Softies for Austin

Is Austin-bashing a thing of the past?

Whisper it quietly: Austin-bashing may be dead. "God, don't ever say that," said Rep. Eddie Rodriguez. "It hasn't reared its ugly head in a little while, so we're safe for another two years."

Just as a member of Congress never lost votes for bad-mouthing D.C., running against a state Capitol is a standard part of the political arsenal – Arnold Schwarzenegger can thank "those folks in Sacramento" for his governorship of California. But Texas politicians have turned it into a fine art, reaching a peak in the mid-1990s when even Austin's own rep (now comptroller) Susan Combs indulged in some herself. Rep. Elliott Naish­tat traces it back to the fight over the Save Our Springs Ordinance. "Big developers decided to go to the Legislature, where they had lots of friends who historically had a problem with Austin." Partially, that problem was knee-jerk anti-liberalism, and partially it was more personal; Naishtat says: "Policemen wouldn't treat members of the Lege with the respect [they] thought they should be treated with – they would give them tickets."

As the former mayor of Austin, Sen. Kirk Watson has seen Austin-bashing from both sides of the dais and agrees that it's fading. As more legislative emphasis is placed on local control, developer end-runs around council policy meet a poor reception under the dome. Watson explained, "The Legis­lat­ure today feels less inclined to be an appellate court than maybe it did in the past." That said, the Austin delegation is also better at early detection and derailing of Austin-bashing bills. "I give a lot of credit to our House colleagues and the way they do their business," he said.

City Council has also played a role. This session, Rodriguez noted, "There hasn't been anything the city has done that's considered controversial amongst the members." It's also not the same city or Legislature that got into those turf wars, Rodriguez said. Austin has "grown so rapidly ... it feels like a different city to some of these members. Plus," he added, "you have a lot of new members, and younger members, and they love Austin."

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