The Political Campaigns of Harris County, Texas: A Historical and Modern Perspective

Learn how presidential candidates can use lessons from Harris County's history to inform their political campaigns today.

The Political Campaigns of Harris County, Texas: A Historical and Modern Perspective

Houston, Texas is a vibrant and ever-evolving political landscape, due to its status as one of the fastest-growing major cities in the United States. Many local legislators have been affected by the city's term limits, with several former city officials such as Anthony Hall, Rodney Ellis, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Sylvia Garcia, Martha Wong, Chris Bell, Annise Parker, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, Adrian Garcia, Ed Gonzalez, and Mike Sullivan deciding to run for other elected positions either shortly before or after their terms expired. The city is divided into municipal districts and superneighborhoods within district boundaries such as Acres Homes, Fifth Ward, and George Bush Intercontinental Airport. The Office of Emergency Management coordinates the city's emergency response and maintains the AlertHouston notification system.

Other important buildings include the Bob Lanier Public Works Building, municipal courts, the Center Health Department in Northside Health and Human Services, the administrative building of the downtown Houston airport system near George Bush Intercontinental Airport, and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department headquarters. Labor Day is also a great time to reflect on Houston's history and how it relates to current events. Imagine if both presidential candidates could go back in time and replay the events of the past - you'd be surprised to see how this unique presidential race to the White House resembles some colorful fragments of Houston history. Here are three ways that presidential candidates and their political campaigns could learn from our Texas ancestors. The Houston story shows that while promises often work, so do bribes.

In the 1830s, 16 cities competed for the designation of capital of what is now Texas. John Kirby Allen and his brother launched a vigorous political campaign to build their speculative city - which they wanted to name Sam Houston after the leader of the Texas Army - despite it existing only on paper. In the fourth ballot, Allen managed to convince two legislators to change their electoral votes in exchange for attractive municipal lots in front of the proposed congressional pavilions. It later became known that Allen not only bribed them but also gave Sam Houston an entire apple orchard.

To sweeten their offer even further, they promised to erect a capitol building on their own. From 1837 to 1839, Houston served as the capital. In today's electoral college, only one state can tilt an election which is why political candidates are targeting fewer than a dozen states that are battlegrounds. More than a century ago however, a total of votes with a very small margin decided who won. In 1837, Houston's first municipal election attracted few political maneuvers as its first citizens were too busy cleaning lots and building a place to live - they cast just 31 votes with James Holman winning by one vote over Francis Lubbock who later became governor of Texas. New bills passed by Texas legislators target the way elections are conducted in Harris County where Houston is located.

Republican state legislators approved measures that specifically focus on how elections are conducted in Harris County during the recently concluded session of the Texas Legislature. The Harris County story shows that John Allen used shrewd political campaign strategies similar to those used in this year's presidential race - Greg Abbott would eliminate the position of county elections administrator and allow the Secretary of State appointed by the governor to oversee elections in Harris County under certain circumstances. Houston has become one of the most ethnically diverse cities in America with immigrants from all over the world adding a unique dimension to its politics. This was particularly true when John Allen's political campaign was supported by a powerful group of promoters and agitators informally known as 8F group (named after their meetings in 8F suite of Lamar Hotel).Political campaigns today can learn from Houston's past by understanding how promises can be used effectively as well as how bribes can be used strategically. Candidates should also be aware that even small margins can decide an election and that targeting battleground states is essential for success.

Finally, candidates should recognize that diversity can be an asset when it comes to garnering support for their campaigns.

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