Commentary: Reagan Reed
Early voting is in full swing to determine the fate of The Woodlands. The decision of whether the township should incorporate into a city or remain under its current unique system of governance is perhaps the most important question facing the community since it was first conceived by George Mitchell. The stakes are high, but unfortunately, the acrimony is rising even higher.
In the interest of full disclosure, I do not live in The Woodlands and never have. However, I do work there and frequent its many wonderful businesses. I truly believe it is one of the most wonderful communities in the entire state, and the people there are goodly folk. I have many friends on both sides of the incorporation debate, which is why it is personally so sad to see how bitter the conflict has become.
While I’m disclosing things, it’s also worth mentioning that I am personally opposed to incorporation, at least for now. However, I realize that those in favor of incorporation have put forward some very strong arguments, and I do believe there are some big pros to The Woodlands becoming a city. It would certainly give them a greater degree of autonomy and independence from the county.
I am just not convinced at this point that the pros outweigh the cons. As a conservative who favors very limited government, it’s difficult for me to justify creating a new government entity. Although those on the township board are good and well-meaning people, there may come a day when conservatives bitterly regret strengthening the power of local government to levy taxes and impose new ordinances.
However, I do not think those pushing incorporation are malicious or have bad intentions. Quite the contrary, I believe they are arguing in good faith and have the best intentions. These are people I have stood shoulder to shoulder with in the parking lot during early voting for many, many election cycles. We may disagree on this particular policy, but these are people who I have watched for years passionately advocate for the community they love.
Over the last few weeks, there has been a sustained stream of attacks against township chairman Gordy Bunch, the Texas Patriots PAC, and the Montgomery County Tea Party, and many other pro-incorporation leaders. I have been a supporter of Mr. Bunch every time he has ran for re-election, and although I could quibble with some of the board’s decisions here or there, overall they have done an incredible job. The slanderous insinuations that Bunch or any of the board members are going to personally benefit or attain some ill-gotten gain as a result of incorporation are simply unfounded. Gordy Bunch has had a long-term vision for incorporation for a long time, and I believe he truly wants the best for his community (and who knows, Gordy is a super smart guy and he may be right).
The Texas Patriots PAC has come under attack for what appears to be an honest mistake filing their campaign finance reports. However, anyone with even a passing familiarity of campaign finance law knows how insanely complicated and Byzantine those forms are. Unless you are an election attorney, it is very easy to overlook something and find yourself in trouble really fast. The Texas Patriots PAC is not some big-box astro-turf organization with professional political operatives or an army of election attorneys. They are just ordinary citizens like the rest of us who are involved and want to make a difference locally. They make paperwork mistakes just like anyone else.
The Montgomery County Tea Party has also been attacked been attacked and decried as “outsiders” trying to influence the election. The truth is that they have many members from not only The Woodlands, but all over the county. In fact, the chairman of their vetting committee, John Wertz, is from The Woodlands, as is a good percentage of the committee.
There has also been an insinuation that MCTP is somehow a pay-to-play organization. They do allow candidates to sponsor tables at their meetings, but there is no evidence to suggest that impacts their endorsement process. In fact, they don’t always endorse every candidate who sponsors a table. Although I was not on the vetting committee for this cycle, I have been on the committee before, and can personally attest that table sponsorship was never even considered during the endorsement process in any conversation to which I was a party. They make their endorsements based on ideology, sometimes to fault (I actually have wished they would sometimes be more mercurial and strategic in their endorsements).
The attacks go on and on. Let’s not even get into the attacks on township board member Dr. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs for opinions she held decades ago. Who hasn’t changed their opinion on some issue or another over the years?
The pro-incorporation side is not without fault in all of this too. Many of them tend to have an annoying and frankly intellectually-lazy habit of accusing everyone who is against incorporation of somehow being on the payroll of the Howard Hughes Corporation. Although some businesses and developers certainly may have financial incentives to prevent incorporation, most people opposing incorporation have not been paid off by the developers. I’m against incorporation and I’ve never seen a penny of developer money (although if they want to advertise on Texas Citizen Journal I won’t say no).
Most anti-incorporation folks are just concerned citizens who love their community and for one reason or another are not convinced that incorporation is the right move at this point in time. They are well-intentioned and advocating for their town just like the pro-incorporation people.
The bottom line is that the focus of the incorporation debate should be on the actual policy on the table and its merits. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be passionate disagreement and debate on the issues. But it should be confined to just that: the issues. The problem is when we lose sight of the polices and start attacking the people. Instead of being a disagreement over policy, it becomes tribal and deeply personal.
There’s no question that both sides have profound disagreements on the issues. But most people on both sides ultimately want what’s best for The Woodlands. Regardless of who wins the incorporation vote, if friendships are lost due to politics and the community is torn apart over this issue, then in the end, everybody loses.
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