Point Austin: What's Not on the Ballot
Matters to consider on Nov. 6 beyond the candidates
I've been reviewing the Travis County sample general election ballot – a gargantuan production that this year in its raw form would give pause to a colony of termites. Luckily, while the ballot that appears on the county website is encyclopedic – including every Nov. 6 contest and question that requires voting somewhere in the county – no single voter will actually face such a ballot, either in written form or on an e-slate. Rather, what she'll see is only those races affecting her precinct: the presidential and statewide races, her congressional and legislative districts, and various propositions for the municipality where she lives (Austin, Pflugerville, Lakeway, etc.).
That might seem self-evident – except that recent redistricting has thrown many voters into districts they will not necessarily recognize. Those northern Travis County voters, for example, who discover themselves to be residents of U.S. Congressional District 17, will be surprised to learn they can choose either (and only) GOP incumbent Bill Flores or Libertarian Ben Easton. CD 17 used to be anchored in Waco and Temple, where for two decades it reliably elected centrist Dem Chet Edwards – even after Tom DeLay's 2002 (and beyond) re-redistricting – until 2010, when the anti-Obama backlash carried Flores to a landslide victory. The latest iteration of CD 17 – while still Republican, running Waco to College Station, with a new, box-shaped extrusion east past Corsicana that looks a bit like Bart Simpson's head – also has a little tail on it that runs westward to Round Rock and Austin. Those Austin voters will have absolutely no effect on Flores' default re-election, but they will certainly endure a moment of puzzled consternation in his honor.
In addition to those lonesome Austinites who find themselves in CD 17 – or one of the other four re-redistricted congressional enclaves – there are plenty more oddities not readily apparent on this ballot.
Consider presidential write-ins. In addition to the third-party choices expressly available this year – the Libertarians, represented by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (cut taxes, free the market), and the Greens, represented by Jill Stein (clean environment, clean government) – there are no fewer than seven write-in president/vice president slates that have been "certified" by the Secretary of State. (No, you can't just punch in "Mickey Mouse.")
Neither libertarian darling Ron Paul nor Peace and Freedom Party figurehead Roseanne Barr (with running mate Cindy Sheehan) are among those Texas-certified candidates, but there should still be a flavor for nearly every marginal political taste. On the left, there's Justice Party candidate and former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson ("Economic, environmental, and social justice for all") and Stewart Alexander of the Socialist Party USA ("Uniting progressives"). There's also Houston native Avery Ayers, chairman of the Utopian Party ("party of the UN-heard Voices!"), and veteran and IT businessman Andre N. Barnett ("Get the 'Elephants and the Asses' mentality out of Washington").
On the right, the Constitution Party's candidate, former Virginia legislator Virgil Goode ("Save America" – from illegal immigrants and gun regulation), is sufficiently well-known to actually cause Mitt Romney some split-ticket trouble in swing state Virginia. Thaddaus Hill represents what he calls the Madisonian-Federalist Party, featuring the most pre-modernist Constitutionalist slogan: "It means what it says, and it says what it means." Finally, another originalist, "America's Party" chairman Tom Hoefling ("pro-life and pro-liberty"), is also angling for right-wing writer-in-ers.
Noam Chomsky has argued that in a swing state, voting for Obama makes sense, because an Obama/Biden administration will be more progressive in policy – and importantly, will enable more breathing room for progressive activism – than the Romney/Ryan alternative. But in an uncontested state – as GOP-dominated Texas certainly is – he would vote for the Greens, in the hopes of supporting the possibility of genuinely progressive, alternative politics.
It's a reasonable argument – but my hometown counterpoint would be that any election is about the best available candidate, not the best possible candidate. Considering the recent political history of Texas – which has increasingly devolved into a one-party state, dictating terms at the Legislature and at too many levels of government – there's an urgent, immediate need (unlike in Chomsky's Massachusetts) to rebuild a progressive Democratic alternative, so that any kind of progressive statewide government action becomes possible here again. The reactionary/libertarian alliance in Texas politics has worked aggressively to cast doubt on even the possibility of common political action through our public institutions – which is to say on the very possibility of community and the common welfare. We need to fight against that political nihilism in our activism and on our ballots. That argues for Democratic turnout – and votes.
What else is missing from this ballot, and this campaign? Elsewhere Chomsky summarizes the two most fundamental omissions: "There are two issues of overwhelming significance, because the fate of the species is at stake: environmental disaster, and nuclear war." For various reasons, neither of those crucial matters has much substantive presence on the campaign trail. They're worth keeping in mind as standards for the extremely narrow limits of our current national politics.
For more on the Travis County ballot, see our next issue, Oct. 19 – just before the start of early voting, Oct. 22. Follow @PointAustin on Twitter.