Turns out the analysts and last-minute polling that predicted a close race were right on the money: with all precincts reporting late Saturday night, Turner was ahead of businessman and former Houston Chronicle columnist Bill King by less than 700 votes in Harris County. And as expected, Saturday’s runoff election saw just a fraction of voters who turned out in November’s general election, when the embattled Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was the hot item on the ballot.
Ever since announcing he’d leave the Texas House, where he served as vice chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Turner was named the clear frontrunner for mayor. In the general election, Turner and King emerged from the crowded field of longtime public figures who entered the race this year, like former Congressman Chris Bell and Adrian Garcia, who stepped down as Harris County Sheriff to run for mayor.
What was perhaps most surprising about the general election was both the serious trouncing HERO took at the polls (61 percent of Houston voters rejected the law) and the fact that King beat out Garcia for a spot on the runoff ballot. (It’s unclear what the future holds for Garcia; his political protégé, Houston City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, just announced that he’d run for Garcia’s old seat as Harris County Sheriff .)
While the seat is technically non-partisan, the race took on such partisan political overtones as Turner, a longstanding star Democrat in the Texas Legislature, faced the right-leaning King. In campaign ads, Turner and his supporters tried to paint King as a staunch conservative, even highlighting a tweet from the candidate bragging about Ted Cruz’s endorsement (King ultimately deleted the tweet). The Texas Tribune warned that Turner's defeat "could endanger Houston's identity as a Democratic-leaning city." Turner was naturally targeted as a longtime liberal, something underscored by President Barack Obama's endorsement on the eve of the election.
Still, there wasn't too much that truly distinguished the candidates from one another—except perhaps for Turner’s public support for a HERO-like non-discrimination ordinance. Still, it’s unclear if or when Turner might take another crack at an equal rights ordinance; in interviews and in candidate forums, Turner has said that he “respects the will of the voters."
In the runoff, much of the race centered on the slow-motion trainwreck headed Houston’s way because of annual, multi million dollar budget shortfalls and the pension stalemate with the firefighters union. While King openly advocated more radical pension reforms—forcing new city hires into a 401k-style defined-contribution plan instead of defined benefits, for instance—Turner has been more vague on how he’d break the détente between the city and firefighters that came to define Parker’s pension reform efforts.