As the Austin Independent and several other local media outlets have reported, the two City Council runoffs are breaking down along partisan lines. In the latest from that front, a coalition of Young Republican groups is calling for a “Statewide Deployment” of Republicans to Austin this weekend to campaign for Council candidates Mackenzie Kelly and Jennifer Virden (see invite at top). A Facebook invite promises “Hotel and all meals are covered!” Sponsors are the Austin Young Republicans, Texas Young Republicans, Travis County Young Republicans and the Williamson County Young Republicans.
According to a party Facebook page, the volunteers are scheduled to begin arriving today (Friday December 11) around 6 PM. They will gather for a Christmas Party tonight and then “Deploy for doors” at 9:45 Saturday morning and again Sunday morning. In the spirit of the current Republican President, neither the invitation nor the schedule anywhere mentions the coronavirus. So, while hotels and meals are covered, their faces may not be.
Election Day is Tuesday December 15 and today, Friday December 11, is the last day of early voting. Readers may recall that the Independent previously reported that Council incumbents Alison Alter (District 10) and Jimmy Flannigan (District 6) were making sure voters know that they are the Democrats in their respective races. Earlier this week, the Austin American-Statesman detailed, in a front page story, how Alter and Flannigan are now hammering their opponents for supporting Donald Trump. According to the Statesman, Flannigan’s opponent Mackenzie Kelly “has been aligned with the Republican Party since her unsuccessful run for City Council in 2014 and has posted tweets favorable to the president.”
The Statesman added that Alter’s opponent, Jennifer Virden, “contributed this year to a political action committee affiliated with Trump. Virden, donor records show, made seven donations to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee — four of them for $50, three others for $25.”
Alter told the Statesman, “I think that tells a lot about someone’s character.”
According to the Statesman, however, neither Kelly nor Virden directly addressed their support for Trump in interviews, nor did they deny it. Virden characterized herself as a political “independent.” Any pretense, however, that Kelly and Virden are not aligned with the Republican Party evaporates with this weekend’s “statewide deployment.”
As we also noted in the earlier story, City Council races are theoretically nonpartisan in that the candidates are not chosen in party primaries and all candidates run in the same race, rather than being chosen in party primaries. This gives the entire electorate a say at all steps of the process. Nonetheless, candidates often stress their party affiliation and history, and that has become even more the case in recent years — and obviously accelerates further with the two current races.
In District 10, the partisan battle may have also spilled into campaign strategy. Virden declined to participate in a forum sponsored by a coalition of neighbhorhood groups, although she did attend a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Virden explained on Twitter: “I made the decision only to participate in forums held by neutral parties so that we could have fair discussions.” Refusing to debate has become a Republican tactic. In Georgia, for instance, incumbent Senator David Perdue failed to show up for a recent debate with challenger Jon Ossoff. For his part, Donald Trump refused to attend the second scheduled debate this year. His public reason was that he objected to it being held virtually — even when he had recently contacted COVID 19. He also refused to attend one debate during the Republican nominating contests of 2016.
The forum of West Austin neighborhood associations was sponsored by the: Northwest Austin Civic Association, Highland Park West/Balcones Area Neighborhood Association, Bryker Woods Neighborhood Association, West Austin Neighborhood Group, Shepherd Mountain Neighborhood Association, Montevista Condominium Community, Inc, Glenlake Neighborhood Association, Courtyard Homeowners Association, and Woods of Greenshores Homeowners Association.
Many members of those groups may indeed favor incumbent Alter who was elected with strong neighborhood support and has been a strong protector of neighborhoods, including on the huge Land Development Code (LDC) issue. She was one of the four votes against the LDC rewrite favored by a majority of the Council.
Virden also opposes the LDC as currently constituted. This could have been an opportunity for her to explain why voters should switch to her, but she decided not to take it. Only time will tell whether that was a wise strategic decision. The same is true in Georgia where we will have to wait until January 5 to know how things turn out. Trump of course lost the 2020 election, but missing a debate was not among the leading reasons for his loss — although some Republican operatives do maintain that it cost him an important opportunity to make his case.
Virden’s decision to paint the broad swath of neighborhood groups as not being neutral does seem to cede a lot of people to her opponent. Nonetheless, she is clearly mounting a strong challenge to Alter. Virden signs throughout West Austin reflect support in the district. Virden also reflects an active campaign by adding the date of the runoff to many of her signs. Signs though do not necessarily reflect how the vote will turn out and Alter has signs throughout the district as well.
Local Media Steps Up In Runoffs
Meanwhile, one feature of the runoffs has been some pretty extensive local media coverage. That contrasts to an extent with coverage of local races during the November election. With the presidential race along with Congressional, legislative, and judicial races on the ballot, local races sometimes get crowded out in coverage.
So, below are some recommendations on where readers can find out even more about the Council runoffs. Also, the Independent posted a separate story on the District 6 race yesterday. That story also features links to a number of other local news reports, and the Independent discussed the main issues in each runoff in a late November article.
Now, here’s a partial list of where readers can find more local election coverage. We already mentioned the American-Statesman above. The Austin Chronicle has also done extensive coverage of the Council runoffs, and some Austin school district coverage. That can be found just by going to the Chronicle website or by going straight to their elections page.
For the really high information voter, the Austin Bulldog has provided extensive coverage, including a very thorough article posted this week.
Fox7 and KXAN have done some pretty thorough local election reporting online.
The Austin Monitor also provides both informative local election coverage and very thorough coverage of City Hall.
If you are in one of the districts having a Council or school board election, please vote and we should know the results the evening of December 15.
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