Rock the Vote Texas secondary when it comes to primaries

October 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Houston, do I have a deal for you. We shall wag the dog and call the shots. Yes, you too, Mr., Mrs. or Miss Occupant, can determine who next shall lead our nation into humiliation. It has to do with elections. Don’t change channels! We are talking how to turn big bucks on picking the president.

Each state is vying to hold its presidential primary earlier than any other so it can be the king- (or queen-) maker for the rest of America. This makes sense. We all like power. But Texas is always late in these contests, so no one cares for who we vote or who wins our primaries.

We are a nonentity, with less influence in picking presidents than voters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or…I can’t think of a town in New Hampshire but there must be one. Houston held hostage, Year 2007.

If the candidates don’t care about our votes, they certainly care about our money. Texas in general, and Houston in particular, are cash cows for the polls. During the campaigns hardly a week goes by that some Oval Office-seeker doesn’t come through town telling a private party of fat cats, “I hope I can count on your support,” which is secret code for, “Show me the money.” But the wannabe leaders rarely spend a dime of it here.

Well, I am tired of being used and ignored, and, as usual, I have the prefect solution. We hold the Houston Primary.

Hey, don’t laugh. We would poll Houstonians on who we want to be the next president. It may not be legally binding but will be just as significant as the Iowa Caucus (not to mention its straw vote) and more important than the New Hampshire Primary.

Here’s why. Demographically speaking, Harris County is a much better reflection of the rest of America. This, in turn, means any sampling taken here would be more accurate than polling in the forests of northern New England and the wheat fields of the Midwest.

New Hampshire has a population of 1,299,500 which breaks down to 96 percent white, 1.7 percent Hispanic, and 0.7 percent black. Iowa, with a population of 2,954,451, is 93 percent white, 2.8 percent Hispanic and 2.1 percent black. Any primary taken in those two states — 96 and 93 percent white — is akin to polling Tanglewood — or the Republican Party. In contrast, Harris County’s population now stands at 3.9 million, which is 37 percent white, 38 percent Hispanic and 18 percent black. The county also has an Asian population of 5.3 percent. Both New Hampshire and Iowa have Asian populations of 1.3 percent, which translates, so to speak, into several good restaurants and most of their PhDs.

One final comparison to show how we come out ahead: mottos. New Hampshire’s is, “Live free or die.” This means the state has no jails but is enthusiastic about capital punishment. There is no in-between. Iowa’s motto is, “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain,” which must be hard to get on the bottom of a license plate. On the other hand, Houston’s motto is either “Where 22 railroads meet the sea,” “Houston Proud,” “Houston’s Hot,” “Expect the Unexpected” or the unforgettable, “SpaceCity. A Space of Infinite Possibilities.” Need I say more?

I now unveil our battle plan on how to go to the head of the crass. We announce that the Houston Primary will be the first presidential poll in the election, period. We may hold it in late November, after Thanksgiving Day when the Longhorns out-poll the Aggies; or maybe early December; but not on Dec. 7. Otherwise political junkies will begin their stories with, “A disaster hit the (fill in the blank) campaign fittingly on Pearl Harbor Day when….” It also gives the visiting corps of journalists a chance to write, again and again, “Houston we have a problem.”

“There is not time enough for planning,” you say. Oh, ye of little faith, all the campaigns are running around the countryside as it is. Do they go to South Carolina on Monday or Florida for lunch? This is Thursday, it must be Iowa. Without question, the moveable feast can adjust, as they do hourly. Houston can be added to the top of the list. We’re on first.

Soon the candidates, the press, the spin doctors and volunteer child labor will pour into our town, filling the hotel rooms, renting cars, eating at our restaurants and spending millions on ads. Every moment on local TV stations will be saturated with the smiling faces of the candidates to the point where we can find the mute button in our sleep. (During the last statewide elections, Belo Corp. reported a spike in fourth quarter earnings strictly because of campaign ads on its Texas TV stations.) So after all these years, donated dollars from Des Moines and from some unknown village in New Hampshire will come our way, a total reversal of previous campaigns.

Ah, you ask, but would the Houston Primary carry enough weight and be influential enough that even Dennis Kucinich would campaign here? Yes, if there is a Greyhound bus heading to Houston. The Iowa straw poll attracted exactly 14,302 voters, or about the same number of people who attend Dynamo games, and was about as exciting. But that meaningless Iowa tabulation generated a ton of attention for the winner, Mitt Romney, followed by oodles of contributions for his campaign. Romney dropped $4 million in Iowa. Just think what he would spend here in an earlier and far more influential race.

There is another advantage, unspoken but true. During that time of year, Houston has much better weather. As it is now, a candidate can get frost-bitten waiting at New Hampshire factory gates at 4 a.m. for the workers to show up. Same for stalking the corn stalks in Iowa to shake hands with the dairy farmers who get up at midnight. And the press trailing behind, always a whiney bunch anyway, actually has grounds for complaints.

But in Houston, there would be none of that nomadic and freezing life. All of those involved stay in a hotel, wake up in the same bed for a couple of weeks (politics does, indeed, make for strange bedfellows), order room service and sign the tab at the hotel bar while figuring out how to hide it on their expense accounts. None of this exhausting plane-and-pizza life.

Also, as with our people being more of a true reflection of America, those who would be president will get a real taste of we-the-people and our problems. Forget the photo ops at the Minneapolis bridge, try negotiating the Katy Freeway-Sam Houston Tollway intersection on those weekends when TxDOT closes both. We’d see a nice increase in appropriations for highway construction.

Global warming and pollution? Go down Clinton Drive. (OK, bad choice for a name) and take a deep breath. How are we treating our veterans? There are 220,000 vets in Harris County, more than in any other county in Texas. They’ll be glad to inform you about their situations. What would you do about immigration control, candidate? We have 1.48 million Hispanics in Harris County. Some of them can’t vote, so who cares? I’ll tell you who cares. The Hispanics who can vote, that’s who. And what are you going to do about crime? We’ve got 10,000 inmates in our county jail plus another 300 in the city jail. That’s reaching the number who voted in the Iowa straw poll.

The front-running primary states are fine, no doubt. Iowa and New Hampshire may leap-frog over all the others to maintain their status quo or otherwise. But we could do the nation, the candidates, the media and the camp followers a real service by holding the nation’s first presidential primary right here in Houston.

Let’s wag the dog.

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