HOUSTON—Eight of Houston’s 13 mayoral candidates answered questions about the city’s homeless, taxes, mayoral power, fiscal responsibility and the controversial pro-LGBT ordinance during a forum presented by the Houston Area Pastors Council as a means of vetting the candidates for the upcoming November election.
“That was our first objective of the day, to find where they are on these issues. Are these convictions, preferences or … political leanings? And ultimately who’s the best candidate?” said Dave Welch, HAPC executive director.
The candidates were divided into two groups and asked the same questions in two separate sessions by a panel of four pastors closely involved in the Equal Rights Ordinance repeal effort. A local news reporter moderated the Sept. 17 forum hosted by Houston’s First Baptist Church. About 200 pastors and civic leaders attended the event.
The first session panelists—Rafael Munoz, Victoria Lane, Demetria Smith and Dale Steffens—touted what they would do as mayor, including end corruption, end discrimination and get the city’s finances in order.
Responses from the second panel of Chris Bell, Ben Hall, Bill King and Marty McVey revealed a divergence of views, especially on the divisive Equal Rights Ordinance, which gives civil rights status to individuals based on their gender identity and sexual orientation and is up for public vote in November.
Opposition to the ordinance is based, in part, on the presupposition that male sexual predators could take advantage of the law to gain access to women and children in public facilities. Bell and McVey, who support the ordinance, dismissed the notion.
McVey said, “I grew up in church, and I love the Lord. But I will not stand in judgment of another human being.”
Bell, an attorney and Episcopal Sunday School teacher, asked the pastors where a transgender woman (a man presenting himself as a woman) was supposed to use the bathroom? But when pressed by the TEXAN after the forum to consider how women and children would feel under the same circumstances in the women’s bathroom, Bell dismissed the questioned as being a non-issue.
But Hall, an ordained minister and former Houston city attorney, adamantly disagreed.
“Not only does [a man] have the right under this ordinance to go into the restroom, but he has the legal protection not to be removed from the restroom,” Hall said. “[He] has not only the right to sit right next to you on your bench but to watch you as you’re undressing as well as go in the shower with you. No one can insist that he be removed.”
He said Harris County has 8,425 registered sex offenders and, turning to Bell, added, “You can’t play politics with people’s public safety.”
King, who admitted he had not paid much attention to the yearlong legal battle over the ERO until the Texas Supreme Court ruled in July, called the law “troubling” and, although he opposes discrimination, said, “this law goes too far.”
Asked whether an unborn child has protections afforded all citizens under the 14th Amendment, the four major candidates noted Roe v. Wade was the law of the land. However, Hall and King said they believe life begins at conception. Hall said he would support defunding Planned Parenthood.
McVey and Bell support abortion on demand.
The candidates also agreed that a restrictive no-feeding ordinance established under Parker should be rescinded or revised allowing churches and other charities to feed Houston’s homeless population.