Point Austin: Coming Home to Austin

Latest gerrymander reflects Capitol contempt for capital

Point Austin
You've got to wonder what it will take to make "True Orangebloods" (as they like to call themselves) finally have quite enough of Rick Perry and his carpetbagging friends from the Texas provinces. The 82nd legislative session has not exactly been a friendly one for the folks at UT-Austin. First there were Perry's broad-stroke budget cuts, dictated not by fiscal necessity (hence the refusal even to consider rational deployment of the Rainy Day Fund) but by political dogma, adhering blindly to a "no tax" fanaticism even while forcing state costs downward onto counties and cities lacking the capacity to bear them (even forbidden by state law from adequately doing so). On the budget block, higher education was treated as shabbily as public schools, perhaps with a little less fanfare.

Then came the clumsy attempts to turn university education into simply a cost-center rather than an investment in citizenship and the future. Perry began promoting a cut-rate, $10,000 degree, with a crony comparing the difference to that between a utilitarian "Chevy" and a luxury "Cadillac" education. (Folks driving Cadillacs are endlessly eager to tighten other people's belts.) Finally, an appointed education "consultant" to the UT Sys­tem board of regents began denigrating the usefulness of university research and suggested that most undergraduate teaching could be accomplished by low-paid and untenured lecturers (better known in the academic trade as itinerant, expendable sharecroppers).

In fairness, $200,000 consultant Rick O'Donnell was sent packing after an uproar from UT administrators and even the Texas Exes, not to mention a newspaper analysis of his own "scholarship" at the Texas Public Policy Foundation that showed it was riddled with elementary errors. Yet can you imagine the uproar at the Forty Acres (and across the state) if some hired gun proposed slashing UT football expenditures (or those at A&M) to a level that represented, oh, $10,000 a player? Or perhaps the suggestion that most coaching could be handled quite well by 25-year-old graduate assistants – younger, cheaper by the dozen, and much less likely to create market-rate salary wars with the likes of Florida and Ohio State?

Twisting the Knife

I'm pondering these unanswerable questions in the wake of the Lege's latest assault on Austin, the proposed five-way split of congressional districts that would leave most of Travis County "represented" by far-away Republican congressmen. Even Tom DeLay never contemplated quite this radical a vivisection of the capital city of his home state; Senate Redistricting Chair Kel Seliger now has bragging rights over the Hammer.

Longtime Austin Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who's gotten wearily accustomed to being targeted by GOP lawmakers determined to draw him out of Congress since they can't defeat him at the ballot box, says he's ready to "live in a Winnebago" if that's what it takes to outfox the GOP gerrymander. He told the Chronicle's Lee Nichols that the latest map is "cunning and malicious, but it's definitely not crazy. They have a well-conceived scheme to impose [Republican] rule on our county." An earlier four-district map, proposed by San Antonio Republican Lamar Smith, Doggett said, "had a dagger he plunged right into the heart of our community, and now they're just twisting and turning it to cut us up one more way. ... It's more of the same, though a more vicious attack perhaps, in that it's really five crooked congressional districts."

Whatever the final map looks like – and there will likely be several iterations on the way through the committees and the courts – you have to wonder at such a persistent, even obsessive "republican" (i.e., allegedly representative) effort to make certain that the citizens of Travis County be prevented from electing a member of Congress who actually represents our interests, as we see them.

A simpler way to put it: Why do these guys hate Austin so much?

No Education Without Representation

Of course, conservative legislators – Republican and Democratic, stretching back decades – have always had a hate-love relationship with the capital city. Even while many of them attended UT or its law school – heaven forbid Lone Star offspring go east or west for college – they learned early that Austin-bashing and attacks on the "People's Republic" always play well in the provinces. Yet like many a once-homesick freshman, given a taste of this den of sophisticated iniquity, they find reasons to hang around post-graduation. Many maintain (campaign-financed) homes here as well as in their districts, and if threatened with exile by defeat or retirement, they slide effortlessly into the lobby rather than return to the less-cosmopolitan Piney Woods or played-out oil fields. Just can't keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen UT.

Fair enough. After all, most of us who live here now are sometime immigrants. But if we're good enough to welcome all these wanna­be Austinites at Homecoming, we should be damn well good enough to have our own elected representative in Washington, D.C., and not have to go begging to a hostile proxy official in San Antonio or Fredricksburg or by-God Fort Worth when we want our voices heard on federal matters. Austinites may not be a "protected class" under the Voting Rights Act – and God knows that statewide, African-Americans and Hispanics are much more abused by this tyrannical voting-fraud-by-gerrymander than we are – but it's about time that these citified country boys acknowledge that we have a constitutional right to actual, effective representation in Congress.

Those suburbanites who joined the tea party backlash in November thought "waste and fraud" were on the chopping block, only to discover that their own school districts would be savaged by budget cuts, along with health care and nursing homes. In the same way, the thousands of Texas Exes who claim undying loyalty to UT-Austin need to open their eyes and see what's happening to their beloved alma mater and her home, all in the name of Perry's presidential ambitions and the divine right of rich white folks to run absolutely everything.

The eyes of Texas are upon you.  

The Senate Redistricting Committee has scheduled a public hearing on the latest redistricting map: Fri­day, June 3, 9am, in Room E1.016 in the Capitol Extension.

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redistricting, Texas Legislature, Legislature, Rick O'Donnell, Voting Rights Act, University of Texas

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