Our City just entered a very serious period with the indictment of 19 Austin Police Department (APD) officers for their conduct at protests following the May 2020 police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. These indictments have understandably sparked strong opinions on all sides. Nonetheless, the thinking here is that these indictments need to play out in the judicial system.
That’s not to say that I think people should refrain from expressing their opinions. It is unavoidable that this is going to continue to churn in public and private discussion as well as in the media for the year or more that it takes for the officers to come to trial — and afterward. It also seems practical to wonder right now how Austin will ever recruit enough cops to get back to full strength, that is if potential new hires consider the frequency with which District Attorney Jose Garza indicts officers. The reality remains, however, that the voters of Travis County elected Jose Garza to be District Attorney. So he has the power to make these indictments. The police officers now have a right to a fair trial. And, barring any dropping of charges beforehand, courtrooms are where the outcome of this saga will ultimately be decided.
It should also be noted that however one feels about DA Garza’s actions, he is willing to make controversial decisions and take lots of heat when he believes something is the right thing to do and/or the action conforms with his ideology. Garza may eventually prove to be a rigid ideologue carrying out a political agenda. Or he may prove to be a courageous reform DA in the position at an historic moment. It remains to be seen where he will fall on that spectrum, and there will probably always be arguments over that. Also, Travis County voters will ultimately have their say on whether Garza continues in office, although not until 2024 — assuming that he seeks another term.
In one example of the debate sparked by the indictments, the Greater Austin Crime Commission was critical of a statement by Mayor Steve Adler shortly after the indictments were announced. It read, “The judicial process, now moving forward, needs to be respected. Something went wrong here because no one should be injured merely exercising their constitutional rights. Our police department said, right after that weekend, that never again would we use such weapons for crowd control. I wish that city policy had been in place before this event.”
In a press release the Crime Commission said the Mayor was correct that “No one should be injured merely exercising their constitutional rights,” but complained that the Mayor didn’t “mention that in addition to peaceful protesters, police were faced with rioters assaulting them, attempting to breach headquarters, and blocking an interstate highway. Rioters attacked officers with asphyxiate- and paint-filled balloons, boards, frozen water bottles, rocks, smoke grenades, and other objects.”
The Mayor is correct that the judicial process needs to play out and he is also accurate in pointing out that peaceful protestors were badly injured. He is also correct about police changing their policy on using “less lethal” rounds only after the tragic injuries at the protests.
The Crime Commission is correct, however, that some demonstrators were violent and out of control, and that the Mayor left any mention of that out of his statement. Thus, the Commission seems to have a point about the Mayor’s statement being one-sided. In fact when I first saw the statement quoted on TV news I thought that the station was being unfair to the Mayor by only quoting one narrow part of his statement. But, no that was it.
As the only municipal elected official representing the whole City, one might have thought that the Mayor would attempt to calm tensions, maybe make a plea for Austinites to respect each other as we move into this difficult period, and offer reassurance to the cops still on duty. But that was probably too much to expect.
While the Mayor may not have said enough, another official said far too much. That was Governor Greg Abbott who volunteered that the officers should not have been prosecuted and raised the specter of pardoning officers if any are convicted. As a lawyer and citizen Abbott should know better, but, based on his past behavior, this was no surprise.
Let’s Talk About The Railroad Commission
OK, let’s move on to something a little lighter and more fun. And, who would have ever thought we would find that in the Texas Republican primaries — in a Texas Railroad Commission race no less. That was, however, before Sarah Stogner, a GOP candidate for Railroad Commission burst on the scene (pictured at top from her campaign website gallery).
Apparently frustrated with an ongoing lack of media attention to the race, Stogner came up with a novel strategy which she unveiled in a video posted on social media during the Super Bowl. As Texas Monthly described it: “she rides a pump jack while wearing only a hat, underwear, and pasties. Stogner, who isn’t accepting campaign contributions, cheekily wrote on the post, ‘They said I needed money … I have other assets.’” (The five second video can be seen here.)
In a written reply to questions from the Monthly, Stogner asked, ‘“Please tell me how I am supposed to get the media’s attention so I can discuss these important issues. I’ve been trying. For years. And guess what finally worked? Five seconds of me scantily clad on top of a pump jack.’”
Clearly Stogner has a point about media coverage. For instance, readers might ask themselves: how many news reports have I seen on Texas Railroad Commission elections this year or any other year? The answer almost certainly is very few to none. This is true for multiple races. Also, even when media outlets do publish stories on election contests, many only report on who they see as the leading candidates and barely mention other candidates, if at all.
Despite the overall lack of media coverage Stogner had somehow gotten the attention of the San Antonio Express News editorial board, which endorsed her before her stint on the pump jack. It seems they really liked her emphasis on environment and anti-corruption. After the pump jack video, however, they rescinded their endorsement in a huff.
In rescinding the endorsement the Express News editorial board explained their original attraction to Stogner, “In our candidate interview, Stogner, an attorney, spoke about the health and environmental impacts of the oil and gas industry, and echoed a familiar call for ethical reform of the Railroad Commission of Texas. She spoke at length about flaring and venting, water contamination and the potential for earthquakes.”
The board then explained how, after learning of the video, they contacted Stogner via Facebook Messenger, confirmed she made the video and then rescinded the endorsement. They explained, “It’s painful to rescind a recommendation. But this is an opportunity to reaffirm our principles and expectations. We expect candidates for public office to model civil discourse and decorum worthy of the public’s trust. This was neither.”
OK, that’s their call, but here’s a “decorum” question for the Express News editorial board: how would you feel about a candidate/office holder who posted a picture of himself at a public event wearing a T shirt with the Spanish equivalent of the F word on it? Would you withdraw an endorsement for that?
I’m guessing not.
Speaking of Greg Casar, we have an update on our recent story about Casar, claiming on his campaign website, to have gotten sick leave for employees of private businesses in Austin “passed,” but failing to mention that no one ever got sick leave as a result of what he got “passed.” That was because the measure was quickly thrown out in court, as predicted by many when Casar proposed it. Well, the evening after that story was published Casar launched a TV commercial that leads with the same claim.
Amazingly, one media outlet actually scrutinized that claim. That was PolitiFact with the American-Statesman. They gave Casar a “half true.” As they accurately described Casar’s television ad:
“In a TV ad shared on Twitter, Casar said he ‘learned that progressive change is possible, if we fight for it. That’s how we passed paid sick leave.’
On the screen are the words: ‘Greg Casar — passed paid sick leave,’ along with a reference to the Austin City Council.”
“But,” continues Politifact, “what he left out of the ad is that the ordinance never took effect.”
Thus, they summarized, “Casar’s statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details — our definition of Half True.” The ad is still running.
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