Rasberry's referendum hopes were dashed when the city threw out petition signatures.
Rasberry's referendum hopes were dashed when the city threw out petition signatures.
Deron Neblett

Agony of the Ages

Cary Rasberry is 19, old enough to exercise that most serious and awesome responsibility of all those living where he does: voting for the City Council -- nay, even the mayor -- of Tomball, Texas.

Such an overwhelming task might weigh on the shoulders of even the strongest teen. (Or even adults: Only 53 of Tomball's 4,800 registered voters cast a ballot in the most recent municipal election.) But Rasberry wants more. He wants not only to vote for those who rule Tomball. He wants to be one of those who rule.

Alas, he cannot. The founding fathers of Tomball, in whatever wisdom they could muster, deemed that no one who had not yet attained the age of 21 could possibly have the requisite experience, judiciousness and gravitas to make decisions affecting the 6,700 souls who live in the suburb carved out of the forest north of Houston.

Accept that limitation with a shrug, and spend the next three years quietly plotting electoral strategy? That is not Cary Rasberry's way. With the heedless impetuousness of youth -- or at least all the heedless impetuousness of a youth who likes to spend his spare time volunteering as a high school debate coach -- Rasberry has decided to take on The (Tomball) Establishment.

So far, the establishment is winning.

Rasberry approached the council members in August, he says, asking them to hold a special election in January to lower the age of officeholders to 18. That would mean he could run for office in the municipal election next May.

But holding a special election would cost the city $4,000, officials told Rasberry. It would be much cheaper to hold the referendum in conjunction with the regularly scheduled May vote.

That would mean, of course, that Rasberry would be ineligible to run in May.

Gently settle for that patronizing rebuke? That is not Cary Rasberry's way. With the fevered passion of a rebel -- or at least all the fevered passion that could be mustered by a part-time pharmacy technician who has served as a teen court judge -- Rasberry sprang into action.

He spent $5 for a copy of the city budget. He had someone he knew look at it. "My analyst tells me that the city operates with a budget of $23 million to $25 million, and there's a $7 million or $8 million surplus," Rasberry says. "My analyst tells me that $4,000 will not put a dent in that budget."

Thus emboldened with facts -- the sword and shield of any political warrior -- Rasberry took to the streets. He was told he needed 263 signatures to force a referendum. He stood outside City Hall for 12 hours on Election Day, November 7, and he got 275 signatures.

He later found out he needed only 207, and that he had 216 that were valid.

But upon further review, he found out the establishment is not to be messed with. About half of the 216 signatures were tossed out because the signers had not included the word "Tomball" when writing their address. Even putting down ditto marks would have counted, but Rasberry's petition was sadly bereft of even indentations that might have been considered a writer's intent to make dittos.

Deadlines for holding a January election -- the only election date available before the May general election -- made it all but impossible even for the indefatigable Rasberry to mount another petition drive.

Give up? That is, of course, not Cary Rasberry's way. He's taking his plea again to the city council, asking them to set a January election. "I will tell them it will behoove them to go with the voice of the people."

The outlook is grim, however. Tomball Mayor Hap Harrington deigned not to talk to the Houston Press. But the Magnolia Potpourri newspaper has been on this story like stink on -- no, like the pleasant aroma emanating from its namesake. It quoted Mayor Harrington as saying, "I don't see any use in spending the money to have the special election."

Rasberry, a lifelong Tomball resident who commutes to Sam Houston State University, remains eager to run for the mayor's job. He doesn't exactly have an all-encompassing view of how to improve Tomball, but lack of a "vision thing" certainly has not stopped other politicians.

"I certainly don't want to run because of dissatisfaction with the mayor or city council," he says. "I'm not trying to do it to change City Hall. If I could run [in May], I would then come up with a platform on how I think we should run the city."

He also declines to give a political party affiliation.

What drives this man? Consider this: Rasberry is someone who made a movie for the government class at Tomball High School, a movie "on the virtues of voting."

Such a man naturally would be horrified when only 53 votes were cast in Tomball's last city election. Sure, both incumbents on the ballot were unopposed, but only 53 people?

"I thought something should be done about that," Rasberry says. "My slogan became "I Want to Stir Up Politics in Tomball.' "

Despite his petition setback, he stirred up politics. And the city council and mayor likely have not heard the last from this fighter. He will storm the barricades one day. For that is Cary Rasberry's way.


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