Point Austin: The Work Goes On

A mixed election bag nationwide, but real reasons for optimism

Point Austin: The Work Goes On

On Wednesday morning, our National Insult Comedian held court at the White House, claiming victory in an election that largely reflected a nationwide rejection of his presidency. Between rambling threats to retaliate against House Democrats who might dare to investigate him and protracted arguments with reporters who declined to throw softballs, Donald Trump declared, "I thought it was very close to a complete victory." While I'm happy that the Democratic majority in the U.S. House will provide an institutional check on a reckless and ruthless administration, it's unnerving to contemplate what the next couple of years will be like under a narcissistic bully who considers any questioning of his authority a direct personal assault.

On that score, we'll wait, watch, and duck-and-cover. Simply watching Trump's public performance juxtaposed with that of Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi a bit later in the day is an education in the responsibilities of public officials. And her gender is no coincidence – the surge in successful women candidates, nationally and in Texas, is a harbinger of a less arbitrary and less arrogant politics. Large credit goes to women voters as well: According to The Washington Post, women favored congressional Democrats over Republicans by roughly 20 points (60%-40%), and because of relentless state GOP gerrymandering, margins like that were needed to secure the House victory.

On the Senate side, where the map favored Republicans, the results were not so good – about the best we can hope for is long life for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to prevent Trump and Mitch McConnell from further packing the Supreme Court. Reminder: It's the fundamentally undemocratic nature of the Senate, where tiny states weigh equally with California and Texas, that has allowed a hard-right Senate majority to maintain illegitimate power over the entire justice system. That needs to end.

Under the Dome

Then there's Texas. The national outcome partly obscures state Democratic disappointments, where there was still too much "close, but no cigar," especially statewide and in our nearby congressional races. It gives me little comfort that I wrote a couple of weeks ago that Beto O'Rourke's "inspirational campaign remains a long shot, even against one of the most unctuously repulsive Republicans in a still-Republican state." Same goes for Lite Guv Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and buffoonish Ag Commissioner Sid Miller. (Do GOP voters have no standards at all?)

Nevertheless, O'Rourke's campaign had a profound effect inspirationally and down the ballot, especially in usually non-competitive judicial races, where reflexive GOP voting has generally carried the day. The victory of Gisela Triana in the 3rd Court of Appeals race is particularly gratifying, and in retrospect Gov. Greg Abbott's early appointment of the thoroughly unqualified Mike Toth to that seat now looks less like savvy strategy, more an act of desperation.

Alas, thanks to Pete Gallego's embarrassing special election loss to Pete Flores, Patrick retains his procedural stranglehold on the state Senate, despite the ouster of GOP incumbents Don Huffines and Konni Burton – neither of whom will be missed. On the House side, the Dems' pickup of 12 seats (nine women among them, and several in the Austin area) not only improves the potential to select a moderate House speaker, but changes the legislative equation on substantive matters like public school finance and municipal independence.

Closer to Home

Speaking of cities – here in Austin, re-elected Mayor Steve Adler was in an ebullient mood Tuesday night, reflecting his belief that the voters had given him and his ambitious agenda a "mandate for big action." His dominant victory over six opponents, as well as the stout approval of all the bond propositions – from affordable housing to transportation – provide him a strong hand on the dais, whatever the final, post-run-off makeup of the next City Council may be. Opponents of CodeNEXT and their standard-bearer, Laura Morrison, thought Adler had become vulnerable – but they didn't come close to beating him, and they failed as well in their pet propositions, J and K.

"We need to look forward and to act in big ways," said Adler, and for the next four years it will be hard to argue with him. Whatever Council finally looks like, it would appear the mayor has a working majority – and bond funding – for the "big ways" he hopes to move the city forward.

Finally, a few words of wisdom are in order from our last sane president – perhaps a bit politically sentimental in a radically divided country, but a balm to those who still believe that progress grows from community, not division: "Our work goes on," Barack Obama wrote on Facebook. "The change we need won't come from one election alone – but it is a start. Last night, voters across the country started it. And I'm hopeful that going forward, we'll begin a return to the values we expect in our public life – honesty, decency, compromise, and standing up for one another as Americans, not separated by our differences, but bound together by one common creed."

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