Well, we took a few weeks break from publishing here at the Austin Independent, but we’re back. Let’s take a look at some of the things that happened while we were gone. 

First of all, our vacation corresponded with the first few weeks of the City Council’s six weeks summer break from Council meetings. The break drew significant criticism in some quarters, especially because there has been little visible progress on removing homeless encampments as instructed by voters back on May 1. Instead of getting into the differing sides of that argument right now, I want to take the opportunity to make sure that people understand the true meaning, and origins, of the Council summer holiday. It is really meant to be as much a vacation from the Council as for the Council. Most directly that time gives City Management some additional time to work on their core responsibilities as opposed to attending Council meetings and being on call for questions. It can also be a break from the Council for the City and its citizens in general. Couldn’t we all use that? (By the way the break used to be a month, not six weeks.)

Now, let’s look at some of what we missed. 

The Texas Legislature is back in town, well most of them. As folks have probably seen in local and national media, Democratic members of the Texas House fled to Washington D.C. Monday in order to deny Republicans a quorum and block their passage of voter suppression bills. While in D.C. the Texas House members will lobby members of the US Senate to pass national voter rights bills, the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. 

One Democratic talking point is that their voting bills in Republican controlled legislatures around the country are an attempt to create barriers to African Americans voting akin to Jim Crow. Republicans and a few pundits maintain that this is over the top rhetoric. Indeed all sides do at times engage in over the top rhetoric. Anyone who believes the Democrats are exaggerating about Republican intent on this issue, however, should look at the cases of Hervis Rogers of Houston and Crystal Mason of Fort Worth. 

Rogers is the gentleman from Houston who on primary election day in March 2020 was the last person in line at the polling place at Texas Southern University, a historic Black university located in a predominately African American area of Houston. Rogers waited more than six hours to vote, until after one-thirty in the morning. At the time he got some national publicity for being the last person in line. When asked by reporters what he was going to do next he said go to work — at one of his two jobs.

Rogers is an ex felon, convicted for a 1995 burglary. He was sentenced to 25 years, but was released on parole in 2004. It turns out, however, that Rogers was still officially on parole at the time he voted. His parole ended in June 2020. Under Texas law former felons cannot “knowingly” vote while still on parole. So last week Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton indicted Rogers on two counts of voting illegally; in the March 2020 Democratic primary and the 2018 general election. Rogers was locked up on $100,000 bail. He has since been released on bail. He faces from two to twenty years in jail.

Leading the way in this case is Texas Attorney General Paxton. Yes, that’s the Ken Paxton, who has been under indictment for six years now for securities fraud. It’s the same Ken Paxton who is also under FBI investigation for alleged abuse of his office and was turned into the FBI by members of his Executive Team, seven of whom resigned due to the behavior they witnessed. Paxton is also under investigation by the Texas State Bar because of the spurious suit he led trying to overturn the decision of voters in other states, in the 2020 presidential election. Paxton made sure Texans knew he was behind the arrest of Rogers, tweeting, “Hervis is a felon rightly barred from voting under TX law . . . I prosecute voter fraud everywhere we find it!”

Mugshot of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, 2015
Mugshot of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, 2015

Rogers is being represented by the Texas ACLU and his attorney says that he was not aware that state law prevented him from voting.

In an earlier similar case in Fort Worth, Crystal Mason, also an African American who served time in prison, was indicted and convicted for voting while still on parole. Even though Mason was not aware she was violating her parole she was sentenced to five years and sent back to prison. She since has been let out on parole.

These cases are not only clear attempts to severely punish people, specifically African American people, for wanting to vote, but also raw attempts to intimidate anyone who has ever been convicted of a felony from ever voting again. If that doesn’t equate to Jim Crow then I don’t know what does.

One distressing aspect of these cases is that a majority of Texas voters will likely not be bothered by them. If you doubt that, just call up a Texas presidential election map from any modern election and look at the seemingly endless stretches of red counties. They continue to go red no matter how depraved Republican leadership becomes. As reported here before, sometimes Democrats play right into Republican hands, but the fact remains that a broad majority of Texans keep supporting Republicans no matter what they do. 

So, these two cases of cruel and unusual punishment, and voter intimidation, are unlikely to move enough Texans to throw out Republicans for such policies. In fact Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and other Republicans are playing to their base with both the voter suppression bills and the rest of the far right wish list that constitutes the special session agenda set by Abbott. 

The Democrats deserve a lot of credit for continuing to fight, but their cause gets more difficult by the day, especially as more Mexican Americans in the Rio Grande Valley trend Republican.

On the other hand Paxton has drawn some challengers in next year’s GOP primaries; Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Eva Guzman, until recently a Texas Supreme Court Justice. It’s hard to call that progress. In particular considering Bush makes one wonder if we are better off with Paxton?

Now, let’s hit a few items quickly, ones that we may return to in future installments.

Trojan Horse?

First of all, here’s one that happened before the break, but that the Independent hasn’t covered yet. That is the Council’s vote to work with Capital Metro on that agency’s “Equitable Transit Oriented Development Study.” This is a wide ranging study related to the rail system approved by voters last November. One core element of it is to add more density around rail lines, particularly rail stations. More density around rail stations makes sense, in line with the voter approval of the system. Opponents of the CodeNext/the Land Development Code (LDC) rewrite are concerned, however, that this is a Trojan Horse designed to bring back the transition zones of the LDC. Transition zones, as related to the LDC, involve upzoning huge swaths of single family neighborhoods in the central city to allow four to six units per lot. The inclusion of some bus lines in the Council resolution helps fuel these suspicions.

The lead sponsor of the fourteen page Item From Council on the subject was Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper Madison, an ardent LDC backer who recently confused homeowners affected by the LDC with developers driving the push to open up single family neighborhoods in the central city for high intensity development. (See here).  Harper Madison’s other co-sponsors were Council Members Greg Casar, Paige Ellis and Vanessa Fuentes along with Mayor Steve Adler. All but Fuentes were unrelenting supporters of the LDC and transition zones. So stay tuned on that one.

Soccer in Austin Draws Big Crowds, Including Greg Casar

Speaking of Greg Casar, Austin’s most famous left wing phenom spent part of his vacation watching soccer at the new Austin FC stadium. Casar managed to mix some politics in with his sports fandom, tweeting out a picture of himself from the stands wearing a T-Shirt reading “Chinga Tu Muro.” Translated that means F#!k Your Wall. (Perhaps I should have obscured the Spanish cuss word too, but that would obscure the meaning of this passage, plus it’s on the shirt.) This was clearly aimed at Governor Greg Abbott. In case anyone missed the intent, Casar included a hashtag for Abbott’s Twitter account. 

Since I brought up soccer, it seems only fair to note that Casar, the Mayor and other Council Members who supported bringing the soccer team to town appear to have been right that it will draw large crowds. That has been the case at early games where the crowds have been not only large, but also very enthusiastic. That can be seen in this clip when Austin FC scores its first goal ever in their home stadium.

The opportunities for wild cheering and celebration have been limited, however. Austin FC has been held scoreless in eight of its first thirteen games, and three of its first four home games. 

Still, it’s nice that people are enjoying watching soccer, but I have to  ask, what’s up with the thick green smoke. Both at the stadium and in a preseason rally at Zilker Park, Austin FC fans set off smoke bombs, or something of the like, that generate massive clouds of thick green smoke. Is this really necessary? Austin is widely known as a green city for our commitment to the environment, but at least in soccer circles we’re going to become the green smoke city if fans, and owners, insist on continuing this practice.

Meanwhile, Casar got over 100 likes on Twitter for his T-shirt posting, but also drew some criticism for not paying enough attention to the crime problems within his district. Several posters pointed out that another murder took place in his District while Casar was at the game, or soon thereafter. While it’s not clear how Casar not being at the game would have helped prevent the murder, it is true that a disproportionate number of Austin’s increasing number of murders are occurring in his District. Of the 44 murders in Austin so far this year, 11 have been in District 4, which Casar represents. It would be a stretch to try to hold him responsible, but at the same time, he has been very effective at pushing through his agenda and has argued that his approach is the best way to reduce crime. He’s been in office for over six years now and those policies clearly aren’t working yet.

The Independent will have a closer look at Austin’s spiraling murder rate and the human cost in an upcoming segment.   


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