For the last several articles the Independent has concentrated on Prop A. That was a critical issue for the City and deserved the attention. This week let’s catch up on a number of other events which we didn’t mention in the meantime. (If anyone missed our Prop A election wrap up that can be found here.)
I want to begin by sharing something a journalism professor friend here in Austin shared with me. During her career my friend has taught at different major universities around the country and also participated in a number of international programs. Thus, she has numerous international contacts. She tells me that in recent months she has been getting inquiries from journalist and academic friends around the world about coming to Texas. They’re not inquiring because they want to come here for the economy or the music. No, they want to observe what they sense is the opening stages of a new American Fascism, of which Texas is emerging as a leader. That would be, among other reasons, because of the Texas abortion bill, the voter suppression bills passed by the Legislature, the anti-science stance of the Governor on masks and vaccine mandates and more.
So once again Texas is standing out. What I’m about to say may come from watching nature documentaries lately to semi-escape from the political situation, but this news from my friend made me think of such documentaries. Texas is a political jungle where outside observers are going to come in, hide, blend in to the background, put up hidden cameras, observe us in our natural habitat and report back to their viewers and readers. It should be really interesting and entertaining for them, while at the same time raw and sad — like nature documentaries.
Now, here’s a story from Texas that can’t be blamed just on Texans. I’m talking about the recent QAnon gathering at Dealey Plaza in Dallas where a few factions of QAnon convened for the return of John F. Kennedy Jr. According to the mainstream media JFK Jr. died in a plane crash in 1999, but these QAnon folks believe he faked his death and would return on November 2 to Dealey Plaza. For some reason he picked the spot where his Dad was assassinated for his return. Also, JFK Jr. apparently switched parties during his absence because the QAnon theory went that once he returned to circulation, JFK Jr. planned to be Donald Trump’s Vice-Presidential running mate in 2024. Then, goes the theory, Trump would win, but step down. JFK Jr. would become President and declare Trump some sort of King. The theory sort of trails off after that.
This prediction evidently caused some dissension within QAnon ranks because some QAnon people thought the folks making the JFK Jr. prediction were false prophets, and just too far out there.
JFK Jr. failed to show up. This is where it starts to look like the QAnoners who say that the members of the JFK Jr. return faction aren’t quite as smart might have a point. I say that because there have been dramatic QAnon predictions that didn’t turn out before. For instance Donald Trump was supposed to be reinstated as President back in August. When that didn’t happen QAnoners just set a new date months out in the future. This group of QAnoners, however, set a new date for that same evening; specifically at the Rolling Stones concert taking place that night in Dallas. The Stones played, but JFK Jr. was apparently a no show for the second time in a single day. On the other hand it was a big crowd and so we can’t say for sure that he wasn’t there. So I guess I should say, stay tuned on this one.
Doggett Announces in Redrawn Austin District
Speaking of homecomings, there was a homecoming of sorts recently for an Austinite who is still very much alive. I’m talking about Congressman Lloyd Doggett (pictured at the top). Doggett really hasn’t gone anywhere, but due to Republican redistricting efforts beginning in 2003 Doggett ended up first representing a district that stretched from Austin to the Rio Grande Valley and then a district stretching from East and South Austin to San Antonio. In holding on to a Congressional seat Doggett defied Republican efforts to get rid of him. In fact one of the primary goals of the Republican redistricting plans beginning in 2003, led by then US House Majority leader Tom DeLay, was to get Doggett out of Congress. They carved up Austin into five Congressional Districts as part of the effort.
In the current redistricting effort Austin regains an Austin centric district (District 37) which includes most of Austin west of IH 35. A new version of Doggett’s current District 35 will encompass much of East Austin and stretch to San Antonio. As part of all that, Republican map makers redrew the districts that carved parts of Austin into separate districts stretching to suburban Houston, suburban San Antonio and points north — leaving fewer Austin voters in those districts. Republicans evidently felt Democrats came too close in 2020.
Doggett announced on October 18 that he will run for the “new” District 37. He announced outside Bryker Woods Elementary, where he went to elementary school. Welcome home Congressman, although we know you never really left or stopped representing Austin.
With Doggett announcing in District 37 that leaves an opening in District 35. Not too surprisingly, Austin Council Member Greg Casar almost immediately announced for that seat. That means Casar will have to leave the Council, but not until a special election is held to replace him. So far a date for that election is undetermined. It may not occur until the primary election on March 1.
State Representative Eddie Rodriguez — who currently represents much of the Austin part of District 35 in the Legislature — quickly announced he was considering a run, as did State Representative Trey Martinez Fisher of San Antonio. Since then Rodriguez has filed to run while Martinez Fisher announced he is not running. Rodriguez held his announcement this morning, November 10. Other candidates may emerge as well.
Rodriguez has represented his East and Southeast Austin District since 2002. He is widely respected in political circles and many District 35 voters have already been voting for him for years. According to Rodriguez’ campaign website, “Some of his proudest policy achievements include ‘Homestead Preservation Districts’ (an affordable housing tool for cities), expanding the National School Breakfast Program to feed an additional 700,000 hungry Texas children, and removing the cap on the number of dual-credit courses high school students can take to prepare them for college and the trades.”
Casar, despite his championing of sometimes disastrous policies on the Council (lifting the camping ban, exaggerating police budget cuts for self promotion and thus helping create a devestating state backlash) could be a formidable candidate. For one thing, Casar tends to get unquestioning, even adoring, media coverage — with few attempts to delve beneath his claims about his record.
For instance Casar’s City of Austin web page still proclaims, in the second paragraph of his bio, “As a Council Member, Casar championed the paid-sick-days laws that passed in Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas, implementing what the Austin-American Statesman called the ‘most progressive labor policy for the entire state and possibly the American South.”’ Many knowledgeable people at the time said that no matter how desirable the goal, City Councils in Texas do not have the power to require such coverage. This was soon verified when a Texas Court prevented the law from taking effect. No one ever got insurance due to the ordinance Casar got through the Council. Yet he still heralds it on his City bio as a top accomplishment and media outlets go along.
Some media outlets have repeated this claim since Casar’s Congressional announcement, without elaboration or challenge. For instance a My San Antonio report called the sick leave ordinance “among his (Casar’s) hallmark legislation” and failed to mention that it never went into effect. The century plus old national left wing magazine The Nation described Casar as “championing an initiative for paid medical and family time,” also without mentioning that it never went into effect.
Casar might also benefit from the youth vote, including from students at Texas State in San Marcos. Many young people are justifiably dismayed with the current state of things in the state and country, particularly with their economic prospects and the failure of government to address the climate crisis. Casar, who is a hard working organizer and good speaker, could also tap into the ultra progressive left in both Austin and San Antonio.
Update from the Old Dominion
Let’s end with a couple of rather sad updates. Not too long ago, I talked about how my native state of Virginia had been going blue since 2008 when Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Since then Democrats won all the statewide seats and in 2018 captured majorities in both houses of the State Assembly. Well, as most people probably know by now, last Tuesday Democrats lost the Governorship and two other statewide races as well as their majority in the Virginia House of Delegates. At some point in coming weeks, I might discuss potential parallels or connections to our situation in Austin and Texas, but today I will just note what happened. I will also note that Virginia Democrats were very active while they did have the majority, including: expanding Medicaid, voting rights and abortion rights; legalizing marijuana (subject to a follow-up vote of the State Assembly); taking down Confederate statues; and passing climate legislation that included reducing reliance on coal. Republicans are already trying to roll back the climate legislation and more is certain to come.
Another COVID Milestone
Now, we have to end with discussion of the ongoing American and Texan tragedy of the COVID 19 pandemic. First of all there’s the new report from the Texas Department of State Health Services. It reported, as the Washington Post summarized, that: “In all age groups, the state’s unvaccinated were 40 times more likely to die than fully vaccinated people. The study also found that the unvaccinated in all age groups were 45 times more likely to have a coronavirus infection than fully vaccinated people.” So this study confirms both that vaccinated people can still get the coronavirus and even die from it, and also that unvaccinated people are exponentially more likely to contract the virus and die from it. One mystery of this study is how it got out of the Abbott Administration in the first place. Perhaps the Governor didn’t want to block science in this case, but sadly that seems far fetched. We will keep an eye on this to see if any information speaking to that emerges.
Also, a few weeks ago we reported that the number of COVID deaths nationally had surpassed the traditionally accepted number of Americans who lost their lives in the Civil War, 618,222 people. As we noted then, however, a recent study using updated methodology posited that the actual number of Civil War dead was more like 750,000. Many historians have praised the study and accepted the new number. Since that report the American COVID death toll surpassed 750,000. So now the American death toll from the pandemic has exceeded that of the Civil War, the war in which more Americans died than in any other. Still huge portions of the country have yet to acknowledge this human toll, and some even deny that it has occurred. That is an ongoing tragedy on top of the tragedy of the pandemic.
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