Once upon a time it seemed that the seven-candidate mayoral race would be the one everyone would really watch closely on election night, but that was before Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance ended up on the ballot as City of Houston Proposition 1. Now, election day is finally here, and it looks as if HERO is going to be the star of the show.
For those who have been living under a rock, HERO is the equal rights ordinance that Mayor Annise Parker ushered into existence in 2014. The ordinance is designed to protect all kinds of people from being discriminated against in everything from employment to housing to public accommodations based on race, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity and a whole slew of other factors. In addition to being designed to protect against discrimination, the ordinance was also set up to allow quick legal action for those who experience discrimination.
However, despite the fact that the ordinance was designed to prevent many different types of discrimination, the anti-HERO folks almost immediately locked onto one particular angle with the ordinance: that transgender women would have the right to use women's restrooms. Why? Because they're convinced that "troubled men," as former Astros star Lance Berkman described them, will use the ordinance to dress up as women in order to attack women in public restrooms.
After Berkman's anti-HERO ad came out, Parker hit back on Twitter against his claims that HERO could put his wife and four daughters at risk in Houston's public bathrooms:
As soon as the law was passed by the city council last year, the anti-HERO groups started signing petitions and doing everything they could to repeal the ordinance or at least get it on the ballot for a vote. After lots of legal back-and-forth, the Texas Supreme Court ultimately decided back in July that the ordinance had to be put to a vote as City of Houston Proposition 1, and since then it's become the issue at the heart of this election.
(Keep in mind when voting that there are actually a number of different items called "proposition 1" on the ballot. The Texas Constitutional Amendment section Proposition 1 has to do with changing the homestead exemption on public school taxes ad valorem, while Harris County's Proposition 1 is about county road improvement bonds. If you go to the polls to vote on HERO, you're looking to vote for City of Houston Proposition 1, specifically.)
The thing is, it's looking less than certain that voters will uphold HERO. Sure, the polls going into the election showed voters leaning in favor of approving HERO, but a lot of people have already cast their ballots in early voting — about 133,000 voted early or by mail, according to the Houston Chronicle. Normally that would be a good thing, since it means people are actually voting in a non-presidential election year, but in this case it could actually be a sign that HERO will be defeated. As Texas Monthly pointed out, HERO's success will hinge on younger, socially progressive types getting out and voting, but so far it looks as if the increase in early voting turnout is coming from the more conservative enclaves like Kingwood, Memorial and Clear Lake, and the voters are generally skewing older. Meanwhile, the youngsters, the ones more likely to vote in favor of HERO, have barely shown up at the polls at all.
So there's a lot at stake on this Election Day. The mayoral race — composed of Sylvester Turner, Adrian Garcia, Ben Hall, Bill King, Steve Costello, Chris Bell and Marty McVey — will be mildly interesting, but it will almost definitely end up in a runoff. Yet the real show will play out as voters decide whether to approve HERO or to vote it down. If HERO is rejected at the polls, Houston will go in one fell swoop from being the first large city to elect an openly gay mayor to being the only large city in Texas without an equal rights ordinance.
Ultimately, no matter which way the electorate votes on this, it'll be national news. The fate of Proposition 1 has been on the political radar for months. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted her support for the ordinance a few days ago.
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Then the day before the election, Gov. Greg Abbott sent out a tweet encouraging opposition to the ordinance, declaring there should be "no men in women's bathrooms."
So yeah, it's election day, and by the time it's over, we'll either be known as the type of city that has an equal rights ordinance or we'll be the type of city that voted an equal rights ordinance down.