I’m pleased that Houston joined the other big Texas cities in passing an ordinance to provide some sort of check on the terrible payday and title loan industry that has sprouted in our state.
I believe passionately in the need for regulating these businesses, which plunge unwitting consumers into deep holes of debt that can ruin their financial future.
I was glad that Lisa Falkenberg called out one Council Member for his opposition to the ordinance, and published the stories of some Houstonians who have been trapped in particularly heinous cycles of debt service.
Truthfully, though, I winced a little bit when she made the very personal connection between the member and one of his oldest and dearest friends, who is a lobbyist for a company that provides check cashing, pawn, and deferred presentment services (aka payday loans).
Here’s a link to the piece, titled “This payday loan column is for you, Councilman Rodriguez.” Pretty clear who the intended audience was.
I winced because I know the two people she called out in her article, James Rodriguez and Giovanni Garibay. I’ve known them for a long time, and while we may be in very different places on this one issue, I am very fond of them both and know we have a great deal in common when it comes to many issues and concerns. They’ve both stood up for me at times when I’ve needed help or advice on various projects—nothing major, and nothing that should make you worry that I’m pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes or exerting undue influence over the legislative process or policy debates for sure!—offering guidance, kind words, advice, and support. Things that you offer to friends. Things, too, which I’ve seen them offer to people who weren’t even their friends, but just people in need of help, like kids in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program, or at-risk students at schools in the East End.
I didn’t talk to either of them about this vote, and I don’t want to speculate about whether or not they even talked about it, frankly. The ordinance passed, 15 to 2, and Houston now has some small way to exert some influence and control over this industry. That’s the part of the story that needs to be the story.
That, and what comes next.
The candidates running for governor, only one of whom has a track record of working with broad-based coalitions to tighten regulations on predatory lenders.
Many Houston council members pointed out that city-by-city regulation is just a stop-gap measure since the Republican-controlled state legislature has, time and again, killed any attempts at regulating this industry. They said they hoped their vote would put pressure on Austin to take action.
Republican candidate Greg Abbott accepted a campaign contribution in June, 2013, of $10,000 from Rod Aycox of Alpharetta, Georgia, where he runs Select Management Resources. It’s a company with payday loan businesses in 23 states.
Was Rod a groomsman at Greg’s wedding? Were they ever roommates? Frat brothers? BFFs?
I’ve got to be honest.
I’m less concerned about a municipal elected official’s relationship with one of his closest friends and how that might influence a vote than I am about the relationship between our state’s attorney general and GOP gubernatorial candidate and a man who can make $10,000 campaign contributions. A man who employs, if you consult the 2013 Texas Ethics Commission lobby list, ten people whose business relationship rises to the level that they need to be registered as lobbyists for his company.
Greg Abbott and Roy Aycox, this payday loan blog post is for you. I hope that other bloggers and journalists will look into your relationship, and plow through campaign finance reports and lobby lists to see who else needs a mention. Because one outgoing city council member in Houston hasn’t been the person who has prevented reforms and regulation of this industry. The Republicans in Austin have been the ones failing to protect Texans from this treacherous and prosperity-sapping business. So let’s speak truth to that power and see what we can accomplish.