Opinion: Progressive Policies Are Popular. That’s Why Austin Saw Big Wins on Election Night.
When candidates lead courageously, lean in to progressive values, and fight for what's right, they're able to positively impact people's lives and win, says Councilmember Greg Casar
Before all the votes were even counted, Gov. Greg Abbott's political team and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo were already blaming progressive Austin for Texas' failure to turn blue. But no matter the results of the election, they would've said the same thing. When Biden lost Texas, they claimed Austin's progressive ideals turned off the rest of the state. If he had won the state, they would've said it was exactly because Biden distanced himself from many of Austin's progressive policies.
The truth is, the right wing is blaming Black Lives Matter, Medicare for All, and a Green New Deal, simply because they don't support the goals of progressive movements. Don't be fooled. Austin's election is an example on how to do the right thing and win.
While Texas Democrats had a relatively weak election night, we saw major victories in Austin. We passed our own local Green New Deal, we increased Biden's margin of victory by a greater share than any other Democratic city in the state, and progressive champions won up and down the ballot.
We did this by recognizing that progressive movements and policies that actually help working people are more popular than politicians themselves. No one knows that better than local elected officials. Whether it's talking to constituents at the grocery store or at the bus stop, we have to inspire people to get to the bottom of the ballot. Doing so demands local electeds fight for them and their families.
And we did. Tens of thousands voiced their demands for reinvesting public safety dollars into community solutions to poverty and crime, and Austin City Council listened. Every local elected official who voted to transform our policing budget won their race or was the top vote getter. Every local elected official that supported Prop A, Austin's own Green New Deal, won the most votes.
On the other hand, candidates in traditionally Republican areas of Austin who campaigned specifically against the Movement for Black Lives – like Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and Justin Berry – lost. This isn't a fluke. By embracing, rather than rejecting, the energy of the progressive movement, Travis County no longer has a single local elected Republican.
Austin voters have delivered us a mandate for progressive priorities, and Austin's progressive turnout is providing a roadmap to the rest of the state.
Voter turnout boomed in my own district, the lowest-income and the most immigrant part of the city, by 50% from 2016. These voters are young people and folks of color, energized and ready to make change. Austin made Texas a closer race than ever, not in spite of our values, but because of them.
Progressive organizing helped Biden throughout the nation. Michigan and Minnesota played a decisive role in Biden's victory. We owe much of that to the organizing of "Squad" members Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar, in places like Detroit and Minneapolis. Policies such as decriminalization of drugs and a $15 minimum wage won across the country. Every co-sponsor of Medicare for All in a swing district won their race.
The point of adopting policy positions is to improve the lives of everyday people. But for too long, right-wing forces masquerading as centrists have held back real progress by claiming that justice must be put on indefinite hold, for the sake of electoral math.
In Austin, we're proving that their math just doesn't add up. We can stand up for the basic human rights of the poor and homeless. We can embrace the ideals of the Movement for Black Lives, and put Austin's own Green New Deal on the ballot. And we can win.
Our local fight isn't over. We're headed into critical City Council run-offs against another round of Trump-supporting candidates. Austin wins when we are unapologetically compassionate, progressive, and true to ourselves. It's not only the winning strategy for the future of the Democratic Party, it's the right thing to do.
Recently elected for a third term, Gregorio “Greg” Casar is the youngest person ever elected to the Austin City Council. He is a native Texan and the son of Mexican immigrants. Representing District 4, Greg has championed paid sick days, led the effort to successfully pass the largest affordable housing bond in Texas history, and redirected city budget resources to more effectively address the needs of working class Austinites.
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