality was interesting because all the candidates tiptoed through a complex question in light of recent events regarding the heinous killing of a law enforcement officer in Houston. The candidates were sure to express support for the police officers. Chris Bell stated he believed in “community policing” and is an advocate for body cameras because he thinks they protect citizens and they protect law enforcement officers. Marty McVey proposed monetary incentives to law enforcement officers living in the community they serve. None of the candidates set forth an agenda or policy that would address current issues regarding police brutality. Only McVey and Bell offered a glimpse of their potential policy regarding public safety. Hall suggested audience members visit his website to learn more about his position. A cursory review of his website does not actually address the question asked, but it does shed light on his stance regarding public safety.
The question regarding the rising costs of college tuition and employment opportunities was the first time I realized how out of touch the candidates are in regards to college debt. I do not blame them. For the most part, most graduated from college about thirty (30) years ago. It was frustrating to listen to their responses. Ben Hall touted paying off his student loan debt in five years. Sylvester Turner reminded students that, “life is not fair.” Although to be fair, Turner did claim to fight for financial aid for students and against tuition deregulation.
“All building a 10-foot wall will do is create a giant market for 11-foot ladders” – Chris Bell The third question regarding immigration was the best because of the personal stories shared before the question. Although, this question seemed to take a direct hit on Adrian Garcia regarding his enforcement of 287(g) as Harris County Sheriff, he was able to side-step the issue and claimed to support comprehensive immigration reform. In fact, all the candidates were on board the comprehensive immigration reform train. 287(g) allows trained local law enforcement officials to conduct immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions. In Harris County, this usually takes place when a suspect is booked after being arrested regardless of culpability. Some defendants then have an immigration hold placed, which results in deportation. Garcia has become a pro at answering this line of questioning. McVey reminded the audience that within the first 100 days of office he would issue city identification cards to undocumented aliens. Chris Bell had the quote of day regarding ladders.
The final question was on HERO. No surprise, all the candidates except for Ben Hall were in support of HERO. Ben Hall took the time to jump on his soapbox and claim that the reason he did not support HERO was because it was bad law and it poorly written; he adds that it tramples on the 5th Amendment. Hall must have forgotten that the executive branch does not get to decide if a law is good or bad; it is the sole responsibility of the judiciary. At times, it felt that Hall was running an opposition campaign to HERO more than an actual Mayoral race.
At the end of the day, there was no game changer. All the candidates played it safe. No one candidate called out another for his disingenuous answers. It remains to see how long this civility will continue before jabs are thrown. The field is crowded. It is only a matter of time before it starts to become dirty.