The Austin Chronicle

Austin's New Karl Rove

Daryl Slusher?

By Michael King, March 17, 2006, News

As the rhetoric heats up over the proposed "Clean Water/Clean Government" charter amendments soon to appear on an election ballot near you, two former allies and more recently adversaries have resumed verbal combat. Last week, former Council Member Daryl Slusher distributed an e-mail around town harshly criticizing the amendments and advocating their defeat. Among other things, Slusher finds the proposals ill-considered, badly drafted, and marked by vague language – in short, he doesn't like them. "These proposals, whether one agrees with the substance or not, do not belong in the City Charter," Slusher writes. "The Charter is Austin's Constitution and should cover fundamental matters of governance such as: what form of government the City will have; what the governing body will be; the length of terms for elected officials; budget responsibilities; and other such matters of fundamental governance. The proposals in these amendments, even if one supports them, should be ordinances or resolutions." And so on.

Slusher cut his journalistic teeth at the Chronicle defending Barton Springs and was an original member of the so-called Green Council, which was supposed to establish a bulwark against unfettered development and environmental degradation. But several years ago, some local environmentalists – most prominently Save Our Springs Alliance director Bill Bunch – read Slusher out of the environmental community for insufficient devotion, or as the SOS Web site puts it: "Slusher spent more of his years in office saying 'no' to specific requests for specific actions to help protect Barton Springs." It's been some time since SOS could bring itself to make common cause with Slusher (or other council members) on policy matters; indeed, the charter campaign is largely an extension of continuing SOS frustration at what it considers the council's foot-dragging, most notably the decision by AMD to build its new campus in the Barton Springs contributing zone.

The SOS response to Slusher's letter calls it the first salvo in the coming attacks of "Citizens for Austin's Future," a new "political insider" city PAC formed to defeat the amendments (i.e., Slusher is no more than a tool of the developers). SOS accuses Slusher of confounding the two propositions – although they overlap in intent and have been promoted in combination from the beginning – and dismisses his criticisms as carping. This amendment "represents an opportunity for the people of Austin to do what the City Council has not done – denounce the profound disrespect shown by AMD and our silent elected officials to the future of Austin and Barton Springs," SOS writes. According to the "SOS Clean Water Clean Government PAC," "Slusher's criticisms are taken from the playbook of the PAC that in 1992 worked with Karl Rove to fight the SOS Ordinance, which was characterized as a 'costly mistake that could backfire.'"

"Political insider" is one thing – but the new Karl Rove? In this town, that's a low blow.

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