Point Austin: The Circus Returns to Town
Final-day filings bump up the list of wannabe Council candidates
By my count, there are now 28 official candidates for City Council, quite a few of them making unanticipated filings at the deadline. I was thinking that was an improvement on 2014, the first 10-1 year – the complete list approached 80, as I recall, but it might have been more – when I remembered that with subsequently staggered terms, only half as many seats are in play. So perhaps 28 is not much of a diminution. The "staggering" (alternating seats up for election) was done historically to avoid electing whole Councils without experience, but if it provides some voter relief, that's a bonus.
In theory, districted voters can concentrate on two local races: the citywide mayoral, and their own district, if it's their year (not to forget Austin Community College, Austin ISD, or the several other city school districts). The city races, of course, are way down at the bottom of a statewide ballot, and will also include bond propositions (and others) that require some preparation (more on that later) for an off-year national election that should generate much more interest (and turnout) than those normally do. (If it does not bring out the voters nationwide, we're in more trouble than I care to contemplate this morning ....)
I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the "turnout" on the ballot itself, but while there are solid (by which I mean fully qualified) candidates in every race, several races are filled out with folks who should have thought twice before filing, and then decided to do something more useful with their (and the public's) time. Perhaps volunteer for another candidate, or apply for a commission post ... or even just show some interest in city government beyond "I could do better than those guys ...."
Real Job, Real Qualifications
The mayor's race is the clearest evidence. It features two very well-qualified candidates – incumbent Steve Adler and former Council Member Laura Morrison – and now five pretenders who will serve mostly to waste time in various community forums conjuring speculative answers to city policy questions about which they know nothing. That inevitably leaves much less time for voters to compare the records and positions of the qualified candidates who are actually capable of accomplishing four years of a very difficult and demanding official position. (Neither the candidates nor the hosting organizations can afford to state the obvious, which is why it's left to curmudgeons like me.)
Oddly enough, none of the district Council races appear quite so packed with wannabes, although I presume that's because you don't get as much ego-inflation in a district race. I know, I know – the national political obsession with amateurism means every last one of us is qualified to be "Mayor of Austin" (one dubious candidate, to be nameless here, has already fashioned himself a wrestling-style championship belt carrying the title). Yet presumably few of us would hire even a housepainter without some sense of actual qualifications and experience at the technically and physically demanding job. Mayor? Anybody can do it ....
Our News team will have more to report on the campaigns, but the slate of filed candidates suggests a few early stories. District 1 features several interesting combatants (with former Dem party chair Vincent Harding presumably the early frontrunner), who need to consider how to treat the record of retiring incumbent Ora Houston. D3 reprises the odd family melodrama of incumbent Pio Renteria vs. sister/activist Susana Almanza, and a brace of others. D8 (where incumbent Ellen Troxclair decided not to run), includes three "progressive" candidates who likely find themselves jostling for a position against a conservative hoping to follow Troxclair's trail.
In D9, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo's initial challenger, Danielle Skidmore (with two others) looks to represent the strongest contest over the city's roiling "growth" and "density" issues – other than the mayor's race – although Tovo is likely too well-known and established to be at much risk. It'll be interesting to see if that holds.
Finally, somewhat surprisingly amidst this feast of candidates, D5 incumbent Ann Kitchen will skate home free of opposition. Reportedly, she almost had a challenger, but he couldn't sufficiently manage the filing process.
Amateurs, somebody said.