In the Media
By Elizabeth Sander STAFF WRITER
A ballot measure seeking to increase Houston and Harris county representation on regional councils is getting support from city controller candidates.
Chris Hollins, the former Harris County Clerk, expressed his support for the measure Wednesday. His opponent, City Councilmember Dave Martin, in backing the measure. A third candidate for the controller position, however, isn’t so sure.
Proposition B, brought about by nonprofit Fair for Houston, is an attempt to bring increased representation to governing bodies such as the Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC), which siphons federal funds into 13 counties and 100 local governments. The group focuses on regional needs including disaster recovery and transportation. If it passes, the measure would require Houston representatives to exit regional organizations that do not apportion votes based on population. The group has 37 members, with just two Houston representatives, even though Houston and Harris County make up 30% of the region’s population.
“One person, one vote. That’s the basis of our democracy,” Hollins said in a news conference Wednesday. He said that right is being “denied to all Houstonians.”
“As your next City Controller, it will be my job to help solve the fiscal challenges our city faces, and that includes working with other elected leaders to make sure Houston gets every dollar we’re entitled to,” he wrote in an email Wednesday.
Hollins, who has the highest voter intention according to a July University of Houston poll at 37%, would act as the financial watchdog of the city, countering the mayor, if deemed necessary, on financial decisions. Behind him in the polls is Orlando Sanchez, former city councilmember and Harris County treasurer, with 29%, and behind him is District E representative Dave Martin with 19%. Last in the poll was Shannon Nobles with 12%. Nobles did not respond to requests for comment.
Martin agreed with Hollins, citing his vote to pass the measure.
“I’ve been dealing with this for since 2016, with every member of city council, and we’re all fully in support of the ballot initiative,” Martin said.
“We have 2.3 million people that live in the city of Houston and we have 637 square miles of infrastructure that should be treated according to those statistics, instead of one of 107 (cities) or one of 13 (counties),” Martin said. “What happens in Houston has a direct impact on all these other cities and all these other counties.”
After seven years of fighting for more dollars, Martin said the HGAC forced city council’s hand to vote to add the ballot measure.
But not all candidates were quick to endorse. Sanchez, who is running a second time for city controller, said the issue is “a moot point” for the city controller.
“I don’t see any scenario where the controller has any influence on the outcome, the reorganization of HGAC, any amendments to the State Government Code,” Sanchez said. “This is a political decision that’s going to have to be driven by the voters.”
And even if he did take a hard stance, Sanchez wasn’t sure withdrawing from the HGAC is a great idea.
“It just seems to me that this is an ultimatum to HGAC that unless they change their system to proportional population voting, then Houston is out. That generally is not good because then Houston has to go it alone, acquiring grants,” Sanchez said.
He said he believes the goal of the HGAC was to be a regional planning body, and if the proportion of the vote is adjusted, then it would become “Houston-centric,” which might hinder regional cooperation. Houston could still lobby the legislature and congress for additional funding, he added, but with growth in neighboring counties, Sanchez said regional discussions will become even more important.
But Hollins and Martin said that no one should shy away from endorsement.
“A vote for Prop B is a vote for Houston,” Hollins said. “I am calling on every candidate who’s on the ballot this fall … to join me in endorsing Houston Proposition B.”