Smart Meters, Fluoride, and Guns
Things Laura Pressley doesn't want to talk about
This year, Laura Pressley is running for the District 4 City Council seat as a neighborhood activist and budget hawk. She talks a lot about "affordability"; she doesn't talk at all about her fight against fluoridation of the city's water supply, her belief that Austin Energy's "smart meters" caused her legs to twitch, or her scorn for any attempt to keep military-style weapons off city streets. Pressley also doesn't talk about her fear of smartphones, or her "gift" for sensing "vibrations" from cordless phones and iPads.
But she has talked at great length about all of these things on right-wing talk shows. Although the candidate does not care to discuss them now – she declined to discuss any of them for this story – her orations survive on YouTube (here, here, and here).
On Nov. 10, 2013, Pressley talked with conspiracy-monger Alex Jones, on his Infowars radio show, about how the Austin Energy Smart Meter at her house made her and her husband's legs "twitch" at night, keeping them awake. AE describes a smart meter as "an electronic hardware device that uses advanced metering infrastructure software to measure the amount of electricity used and at what time of day. Smart meters send this information to Austin Energy by way of radio frequency waves." Because there is no need for a staff person to read the meter directly, the utility gets real-time data and saves money through use of the meters. After she complained, Pressley says, AE replaced her meter with the previously standard meter, which must be read in person – and she takes credit for persuading AE to provide this "opt-out" program.
AE charges $75 for reinstallation of the old meter and $10 a month to service it. AE spokesman Robert Cullick said of 390,000 customers, 68 have opted out of the smart meters. (Other utilities charge three to five times as much for customers to get the older meter, Cullick said.) Pressley doesn't mention her battle against smart meters on her campaign website, but Austin Smart Meters, Pressley's website devoted to the subject, remains online. It contains the following statement: "Many do not want their privacy invaded with these invasive technologies."
In February of this year, Pressley appeared on The Weekend Vigilante Show with host Sheila Zilinsky (another radio scare-jock, who calls herself "Alex Jones in a skirt"). During that interview, Pressley again complained about smart meters, and said she fears radiation from cell towers and smartphones as well as ordinary cordless phones. Of smartphones, she said, "That is like having a smart meter in your pocket. ... We have so many people that are concerned about having a smart meter on the side of their home but they're carrying a smart meter in their pocket."
Not Pressley. "I have a cheapo flip phone. It puts out about 500 microwatts. ... So there are options. ... Keeping it away from your body in speaker mode. Right now I am on a landline, because I'm not going to sit here for this interview and have the phone up to my ear." Pressley also told Zilinsky that she is so sensitive to microwaves and radio waves that she can sense from a distance when a cordless phone has been plugged in. She explained that she had stayed at a bed-and-breakfast and asked the owner to unplug her cordless phone. The landlady agreed, Pressley said, adding, "She thought I was a little crazy, of course." The next morning, Pressley said, she was awakened when the woman plugged the phone back in. "My body could feel that she had turned them back on. ... For some reason I have this gift. I don't know if it's a gift or a curse. But I can feel these things and I can be near someone with an iPad and my body starts to vibrate and I'll ask them to turn it off because it's just a lot of radiation; and I've never had anybody say no."
As a member of Fluoride Free Austin, Pressley testified before Council on numerous occasions, to no avail. In 2012, Pressley ran for Council against incumbent Mike Martinez. On April 27, 2012, she told Alex Jones' Infowars radio audience that her fight against fluoridation of Austin's water supply had led her to run for Council. "I decided to do something about it; I listened to you," she said to Jones, who told listeners, "Get behind her, get her in office."
Pressley was still fighting fluoride last December, when she sent an email to the mayor and Council listing cities that have removed fluoride from their drinking water and lamenting the fact that Austin had not followed suit. She wrote, "The system of city government in Austin has failed our citizens from a technical, scientific, and human standpoint as it relates to fluoridation."
AWU Assistant Director Jane Burazer cites a 2011 Council resolution directing staff to continue fluoridating Austin's water, "Because fluoridation of public drinking water is good, population-based public health practice according to the Centers for Disease Control and the city's Health and Human Services Department." Council spent considerable time in 2011 studying the question and, as they were advised to do by numerous health professionals, resolved the issue in favor of fluoridation. Currently, the Fluoride Free Austin website touts Pressley's endorsement by the Statesman.
On Feb. 28, 2013, following the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Council passed a resolution urging Austin's representatives in Congress to "develop a comprehensive approach to reduce gun crime." Pressley implored Council not to approve the resolution, which referred to closing background-check loopholes, limiting the size of magazines, and restricting military-style guns. Pressley insisted that the proposal would prevent citizens from carrying 9mm handguns. She declared, "The right to protect ourselves is a divine right," adding, "this is not a liberal policy. It's an authoritarian act." She told Council the resolution calls on the Congress and the Legislature "to ban military-style guns. What in the world does that mean? It's incredibly ambiguous. ... Do you understand that the military standard handgun issued is a nine-millimeter? ... That's what I carry and that's what the majority of citizens of Texas use. This resolution calls for banning nine-millimeters. Does that make any sense? ... It's an authoritarian act to disarm nine-millimeter handguns."
After several requests to address these subjects, Pressley responded via email. "I'm not sure what fluoride has to do with affordability, rail, and gentrification," she wrote, "but the Chronicle should be asking about the top issues for District 4, such as a 20% city homestead exemption, utility fee reductions, cutting subsides to big corporations, traffic, and the wasteful rail bond that I'm against. These are the issues I intend to fight for on Council."
In short, Pressley deeply disapproves of fluoride, smart meters, and smartphones, and she's got a soft spot for handguns and Alex Jones. But this month on the campaign trail, District 4 voters are not likely to hear any of Pressley's frequently declared positions on those subjects. She doesn't want to talk about it.