Point Austin: Reasons To Vote
Take the time to take responsibility for your community
Political tongues have been clucking all week over relatively low Travis County early voter turnout (much higher than May, but lower than 2008 at this point). The prevailing theories are two: 1) The ballot's too long and confusing (it's not a homework assignment, people!) and 2) there's a lack of Democratic enthusiasm for Obama's re-election in a Romney-red state.
The latter explanation seems more persuasive to me, but I would add to it the influence of free-floating political cynicism, fanned in Austin over the last few years by an unholy alliance of tea-partying anti-taxers, conspiracy-crank libertarians, and small groups of self-defined "progs" who make no distinction between political "activism" and political sabotage.
Damn the naysayers – it's getting late, and there remain plenty of excellent reasons to get off your duff in the final days of early voting or on Nov. 6. For your consideration and motivation, here's a handful of highlighted races:
• Central Health Prop. 1: Despite the inevitable whining of anti-taxers, and the late-train opposition of the corporate bosses at St. David's HealthCare (see "Health Care Elephants ..."), the nickel tax bump for the community's health care district represents a once-in-a-generation chance to transform public health care for the whole community. Lost in the headlines last week was the Medicaid "1115 Waiver" approval by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – meaning that if Austinites provide the seed money via this tax ratification, for every dollar in local money $1.46 of federal matching funds will be available for already designed programs specifically aimed at improving the delivery of Medicaid services to those who most need them. That's a deal we shouldn't, in good conscience, refuse. The alternative is waiting for the state government to address the desperate state of public health care in Texas – not a gamble I'm willing to take.
• Presiding Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals: If there's a single race on the ballot to get Austinites' blood moving it would be the CCA, where incumbent Judge Sharon "We Close at 5" Keller faces progressive challenger and local defense attorney Keith Hampton, who's been widely endorsed by both progressive and legal sources yearning for an end to Keller's embarrassing reign. Hampton's worked the state hard, and with significant support from Travis County, has a real shot at an upset – but needs turnout.
• State Board of Education, Districts 5 & 10: If you're tired of the anti-science, anti-public-school circus at the SBOE, Democrats Rebecca Bell-Metereau (5) and Judy Jennings (10) represent real chances for a makeover. One of them will be on your precinct's ballot, and both richly deserve your support.
• House Districts 47 & 48: For those far Westside residents who fall into one of these two districts, Dems Chris Frandsen and Donna Howard deserve strong support. Frandsen's a longshot newcomer, but D47 incumbent Paul Workman has defined his job as hardline conservatism and business promotion, and heavy Democratic turnout could flip this currently red district. Howard, a stalwart on public education, health care, and women's issues, eked out a four-vote victory two years ago, and is absolutely vital to the progressive Central Texas delegation. Howard alone on your ballot is a reason to vote.
• Travis County Commissioner, Precinct 3: Incumbent Karen Huber has been a breath of fresh air on Commissioners Court, with an encouraging focus on actual land use planning, residents' real needs, and environmental protection. A return of Gerald "Road Warrior" Daugherty would be a huge step backward toward unregulated Southwest development (and that's true whether or not you support the eventual construction of SH 45, a single-issue red herring in this race).
The City That Votes Together
• City Bonds: I've already noted that Central Health Prop. 1 is a slam-dunk for promoting the general community welfare. So are the city of Austin's bond Propositions 12 through 18 – by design, they will not raise the current city property tax rate, and they were winnowed down by a year of citizens' task force and community meetings from an infrastructure needs list that approaches $1.5 billion. A central reason for that fiscal conservatism was in fact the campaign for the Central Health tax increase. Voters should consider this balanced bond package as a complement to health care support – together they represent carefully considered efforts to maintain and improve Austin and Travis County's quality of life.
• City Propositions: We've spent quite a bit of ink, over the past year, on the city issues represented by Props. 1 through 10, from moving the election date to November (Props. 1 & 2, absolutely yes) to providing better civil service protections for city employees (10 & 11, also absolutely yes). More heat than light has been generated over Props. 3 & 4 (geographic districting), needlessly polarizing voters over what should be a measured attempt to move municipal government toward a form more appropriate for what is now a major metropolis. I support Prop. 4 – the mixed or "hybrid" system – because I think it would better balance the needs of specific neighborhoods with those of the whole city, and because (unlike Prop. 3) it isn't accompanied by a needlessly complicated, ill-understood, "independent"-in-name-only districting commission designed for a much larger jurisdiction (i.e., California), naively intended to take the politics out of politics. I think that's not just a naive idea, but a bad one.
But whatever you think, get off your duff and vote.
See endorsements and voting info and more coverage all the way through election night at austinchronicle.com/elections.