‘End Pay to Play’ petition fails without adequate number of signatures

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A petition aimed at limiting campaign contributions from city contractors and supported by mayoral candidate Bill King ended unsuccessfully July 9.

“We didn’t make it, but we are not abandoning this effort,” King said in a statement. “I am committed to keep collecting signatures so that l can get this on the ballot when I am in the mayor’s office.”

An organizer with the End Pay to Play PAC that organized the petition said the group will continue to collect signatures.

“We are grateful for the hundreds of grassroots volunteers who helped the effort with not a single paid petitioner,” petition organizer Ben Thompson said. “The PAC plans to continue collecting signatures to raise awareness of the issue with hopes to get it on the ballot or in front of council in the future.”

The petition was at the center of a lawsuit filed by direct democracy advocacy group, Accelevate 2020, who wanted to help circulate the petition but could not because its organizers are not registered voters in Houston.

Houston’s current city charter currently only allows voters registered in the city of Houston to circulate an initiative and referendum petition such as the End Pay to Play petition. A successful initiative and referendum petition goes before City Council and can be adopted by City Council or recommended for a citywide vote.

The legally embattled Proposition B, which was approved by voters in November and mandates equal pay between firefighters and police officers, was a charter amendment petition. These petitions can be circulated by out-of-state circulators, and if it they receive enough signatures, automatically go before a citywide vote. Representatives of Accelevate 2020 argued the requirements for referendum and initiative petitions should not differ from charter amendment petitions, Accelevate 2020 Partner Trent Pool said.

A federal district judge granted a temporary restraining order July 2 allowing out-of-state petitioners to participate in Houston’s initiative and referendum petition process.

“After the TRO was granted we were able to circulate for a couple of days, but wish we could have been involved sooner and made more of an impact. We are confident we will ultimately prevail in our suit and no longer be unconstitutionally barred from participating in drives in Houston in the future,” Pool said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said he believes the failure of the petition reflects a public sentiment that campaign contributions are not a primary concern.

“I have not seen any problems. I think that whole movement was more political than substantive,” Turner said. “Let’s focus on real issues and real needs.”

Editor’s note: this post has been updated for clarity.

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Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered health care and public education in Austin.
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