The final column of the year seems like a good occasion for a little retrospection – maybe even a chorus of "Memphis Blues Again."
I began the year with a highly skeptical column ("Nothing From Something," Jan. 12) about Austin's prospects for geographic City Council districts. Observing the virtually even split in support on the Charter Revision Committee between an all-district (what became "10-1") and a (not then defined) hybrid system, I wrote, "At the moment the question is shaping up as yet another parochial Austin political battle between the perfect and the good – with both likely to go down not in flames, but in sputtering embers." My primary evidence was the six previous elections in which Austin voters rejected districting, and the sense that the CRC split would likely be mirrored by a split in public sentiment, and "Good vs. Good would be defeated by Nothing at All."
I'm happy to acknowledge I was flat wrong on that one, and the seventh time was indeed the charm. I thought a hybrid would have a better chance of passage, although I also wrote, "I think 10 SMDs ... would be just fine." In the end, the voters at a stroke increased the Council's size, moved to districts, and moved elections to November – though it's important to note that none of us, supporters or opponents, yet know exactly what that will mean in practice.
Also in January, I noted the formal departure of Gov. Rick Perry from his hapless presidential run, together with his feckless endorsement of Newt Gingrich ("Shameless," Jan. 27). "On the Gingrich demagoguery scale, Perry is a relative amateur, and he finally bowed to the master." At the time, I thought the concession meant little more than what a lousy national candidate our extremely parochial governor had been, even in a Republican primary that is not the acid test of November: "The contemporary GOP has become a party in which it is simply impossible to run too far to the right."
Looking back, the moment may also have represented the high-water mark of Tea Party Republicanism, although I suppose Senator-elect Ted Cruz may be hoping otherwise, at least in public. My guess is we'll watch him turn into John Cornyn Jr. in Washington.
In February, we reported on fallout from the Anonymous hack of Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (better known as local "global intelligence" firm Stratfor), including the embarrassing revelation – later published by WikiLeaks – that at least one Texas Department of Safety operative was not only spying on Occupy Austin, but feeding his "intel" (lame as it was) to Stratfor. The DPS declined to comment. Despite the management's reflexive arrogance, I was somewhat sympathetic to Stratfor for the wholesale violation of its work and privacy; it's a media firm, after all, finding stuff out for a living.
More troubling was the (still) continuing response of other U.S. media, desperate to distinguish their respectability from those awful people at WikiLeaks – which has been publishing its documentation with the collaboration of major international newspapers. Media tough guys were calling (sometimes literally) for the head of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, when they should have been looking in the mirror. "You might think at least some of them would understand," I wrote. "They come for WikiLeaks today; they come for Stratfor – or for The New York Times – tomorrow."
A year later, not much has changed.
One of our most important stories during the last couple of years has been Jordan Smith's ongoing coverage of the state's assault on the Women's Health Program (actually an attack on all public health care, but most directly expressed in the undermining of medical access for women and children). As bad as the effects have been on Texas women, equally appalling has been the cynicism of its central motivation: advancing a political agenda, most prominently Gov. Perry's presidential ambitions, by means of a transparently ill-conceived assault on Planned Parenthood.
"Presidential and partisan politics are now relentlessly overriding the needs of Texas families," I wrote, "in a cynical strategy that elevates the ideological value of fetuses above the actual lives of Texas women" ("First, Do No Harm," May 3). That strategy hasn't stopped. Last week, having already gutted the Women's Health Program, rejected additional Medicaid funding, and refused to cooperate with Obamacare – all ready means of protecting the health care of actual Texas citizens – Perry announced he would press the Legislature to place even more restrictions on women's rights to legal abortions, as guaranteed by federal law – all in the name of "protecting the unborn."
Entering the 83rd Lege season, we can expect much more of the same. "For political commentators," I noted, "Perry is the gift that just keeps on giving. Unfortunately, for the citizens of Texas, it's a different matter." The governor has declared a five-point Texas Budget Compact that would, among other things, restrict (by constitutional amendment) budget growth to "population growth plus inflation." This despite the fact that the 2011 Lege, for the first time in state history, declined to fund even student population growth – despite a constitutional guarantee of an "efficient and equitable" system of "free public schools."
It seems certain constitutional guarantees – whether of public health, or women's rights, or education – are subject to gubernatorial veto. It's something to think about as we enter another Lege gantlet in the New Year. The Chronicle News staff promises to do our level best to track the worst – and the best – of happenings at the Capitol, at City Council, and around the Austin block.
See you next year.
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