LAS VEGAS — Weeks after the high-profile defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, Mayor Annise Parker said she doesn’t think anything could have changed the outcome of the vote.
“There are certainly things that we could have done differently,” Parker said. “There are certainly things we could have done better. Do I think there’s anything we could have done to change the outcome? No.”
The mayor made the comments in a brief interview with the Washington Blade after her participation in a panel discussion last week at the Victory Fund’s International Leadership Conference in Las Vegas.
Parker said the timing of the vote in 2015 led to the downfall of the ordinance. When the Houston City Council passed the LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance in May 2014, Parker said the expectation was it would be on the ballot in 2016, a presidential election year more favorable to the measure.
But when the Texas Supreme Court decided to sideline the ordinance in July and instructed the city council to repeal the measure or place it on the ballot in 2015, the situation changed.
Parker said in addition to reversing the decision of lower courts, the Supreme Court made the decision abruptly without affording time for oral arguments.
“They played politics with our rights, and that’s what happens when you elect right-wing reactionaries,” Parker said. “They trampled duly elected local officials and judges at the lower level.”
As a result of the Supreme Court decision, Parker, a lesbian, said the pro-LGBT campaign had months to campaign in favor of the ordinance. Meanwhile, she said the other side had spent a year “raising fears” about the measure.
Close to Election Day, anti-LGBT forces ran a series of TV ads seen as fear-mongering over transgender people using the bathroom consistent with their gender identity, which Parker called “devastating.”
“Once that fear was created, no amount of logic could dislodge it,” Parker said.
Parker spoke with the Blade just after she said on her panel the average age of the Houston voter who cast a ballot was 68. The Houston mayor told the Blade she knows that information based off city information on who participated in the election.
Although Parker emphasized she wasn’t a part of the campaign, she said the business community, the progressive community and minority coalition partners were united behind the ordinance.
Asked about the perception the pro-LGBT campaign didn’t conduct outreach to black and Latino communities in Houston, Parker said she thought the ordinance was polling well with Latinos based on the focus group information she saw, but cautioned against placing emphasis on that vote.
“The Latino vote in Houston is 42 percent of the population, 12 percent of the vote,” Parker said. “You put your money where voters are.”
After the defeat of the ordinance, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin told the Blade LGBT advocates should call on TV stations not to run anti-trans ads like the kind seen in Houston, an idea Parker said she endorses.
“I think there should be a certain level of social responsibility because while they were horrific ads, they were clearly fear-mongering and deliberate lies,” Parker said.
But Parker said the bigger issue was media coverage of the advertisements. According to Parker, the anti-LGBT campaign would run the advertisements on low-rated cable TV, but major media networks would cover the ad on the evening news and say the ordinance would allow men in women’s locker rooms.
“The media doesn’t necessarily amplify that just to sensationalize, and I think they did that in this case,” Parker said.
Parker has said the city council has expressed interest in trying again with the ordinance, but told the Blade she has no idea what it would look like after the defeat or when it would pass, adding that decision would be up to the next mayor.
As she finishes her third and final term as Houston mayor, Parker said she doesn’t “have enough runway” to move forward with the ordinance under her administration. Her remaining time in office, she said, is limited to a run-off election in December and what she called one-and-a-half city council meetings.
“I can see various ways to have to it happen, but it’s going to be up to the next mayor,” Parker said.
Parker had said she wouldn’t support an ordinance that would leave out any of the 15 protected classes, but told the Blade another approach would be to parse the protections, such as having separate pieces for employment or housing, leaving out public accommodations or trying again with the same measure.
She commended the city council in Dallas, which strengthened the gender identity provisions in the city’s existing non-discrimination ordinance after the defeat of the Houston measure.
“It was a bad set of circumstances and a bad hand that we had to play, but that in no way has intimidated the other cities in Texas, and I’m very pleased with that,” Parker said.
With her tenure as mayor coming to an end, Parker opened the door to running for statewide or countywide administrative positions, but categorically ruled out running for a seat in Congress.
“I’m not interested in being a member of Congress,” Parker said. “I’m the CEO of a $5 billion corporation and I make things happen. I don’t wan’t to talk about it; I want to run things.”
Asked if such a statewide administrative position could be the governor’s office, Parker replied, “It could be anything, but that doesn’t happen until 2018, and that’s way off into the future.”