DEMOCRACY & VOTING RIGHTS
During the 2020 Presidential election, Ben served as the Director of Innovation for the Harris County Elections Office, where he led the team that built drive thru voting for the 2020 election – a change that made voting safer and more accessible for more than 130,000 people.
The efforts were so successful, Governor Abbott banned the innovation in his voter suppression law last year. But Ben believes our right to vote is sacred, which is why this past July, he marched 27 miles in the scorching summer heat, from Georgetown to Austin, to protest voter suppression.
First steps include requiring all Precinct 4 staff to register as Deputy Voter Registrars and bringing on a full-time staff dedicated to registering voters, particularly high school students and apartment residents, in the Precinct. Ben will also push the new Elections Administrator to develop a “dummy proof” design for applications to vote by mail and mail ballots so that errors are minimized. There must also be wide scale campaigns to educate voters on how to use the new paper ballot machines. To ensure equity in voting, Ben will champion the translation of voter registration forms into more languages and support the polling location in our jail.
There should also be serious consideration of holding elected officials in contempt for those attempting to overturn elections without legal proof. We must send a signal that Harris County will not tolerate attempts to subvert democracy. As County Commissioner, Ben will take every measure to bring the fight to the Republicans by supporting the Elections Administrator’s office in its efforts to maximize voter registration and turnout in every election including local ones.
CORRUPTION, PUBLIC SAFETY, & CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
The near-daily gun shootings and widespread government corruption demand both immediate responses and longer-term investments in addressing the root causes of such crimes.
First, we must rebuild trust in our government institutions to address society’s ills. Widespread instances of local government corruption have undermined public confidence in our institutions. We must ban candidates from accepting pay-to-play campaign donations from companies that do business with the county. To avoid conflicts of interest, elected officials and their staff should be barred from the process of awarding contracts. Transparency should be paramount, so the public can easily access every candidate’s donor information. The County must create an independent Ethics Commission to review contracts for conflicts of interest and root out all forms of waste, fraud, and corruption.
Second, we must prioritize law enforcement resources to stopping gun violence. We must enforce all laws that will remove guns from the hands of criminals and push our state leaders to overturn the harmful permitless carry law that allows criminals easier access to guns. While state law prohibits Harris County from enacting laws that restrict criminals from accessing guns, we should fund proven strategies that reduce gun violence such as the Community Violence Interruption Program (CVIP) and domestic violence gun surrender programs.
Third, reports of catalytic converters and other property thefts are worrisome. We must work closely with businesses and neighborhood leaders to identify and fund strategies to reduce property and vehicle thefts. The County must also develop a comprehensive strategy to target scrap metal companies that purchase stolen catalytic converters such as implementing random spot checks.
Fourth, criminals must know that they will be held accountable for their actions. As such, we must reduce the backlog of violent crime cases and ban cheap bail by mandating a 10% minimum bail bond payment, an increase from current lows of 2%.
Fifth, we must invest in neighborhoods that have been neglected for too long and are the areas where crime occurs most. This means removing blight, improving visibility by installing streetlights, and investing in afterschool programs.
Lastly, we must continue to build trust between law enforcement and communities of color. We must mandate police accountability both on the streets and in the jail, support the public defender’s office, scale the mental health first responder program, address overcrowding in the jail, and end all contact between law enforcement and ICE.
Potholes, broken sidewalks, and littering in many neighborhoods have gotten out of hand. The failure to fix these basic infrastructure needs is a policy choice of neglect.
Harris County must be a partner with the City of Houston to address these concerns. Every neighborhood deserves safe parks and community centers where every person from children to seniors can study, exercise, and play.
In making budgetary decisions, a lens based on equity will be applied to determine the greatest need. As County Commissioner, Ben will get to work on day 1 to ensure our neighborhoods are the vibrant communities we deserve.
FLOODING & CLIMATE CHANGE
Harris County has had 4 major flooding incidents in the past 5 years: 2016’s Tax Day flood and Memorial Day flood, 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, and 2019’s Tropical Storm Imelda. Today, every time there’s a rainstorm, we reflexively worry about whether there will be another catastrophic flood.
Our government must take care of our people in times of disasters while also working to mitigate future disasters. First steps include creating a comprehensive plan to check in on our most vulnerable residents, preparing all public buildings to be ready to serve as temporary shelters when needed, and delivering groceries and water to those in need. To mitigate flooding, we must start with fully funding all flood bond projects in Precinct 4, updating our outdated 100 and 500 year flood maps, regularly clearing debris clogging sewers, removing concrete from bayous, banning construction on floodways, supporting the construction of the Ike dike, and demanding greater transparency for buyers and renters to know the likelihood of flooding in their new homes.
We must also not forget to address the biggest threat of all - climate change. As hurricanes and floods worsen, we must prioritize the creation and implementation of a comprehensive climate action plan that leads to a carbon neutrality by 2040. As Commissioner, Ben will fight to ensure our children and grandchildren get to live the same quality of life, if not better, in this city that we cherish deeply.
CHILD CARE & EDUCATION
Ben admires the work our educators have done, and the real progress they are making in ensuring every student graduates ready for college, the military, and the job market. It is not the County’s role to write the curriculum, program, or community engagement plan. It is, however, to speak up and speak out about opportunities for collaboration and improvement.
First steps include creating a year-round after school jobs program for youth and expanding library and community center hours so students have a place to study and print their homework. Long-term goals include offering universal pre-K for all 3 and 4 year olds and universal wifi throughout Precinct 4. As County Commissioner, Ben will work together with area school districts, teachers, and childcare providers to help them dig out of a pandemic-related crisis that compounded the difficulties in overcoming social and economic conditions.