Saturday, August 02, 2008

Harris County voters won't see jail bond vote this November; Tyler will

While Smith County (Tyler) voters will vote on proposed jail bonds in November for the third time in as many years, in Houston the Harris County Commissioners Court wisely declined to subject voters to a second jail bond election this November, suggesting they may ask again next May or even sometime beyond that. Reported the Houston Chronicle ("Jail bond issue likely to miss ballot," Aug. 2):

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."

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.

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.

1 comment:

Ron in Houston said...

I guess it's time to start turning "out" the lame brained people who keep proposing the same thing that got turned down last time.