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Mayor Parker goes to Washington — and says what's on her mind

Annise Parker at National Press Club in Washington D.C. December 2013
Mayor Annise Parker answers questions after her talk. Photo by Noel St. John
Cookies in the shape of Texas for Annise Parker speech to National Press Club in DC Dec 2013
Cookies in the shape of Texas, with the seal of Houston, were treats. Courtesy photo
Mayor Annise Parker at National Press Club December 2013
Mayor Annise Parker mingles with officials at the National Press Club. Laura Spankian/Twitter

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After lunching on a Tex-Mex-inspired meal, Mayor Annise Parker spoke at the National Press Club Tuesday afternoon, fresh from attending the first gathering of the White House’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.

Parker quickly assured the audience of journalists and energy industry insiders that hers would not be a partisan speech, and instead used her prepared remarks to talk about the challenges of governing.

“Happy people don’t come down to a city council meeting on a Tuesday afternoon,” the former Houston City Council member said to knowing laughs in the audience. “Only the angry ones do.”

 “I don’t want to have a Rick Perry moment,” Parker said.  

But during a lengthy Q&A, attendees indicated they wouldn’t be satisfied with a softball speech. Questions ranged from nitty-gritty energy policy questions to her role in the LGBT movement as an openly gay mayor.

Describing Houston as a city that’s “becoming the energy capital of the world,” Parker said she believes in leading by example when it comes to curbing energy consumption. But she also called her hometown one of the “most over-air-conditioned cities” on the globe, and said it relies too much on cars and gasoline.

Parker and 25 other state and local leaders comprise the Obama administration’s task force on climate change. She said that after this initial meeting, the group is dividing into working groups to address certain topics – and then paused as she tried to remember the four breakout sections.

“I don’t want to have a Rick Perry moment,” Parker said, before recalling the working groups: infrastructure, natural disaster response, natural resources and community resilience.

That wasn’t the only time Perry came up during Parker’s comments. One question was posed about her role as an LGBT leader and her thoughts on the governor’s outspokenness on gay issues.

“As for Gov. Perry’s stance on gay rights, it is completely irrelevant to what I do,” Parker said.

 “I’m happy to answer the gay questions, but I’m not a spokesperson for the GLBT community,” Parker said after a string of gay rights-related queries. “I’m a spokesperson for Houston.” 

It was one of a handful of sidesteps on the topic of her role as a prominent LGBT leader.

“I’m happy to answer the gay questions, but I’m not a spokesperson for the GLBT community,” Parker said after a string of gay rights-related queries. “I’m a spokesperson for Houston.”

Last month, Parker announced that all legally married spouses of city employees are eligible for benefits like health care and life insurance, citing the recent Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Prop. 8. But domestic partnerships were not included in the policy change, which Parker explained on Tuesday was a result of language in Houston’s charter that doesn’t allow for domestic partner benefits. She said that although “there are certain things I’ve been able to do by executive order,” she is limited in enacting wide-reaching changes.

Parker did say that she anticipates passing a nondiscrimination policy in housing and public accommodation by the end of her third and final term in 2015. And although the mayor said she wants to marry her domestic partner of 23 years in Texas, she said she anticipates that won’t happen soon, or at least not until the federal government authorizes it.

But she won't wait forever. “I want to be young enough to actually know who I am marrying when I do it,” she said to broad laughter.

Parker also weighed in on the political hot potato of immigration reform, saying that passing comprehensive legislation is the “most important thing” Congress could do. 

“It’s an economic imperative for comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship,” Parker said.

But given the contentious Congress right now, she added, "I just don't think that it's going to happen."

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