The biggest barrier to Harris County jail building isn't having enough time to convince the voters about the plan, of course, but how to time the vote for an election cycle that will have low turnout, particularly in black and Latino-dominated areas of Houston which killed the jail bonds last year. The same voters will likely come out in force for Barack Obama which would ensure jail bonds defeat. Similarly, even next May such voters may have stakes in city elections that drive them to the polls. Look for commissioners to put the proposal on a ballot next November or beyond in a low-turnout election when no major candidate races are in the mix and conservative voters in the western part of the county hold more sway.
Although a bond proposal was discussed at last week's meeting and is on the agenda for Tuesday's session, County Judge Ed Emmett and two commissioners said Friday they are not ready to bring a new measure to the electorate. Voters rejected the original $245 million plan last November by a 51-49 margin.
Emmett and Commissioners Sylvia Garcia and Steve Radack each had their own reasons for wanting to delay a vote, from desiring further studies of the overcrowding issues at the jail to complaints over the city of Houston's contributions to the joint project.
But the reality is the county would have a difficult time getting the bond approved in an election where black and Hispanic voters are expected to head to the polls in droves amid intense scrutiny of the local criminal justice system, political analysts said.
Opposition from those groups was one major reason the proposal failed in 2007, they said.
"At this point, it is difficult to imagine how the county would sell the bond to the voters," said Franklin Jones, a Texas Southern University political scientist.
A second loss at the polls would seriously hamper the county's ability to move forward with building a facility the Sheriff's Office has deemed crucial for dealing with mentally ill inmates and those staying behind bars a short time.
"The worst thing we could do is to hurriedly put it on and get defeated a second time," Garcia said. "I think that would hurt us in the long term."
In Tyler, they've already suffered through the ignominious blunder of losing unpopular jail bond elections two years running, but apparently stubborn officials there plan to keep trying until they get what they want.