Politics & Personalities
2015 Readers Poll
2015 Critics Picks

Devaki Knowles

Best Civil Rights Activist

Maxey has been both a Democratic official and a progressive instigator for so long his two roles have largely merged – apparently the reason that readers anointed him with both of these awards. The former state rep has fought for working people and basic human rights for decades, but most recently he entered the battles for same-sex marital rights by supporting Texas plaintiffs and outing county clerks all over the state – that is, clerks who refused to abide by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that gays and lesbians have the same constitutional right to marriage as their straight neighbors. This double award is as much a community celebration as a well-deserved honor for a longtime leader and political pioneer. Glen, keep on fighting! (We know you will!)

www.fb.com/glen.maxey

Best Disaster Response

This brand new category encouraged readers to recognize the many folks who came to aid after the Memorial Weekend floods. Ballots were cast for the Red Cross, Austin Disaster Relief Network, and even the brave Austin emergency workers who rescued the guy stuck on a pole at House Park. The group that earned the most was Texas Conservation Corps, a program of American YouthWorks and supported by AmeriCorps volunteers. TxCC set up – as they have done for many recent Texas disaster recovery events – VRCs, or Volunteer Reception Centers. The Wimberley, Bastrop, and San Marcos centers served as HQ for funneling resources and muscle to the folks who needed it most, and offered opportunities and guidance for volunteers who wished to serve out in the field.

Texas Conservation Corps
1901 E. Ben White
512/744-1916
www.texasconservationcorps.org

Bret Brookshire

Best Elected City Official

The former community organizer promised to represent all of his constituents, not just those who could or did vote for him, and thus far, District 4 Council Member Greg Casar has kept that promise, including making sure that the undocumented immigrants in his district are treated with the same respect by his office as U.S. citizens, and advocating for greater job opportunities for people with criminal records. All this while dealing with the sorest loser this town's seen in a while.

City Hall: 301 W. Second
512/978-2104
www.austintexas.gov/district-4

Best Elected State Official

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, fought for basics like equitable education and health care in the face of an increasingly hostile, conservative Lege that from the outset nixed their two-thirds rule, lending the GOP even more unchecked power. Delivering passionate rallies on the floor, Watson stood up for the fates of disabled state-supported living center residents in his district; abused, pregnant minors seeking safe abortion; and university students wary of guns on college campuses, making the former Austin mayor a true people’s champ.

Sen. Kirk Watson
Capitol Extension Room E1.804
512/463-0114
www.kirkwatson.com

David Brendan Hall

Best Environmental Activist

This staunch environmental activist and Occupy Austin regular is currently the heart and soul of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign in Central Texas. After successfully coordinating the Texas BlueGreen Alliance, he is now focused on shutting down the coal-fired Fayette Power Project and pushing for the adoption of strong renewable energy policies in Austin, while seeking to incorporate anti-poverty and anti-racist principles and strategies into Austin's environmental activist community. Órale!

Sierra Club
1202 San Antonio St.
512/477-1729
www.texas2.sierraclub.org

Best Event on the Capitol Steps

Folks have been holding symbolic gay weddings all around the capital city for years, but this was a big mass wedding, a big gay mass wedding, held eight days after the U.S. Supreme Court "so ordered" the recognition of same-sex marriages. Austin's Big Gay Wedding event was held on the south steps of the Texas State Capitol on the Fourth of July. Over 40 couples exchanged vows and waved legal marriage certificates for all to see. Many folks deserve kudos for pulling the event off, but the chugging dynamo at its heart was local attorney Lenore Shefman, whose social justice work in this town way back in the Nineties (before she left Texas to earn that law degree) included a bit of activism in front of the Governor's Mansion – a protest in the form of, you guessed it: a big gay wedding.

Lenore Shefman
1002 West Ave. #301
512/386-8117
www.shefmanlaw.net

Jana Birchum

Best Grassroots Group

Everyone knows Austin’s aura is huge. Now its AURA – formerly Austinites for Urban Rail Action, now just an evocative acronym – wants to make sure our civic vision, creativity, and public spirit stay focused on the core of that violet crown. AURA originally took up the cause of urban rail planning; it has since expanded to organizing around various urbanist issues, from helping rewrite our land development code in connection with CodeNEXT to encouraging affordable urban density via such techniques as limiting historic preservation, making it easier to live car-free, and limiting sprawl by keeping overzealous environmental regulations in check for the urban core. AURA also specializes in public outreach, encouraging Austinites to jump on the planning train as it rolls on.

AURA
www.aura-atx.org

Best Lege Silver Lining

In January it seemed like the slew of anti-LGBTQ legislation would ruin any progress made in the name of equality, including bills to protect "religious freedom," the dreaded Pastor Protection Act, Rep. Cecil Bell's discriminatory HB 4105, and bathroom-panic bills. Amazingly, and for a variety of reasons, they all derailed. The voters (at least of our poll!) took notice, recognizing this wholesale discrimination fail to be the silver lining of a crazy session – matched only in votes by the notion that the session finally came to an end: It's over! Yes, friends, it is, so spike up your hair, put on some shiny pants, and wave "bye, bye, bye!"

Equality Texas
512/474-5475
www.equalitytexas.org

Best Local Controversy

When District 6 elected the guy famous for blowing a rape whistle on local news to protest an affordable housing bond, well, amazing things had to be in the works. Since then, Don Zimmerman has sued a teeny online publication, suggested the city strike rules about wheelchair accessibility, compared gay marriage to pedophilia, and sued the city to get rid of campaign finance rules. Invader Zim doesn't disappoint.

Don Zimmerman
301 W. Second
www.austintexas.gov/department/district-6

Best Local Politics Blog

Calling themselves the Democrats' biggest supporters and harshest critics, these political hounds know how to report hard facts and push hard opinions. Policymakers in the Capitol pay attention too. The site boasts 60,000-100,000 daily views and regularly receives contributing articles from institutional leaders, political consultants, elected officials, lobbyists, and concerned Texans. Orange for UT. Blue for Texas. And burnt for the torch they carry among progressives across the city and state.

Burnt Orange Report
www.burntorangereport.com

Best March or Rally

Each June, in memory of Stonewall, Queerbomb hosts a march and rally, inviting every member of the LGBTQIA community to come together and embrace diversity, sexuality, art, music, and individuality. If you've ever been to a Queerbomb march, it's likely you woke up the next morning covered in glitter, dressed in only your rainbow underwear, with sore muscles (a lady does not tell which), no voice, and the taste of vodka and/or Red Bull still in your mouth… oh, and a smile that won't quit.

QueerBomb
www.facebook.com/Queerbomb

Best Neighborhood Activist

What kind of message does a school named after Robert E. Lee send to incoming residents? The wrong kind, says Teresa Griffin. She's the leading voice in the charge by the Friends of Hyde Park, a free online neighborhood association, to change a local school's name. A resident since 1969, Griffin has fought for benefits and wages of UT staff, higher living standards, and more inclusive representation of neighborhoods. Can we get an "Amen"?

Friends of Hyde Park
www.friendsofhydepark.com

Jana Birchum

Best News Story

What a year of grabby headlines: Central Texas floods, the 10-1 election, the "Austin Cobra," Jumpolin, the list goes on. But overwhelmingly, our readers – like so many local revelers on that day – chose the news of Friday, June 26, 2015, the day that the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that LGBTQ people wishing to marry had the same constitutional rights as everyone else. There were many ways to articulate this, and many of our readers voted with the very same message that President Obama tweeted on that historic day: #LoveWins. It is so ordered.

Equality Texas
512/474-5475
www.equalitytexas.org

Best Nonprofit

What's better than doggies and kitties? Not much, except maybe people who save doggies and kitties. Austin Pets Alive! – a crucial link in Austin's No-Kill City chain – is a nonprofit organization made up of these kind of wonderfully selfless humans that commit volunteer energy and time into making sure Austin's animals stay alive, well, and matched with loving families to call home (over 25,000 adoptions since mid-2008). If everyone was as kind and philanthropic as the people at APA!, the world would be a better place.

Austin Pets Alive!
1156 W. Cesar Chavez
512/961-6519
www.austinpetsalive.org

Devaki Knowles

Best Political Gadfly

Maxey has been both a Democratic official and a progressive instigator for so long his two roles have largely merged – apparently the reason that readers anointed him with both of these awards. The former state rep has fought for working people and basic human rights for decades, but most recently he entered the battles for same-sex marital rights by supporting Texas plaintiffs and outing county clerks all over the state – that is, clerks who refused to abide by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that gays and lesbians have the same constitutional right to marriage as their straight neighbors. This double award is as much a community celebration as a well-deserved honor for a longtime leader and political pioneer. Glen, keep on fighting! (We know you will!)

www.fb.com/glen.maxey

Best Political Scandal

Former governor and future two-time failed presidential nomination seeker Rick Perry had two pieces of good news this year: One, that he only faces one felony charge for trying to force Travis County D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg to quit, after the Court of Appeals threw one lesser charge out. Two, that Attorney General Ken Paxton distracted the media with three charges related to securities fraud. To misquote Oscar Wilde: To have one Texas politician under indictment may be regarded as a misfortune; to have two facing jail time looks like carelessness. Our ballot happened to be running during the Paxton fracas, and some readers jumped the gun voting for an indictment that had not yet happened. But combined with votes for "Paxton investigation," "Paxton securities fraud," and "Anything Paxton," we had a handy tie.

Rick Perry
www.rickperry.org

Ken Paxton
300 W. 15th
512/463-2100
www.texasattorneygeneral.gov

Best Use of Tax Dollars

Remember that last scene in Slacker, where everyone hops in the hooptie to the tune of South African drinking song "Skokiaan," and they drive out of town, camera in hand, land at Mount Bonnell, climb up to the top, and toss the camera over the edge? That pretty much sums up the wild abandon and adoration we Austinites feel for our green spaces. There are a lot of priorities our readers would love for city dollars to fund: education initiatives, sidewalks, transportation options, but the majority of votes in this category went to items that fall under the purview of Austin Parks and Rec or have benefited greatly from the hard work and dedication of the Austin Parks Foundation. From Eeyore's Birthday to Philosophers' Rock, dang, we like to lie around and think about how great our city is. Long may she slack!

Austin PARD
200 S. Lamar
512/974-6700
www.austintexas.gov/parks

Austin Parks Foundation
507 Calles #116
512/477-1566
www.austinparks.org

 
Readers: Outdoors & Recreation
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