(Note: Robert Frost once said that "poet" was a gift word, you couldn't call yourself one, you had to be called one by other people. "Politician," on the other hand, is a label that cannot be easily declined, though the number of people running for office who don't wish to be associated with that term keeps rising. A politician is someone who runs in a political race, and who becomes involved in navigating the political process. If a teacher applied for a job and told you that they weren't really an educator, then why the hell would you hire them?)
These interviews, combined with the personal experience and knowledge of the Chronicle politics staff determines how our endorsements go. Over the years, Chronicle endorsements have come to carry some weight; yet we are less than happy with this situation. What we offer is at best educated guesses: In our collective assessment (endorsements must be unanimous), here is the best candidate and perhaps more importantly, here's why, so that you can gauge your own reaction against our reasons.
I won't be voting for our mayoral endorsement. I sat out the endorsement meetings. Partially this is because Kirk Watson's son and my son are in the same class and are friends so I have come to know Watson a little personally. I like and respect him. Partially, it was because I didn't think I would be able to control myself as Max Nofziger played at being a politician, giving good answers (as he always does) despite his sad council record. I can be a little blunt, and I knew I would get rude. It is not just that Nofziger has demonstrated leadership only in oratory rather than in any practical way, it is that this campaign will leave people with a bad taste in their mouths about Austin populist politics for a long time to come.
Ronney Reynolds was also at the meeting. Although the Chronicle frequently differs with Reynolds, he is very much a stand-up councilmember; he says what he means and he tells you what he is going to do and why. Unfortunately, Reynolds lacks the vision to be mayor. Also at the meeting were Ray Blanchette, John Johnson, Kirk Becker, and Ted Kircher -- each has their issues but, as I said, I missed the meeting.
The question here is Austin's future. This city's longtime political dialogues have more to do with confrontation than they do with vision. Austin has changed. In the last 20 years, Travis, Hays, and Williamson counties have all sustained significant development. The whole area has become less rural and more and more urban/suburban. Preserving the integrity of the city as well as continuing to fight to preserve the environment should be the twin goals of the city administration, not one side scoring petty political victories against the other. There is little sense of or even a desire for cooperation from the council, and for this we fault every councilmember. As this campaign unfolds, issues will be articulated, but the true test will be when the council is installed. As the federal government talks about campaign reform, without any intention of implementation, our council talks about cooperation, with little intention to actually work together. Instead of building policy from a series of mundane decisions, it is time to articulate a vision to which those decisions can be made in harmony.
It's time to accept running this city as a grownup proposition. Not just anyone can sit on the board of essentially a billion dollar corporation and know how to run it. Rhetoric is much easier than action. The political process is amazingly difficult. It always looks like making decisions should be easy and very clear cut. Until you actually try to make them -- then the problems appear in every direction.
In Austin, where there are at least three positions to every argument, and with compromise a seemingly foreign art, inaction is too often the answer. There needs to be a vision of where this city wants to be in 50 and 100 years and, together, we should start working towards that vision today. The process of these endorsements reminds me how many qualified citizens are running for office, but the problems of governing, of actually moving forward, fill me with some despair.
(Another note: Listening to the city council meetings on the radio has become painful, as the council regulars, performing for the rest of the gang, see no need for any kind of civility while dealing with the council. Name calling, accusation, insinuation, and insult are the order of the day. Those sitting on the dais ran for public office, were elected by the citizenry and have the awesome ongoing responsibility for running this city. The council regulars, mostly a group of smug asses, act as though they speak for some great un-polled moral majority, and are so pure and so right that they are free to offer any insult to the council. Hey guys, show some respect for the democratic process and the Austin voters!)