Point Austin: Only a Few More Days
The campaigns last forever, and the battles never end
It's nearly all over but the shouting, and by this time next Wednesday, Nov. 9, the regular crew of red-faced cable news ranters can turn to ranting about something else. We can only hope it won't be about the considerable perils of living under a Donald Trump administration. Although the presidential race is said to be "tightening" (as it does in the final days of virtually every campaign), the odds remain in Hillary Clinton's favor. With any luck, we can soon resume complaining about a center-right liberal government, rather than find ourselves cowering under an authoritarian, proto-fascist disaster. We can't all move to Montreal.
At this point, it's difficult to believe that many voters remain undecided, at least at the top of the ballot, but if you're among those many still wondering about downballot races (and whether it's worth your while to draw personal distinctions among radically polarized parties, especially in Texas), you can review the Chronicle's endorsements, or visit austinchronicle.com/elections. Unsurprisingly, we're more knowledgeable on local races than statewides (although we try to keep up). This year our News group took the unusual step of recommending a straight-ticket Democratic vote, under the simple theory that before we consider three or four parties in Texas, we ought to give a try to two. That is, on the major policy issues facing the state – public and higher education, health care and reproductive rights, environmental protection, fair taxes (you know the list) – Republicans and Democrats represent starkly opposed positions, and the presence of more Democrats at the Capitol would mean better opportunities for progressive policies.
But in the nonpartisan local races (City Council, Austin ISD, Austin Community College Board, Mobility Bond) the Chronicle News group – writers, editors, and publisher – make our best recommendation on the merits, and presume our readers can decide whether our informed consensus rhymes with their own.
Bat Cave Goes Silent
This campaign season, we're also in the unusual position of being the only major city publication making candidate endorsements – earlier this year, the Austin American-Statesman decided to forgo that process. Editor Debbie Hiott explained the paper's "philosophical change" in May: "The sheer number of candidates in a metropolitan area this size and the number of editorial writers we have makes it challenging to add to the contours of the electoral debate. In the last City Council cycle, our board met with more than 120 political candidates. In the most recent primary season, we held more than two dozen meetings and we declined to endorse in a number of statewide and county races in our readership area."
That explanation doesn't sound much like a change in "philosophy." More precisely, it sounds like, "It's just too hard." Believe me, I understand – the Chronicle does not employ the luxury of a separate board of editors who can spend much of their days meeting with dozens of candidates, campaign season is repetitive and exhausting, and we unapologetically winnow our list by not interviewing candidates whose campaign policy positions already make it clear that they don't share the progressive values the paper attempts to express and embody. Burdened with the illusion of "objectivity," the folks at the Statesman must maintain the absurd fiction that all candidates are equal – with the occasionally comical result of endorsing, say, a 9/11 Truther because she says she'll cut property taxes, the daily's shibboleth.
A Broader Voice
Nevertheless, we also realize that one reason for the existence of the Chronicle endorsements is in fact to provide a counterweight to the institutional inclinations of the Statesman. We don't always disagree with the Statesman's editors, but in a one-daily town we try to provide an independent political voice that gathers in a broader perspective than, say, that of west side and Williamson/Hays County property owners who value commuter highways and property tax cuts above all other Austin values. Our much smaller News staff will continue to look for stories and points-of-view that persist in the gaps left by the Statesman's constricted definition of "Metro," and by the more egregious (and more culturally domineering) oversights of local TV news.
So, even as the daily has decided it no longer has the editorial resources to provide candidate recommendations – and still reports the presidential campaign as primarily a headline battle between "scandals" and "opinions," rather than what it has in fact become, a struggle over the future of representative democracy – we'll continue to do our level best to analyze the broader implications of local, state, and national public policy. In an increasingly scattered and often incoherent media universe, the Chronicle remains an independent, progressive voice for Austin and our readers. See you at the polls.