Election Notes

District 6, mobility fits, and complaints of campaign thrift

I don't believe in (Don) Zimmerman: The councilman crusader against Austin's campaign finance regulations landed in some hot water recently when the city's Ethics Review Commission found him in possible violation of campaign finance rules.

It's All About the Money: The award for most masochistic press release of the election cycle goes to Ceasar Ruiz, the Republic­an challenging incumbent Rep. Celia Israel in House District 50. On Oct. 24, Ruiz sent journalists an email demanding Israel spend more money to beat him. He claimed: "My opponent's near-total lack of spending on campaign communications shows a profound disrespect for the voters of HD 50." If Ruiz is so worried about expenditures, why doesn't he put his own money where his mouth is? The Pflugerville GOPer raised only $486 from July 1 through Sept. 29, has only $65 cash on hand, and only spent $2,177 over that same period. Compare that to the $40,870 spent by Israel, who still has $99,900 in her war chest. When she's already outspending him 19 to one, it's hard to see why demanding that she outspend him any more will help. – Richard Whittaker

"So-Called" Edits: District 6 City Council incumbent Don Zimmerman landed in some hot water recently when the city's Ethics Review Commission found him in possible violation of campaign finance rules – perhaps not a shock to those familiar with his legal crusade against Austin's campaign finance regulations. The complaint stems from Zimmerman's omission of a disclaimer on his voter mailer that should have read, "This campaign has not agreed to comply with the contribution and expenditure limits of the Austin Fair Campaign Chapter," reported the Austin Monitor. Instead, Zim used the disclaimer to vent his objections, writing: "This campaign has not agreed to comply with the contribution and expenditure limits of the so-called 'Fair' Campaign Chapter." Zimmerman justified his decision on free speech grounds; city ordinances take a backseat to the U.S. Constitution, he argued before the Commission. Most commissioners didn't buy Don the Rebel's disgruntled defense, voting 7-3 to schedule an upcoming hearing to determine if Zimmerman did, in fact, break the rules. The Commission's law liaison tells us the Commission will likely hold the hearing at the next regularly scheduled ERC meeting on Nov. 9. – Mary Tuma

Survey Says: Looks like Election Day could spell doom for Don, according to two Austin Monitor surveys conducted in Septem­ber and October by Public Policy Polling of North Carolina. D6 challenger Jimmy Flan­ni­gan holds 45% of the vote, with Zimmerman at 43% (undecided voters held 13%), per the Oct. 13-15 survey of D6 voters. Similarly, Flannigan led 47%-42% (undecided voters made up 11%) in the Sept. 23-26 poll. The polling group also took on District 7 and 10 races, finding D7 incumbent Leslie Pool well ahead of her opponent and Sheri Gallo facing a possible run-off in D10. – M.T.

Credit Where Credit's Due: Perhaps all the bad news is putting ol' Zim on edge. The incumbent went on the attack with an Oct. 21 release targeting Flannigan's assertion that he, through his group the Northwest Austin Coalition, is credited with getting Anderson Mill Road into the city's $720 million mobility bond package – a central achievement touted in his campaign. (Zimmerman himself abstained from Council's August vote to move the transportation bond forward.) Among Zim­merman's bullet points: The Austin Trans­port­ation Department and Public Works Department "have no record" of Flannigan's "Anderson Mill Corridor Study," wrote Zimmer­man. But the "most damning" evidence of Flannigan's inaccuracy is an email Mayor Steve Adler sent to staff on Sept. 13 in response to a question from Zimmerman about Flannigan's claim that the mayor's office credits him with the inclusion. Zim says Adler wrote, "Has anyone in our office made such a statement? Should someone call Jimmy and find out why he said that?" (The Chronicle obtained a copy of the email with this message.)

Asked to respond to the accusation, Flan­ni­gan told the Chronicle "the facts are clear" that after months of collecting feedback from D6 residents, his corridor study led to Ander­son Mill being part of the bond. "My opponent's constant misinformation, grandstanding, and abstentions have only further alienated District 6, leaving our problems unsolved," said Flannigan. "It's incredulous [Ed. note: We think he meant "incredible"] to claim credit for Anderson Mill when he held no public meetings, never surveyed the community, and ultimately abstained on the bond itself. Leadership means working with your community and achieving results together, not undermining the hard work of others."

So what's the mayor's office got to say? "Flannigan is not the only person or the first person to bring Anderson Mill Road to the attention of those working on the mobility bond," Jason Stanford, Adler's communication director, told the Chronicle. Zimmerman was also "pretty emphatic" about it, he says. "The success of getting [Anderson Mill Road] in the bond has many fathers – [Zimmerman and Flannigan] are two of them." Stanford says that regardless of their efforts, the road would have been included because it "obviously needs help with traffic." – M.T.

Reasonable Doubt: In lighter D6 news, Flannigan borrows clips from city government-based TV sitcom Parks and Recreation in his latest campaign ad, which finds Leslie Knope (a council member on the show) explaining to the city manager that a local cult strategically named themselves the "Reasonable-ists" so it would make those who criticize them appear unreasonable. ("That's weirdly brilliant," says the deputy city manager.) The ad's intended to draw a parallel to Don Zimmerman: Flannigan wonders how reasonable is Zimmerman, the "Taxpayer's Voice of Reason"? Clever, but we see a missed opportunity to parallel Zimmerman with Parks' argumentative and contentious council member Jeremy Jamm. To quote Knope, he's "the worst." – M.T.

Transparency for Thee: Although former Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy is leading the charge and spending on opposition to the Proposition 1 Mobility Bond, he's not alone. Either through his own Sensible Transportation Solutions PAC or the separate Honest Transportation Solutions PAC, Levy has spent at least $45,000 (with more recent spending not yet reported, likely in excess of $60,000). Next on the list are longtime Road Warrior Jim Skaggs ($25,000), and Mercedes-Benz dealer Bryan Hardeman ($10,000), virtually all of the PACs' anti-funding, although both PACs have been sloppy about speedy disclosure. As it happens, in the 2014 City Council campaign, Levy and Hardeman were two of the three funders behind the Coalition of Austin Neigh­bor­hoods PAC, which bought a full-page ad in the Statesman in order to denounce political consultant David Butts and some of the candidates he was supporting ("Point Austin: Nuts to You!," Dec. 5, 2014). At the time, Levy denied to the Chronicle that he was funding the Coalition ("not one thin dime," he said) – a subsequent Texas Ethics Commis­sion filing, long after the election, reflected otherwise. Worth noting is that one of the main complaints the opponents have against the bond is an alleged lack of "transparency." (Ed. note: Levy purchased an anti-Prop 1 ad in today's Chronicle.) – Michael King

It's Rigged!: Old campaigns never die; they just find new ways to raise money. The Temple Daily Telegraph Telegram reported Oct. 19 that former Austin City Council candidate Laura Pressley (defeated in a 2014 run-off by D4 Council Member Greg Casar) remains on tour, raising money for her appeal of a legal challenge of the outcome, rejected by the state district court but still pending before the 3rd Court of Appeals. The Telegram's Jacob Sanchez reported ("Tea Party speaker addresses electronic voting concerns") that Pressley told a Bell County audience (the Central Texas Tea Party, in Belton) that she was the victim of "corrupt voting machines": "I didn't think they would mess with a little city race." Who "they" might be was apparently unspecified. Pressley, who came in second to Casar among eight candidates in the first D4 round, said she was still convinced she would win the run-off. She lost 65-35%, but has never conceded. She insists she will win her appeal, but it's expensive, she told the crowd, estimating $250,000 in costs thus far. Pressley apparently didn't tell her audience that the costs include nearly $100,000 in sanctions against her and her attorney, for knowingly pursuing frivolous "no evidence" claims against Casar, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, and other county and state officials. – M.K.

Same shit, different day: Alex Jones makes his voice heard (and heard, and heard) at a Gun Rights Rally in January 2010. (Photo by John Anderson)

Very Concealed Carry: In a Statesman profile over the weekend ("Austin's Alex Jones: The Voice in Donald Trump's Head," Oct. 21), reporter Jonathan Tilove manages to spend 2,900 words recounting the InfoWars demagogue's hysterical style, preposterous conspiracy theories, and baleful influence on this year's presidential campaign – especially Jones' apparently direct lines to Trump and his adviser Roger Stone – without ever mentioning Jones' overarching and fanatical obsession: guns, and the alleged right to carry them openly wherever, whenever, under any circumstances, without regulation. Quite an accomplishment. – M.K.

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Election Notes, Celia Israel, Ceasar Ruiz, Don Zimmerman, Ethics Review Commission, Austin Fair Campaign Chapter, Jimmy Flannigan, Leslie Pool, Sheri Gallo, Northwest Austin Coalition, Steve Adler, Austin Transportation Department, Public Works Department, Jason Stanford, Parks and Recreation, Leslie Knope, Jeremy Jamm, Mike Levy, Bryan Hardeman, Jim Skaggs

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