Rice University students were among the dozens of volunteers campaigning in support of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, a broad anti-discrimination law, on Saturday at the Rally for HERO. Early voting began on Monday, Oct. 19 and Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.
HERO is a measure to protect individuals from discrimination in employment, housing and public spaces based on several characteristics, including race, marital status, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Saturday’s rally was organized by Houston Unites as part of a grassroots effort to pass Proposition 1, or HERO. Volunteers canvassed door to door and called voters, asking them to commit to voting in favor of HERO, as well as helping them plan when they would vote and secure free transportation to the polls.
Martel College senior Kathryn Hokamp became heavily involved with the campaign after experiencing hostile reactions from HERO opponents while volunteering as a canvasser. On Saturday, Hokamp, a former president of Rice Queers and Allies, led a group of canvassers.
“We definitely made some impact [by] educating people about the issues and helping people to remember to vote,” Hokamp said. “The impact may seem small, but we get votes one person at a time, so every little thing we can do matters.”
According to Caroline Duble, Campus Outreach Coordinator for Houston Unites, volunteers spoke with over one thousand voters citywide on Saturday, exceeding the campaign’s goals for the day.
Rice is part of the Greater Houston Partnership, an economic development organization comprised of over 1,200 companies and organizations that has supported HERO since 2014. Rice President David Leebron is among the 44 signatories of a series of full-page advertisements run in the Houston Chronicle paid for by the Business Coalition for Prop 1.
“Rice supports equal rights for all Houstonians,” Rice spokesperson David Ruth said.
According to the Houston Business Journal, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, who recently donated $8 million to Rice, has donated $10,000 to a campaign against HERO. McNair said the proposition should be rewritten to encourage more unity within the community. McNair has since rescinded his donation.
In 2014, the Houston City Council originally passed HERO by an 11-6 vote. Shortly afterwards, opponents of HERO delivered a petition with around 50,000 signatures to City Hall to repeal the ordinance or put it to a vote on the ballot.
City Attorney David Feldman found several technical issues with the petition. Opponents of HERO filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming Feldman had “wrongly determined that they had not gathered enough valid signatures” to trigger a repeal or referendum.
In January, a judge ruled HERO opponents had not collected enough valid signatures. The opponents appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, and the court ruled in July that the Houston City Council must either repeal the ordinance or include it in the November 2015 ballot.
Although recent polls have found that a majority of Houstonians support HERO, Mark Jones, Chair of Political Science at Rice, said he warned against taking the polls at face value.
“You have to be cautious when people say ‘I’m undecided,’” Jones said. “About three quarters of them actually are hidden ‘no’ votes. When you take that into account, the polls suggest that this is really neck and neck.”
Edit: Noted how McNair has since rescinded his donation to HERO opponents.