GOP has bad reaction to flu shots

Times Staff Writer

This city’s Democratic mayor thought it was appropriate to mix polling places and flu shots. This city’s Republicans thought they were going to be sick.

The administration of Mayor Bill White, former chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, approved a privately funded plan to launch a series of “Vote and Vaccinate” clinics during early voting in heavily Latino and African American neighborhoods.

But the program, which began Monday, infuriated some conservative bloggers and talk show hosts. They argued it would increase Democratic turnout in the midst of a competitive Texas governor’s race and boost the prospects of some city propositions on the ballot in Houston.


By midweek, White announced that he was taking the immunizations out of the polling places, but he maintained that “flu-gate” had been blown out of proportion.

“They were saying this was a vote-for-vaccine project,” said Patrick Trahan, the mayor’s press secretary. “Our concern was that if it gave an appearance of impropriety, this should not continue.”

Health groups have piggybacked on elections to immunize vulnerable people elsewhere, and Houston officials thought nothing of doing it in the nation’s fourth most-populous city.

But Republicans argued that the selection of the polling places in minority neighborhoods in Houston favored Democrats.

“Clearly, they targeted locations in Democratic strongholds,” said Jared Woodfill, Harris County GOP chairman. “Their whole theme was: ‘Exercise your vote and get a flu vaccine.’ In Texas, the law clearly states that you cannot give out anything of value in exchange for a vote.”

Houston officials countered that the polling places were chosen where need was greatest, based on statistics. They plan to offer the remainder of the 3,000 doses at other locations, away from any voting booths.