Point Austin: Giving Thanks
In the spirit of the season, a few celebrations
Be kind to the heroes that have lost their names in the newspaper ...
– Allen Ginsberg, "Who Be Kind To"
I seldom compose holiday-themed columns, but decided to make an exception this year, under the optimistic theory that we all — readers and writer alike – could use a list of things to be thankful for. Consider it a modicum of self-therapy for Thanksgiving 2018.
Let's hope I can find a column's worth of thankfulness. Here we go.
One Step Forward: Let's begin by thanking the voters, in Texas and nationwide, for turning out in force for the Nov. 6 mid-terms, and beginning a necessary backlash against the Trump administration and its state strongholds. Nationwide, Democratic Congressional candidates outstripped Republicans by roughly 8.5 million votes, or (at this writing) 7.7%. That's what it took to overcome fierce gerrymanders (as in Texas) and produce a U.S. House majority. (The Senate, where small-population rural states rule, is another, absurd story.) We need to maintain this momentum for two more years – but we can certainly be thankful for the big first step.
Bluer Texas: No, Beto didn't win, but he came close – and his energies reverberated far down the state ballot, with good results. The state House is now farther away from the super-majority the GOP had previously enjoyed, with a group of young Democrats (and women reps) that should provide momentum for much-needed change. Meanwhile, the appeals courts – where right-wing legislative fancies are routinely rubber-stamped, and progressive city policies go to die – have largely flipped blue, meaning corporate interests can't reflexively expect victories on appeal.
Congressional Kudos: The Austin Congressional districts – the legacy of Tom DeLay and Tom Craddick's anti-democratic redistricting that effectively disenfranchised Central Texas – remain largely in GOP hands, with the exception of peripatetic Rep. Lloyd Doggett's TX-35 (the I-35 district). But the folks who took on those uphill fights – Mike Siegel (TX-10), Rick Kennedy (TX-17), Joseph Kopser (TX-21), Julie Oliver (TX-25), and MJ Hegar (TX-31) – have earned a large final thank-you from all local voters for challenging those long odds, and in the process dramatically shortening them for 2020.
Austin Foresight: The city results also offered reason for thanks – most notably, the willingness of Austinites to endorse $925 million in bonds, led by $250 million for affordable housing. We appear to be still deadlocked on the land use rewrite – here's hoping 2019 will bring more room for progress, less for acrimony – but voters continue to support spending on substantial city needs, and to take timely advantage of local prosperity. (Is it time for another close look at rail? A man can hope.)
Clear-Sighted: It was also gratifying to watch down-ballot voters acutely distinguish between substantive infrastructure bond propositions and the barely disguised Trojan Horses – Proposition J (anti-CodeNEXT revision) and Proposition K (the "efficiency audit") – each designed in different ways to undermine City Council authority and the will of 10-1 voters. If Austin is going to maintain and strengthen more representative, district-based government, it makes sense to build lines of trust between voters and their elected Council members, rather than rely on end-run ballot initiatives driven by paid petitioners and misleading sloganeering.
Closer to Home
Green Austin: Stepping away from politics for a moment – taking a Thanksgiving break – let's give thanks for the still green city where we live. Not long ago, we were in the midst of a devastating drought – most recently, the heavens opened and floods nearly overwhelmed the water utility's capacities, and upstream from the city's necklace of dams, the rains did much greater damage. It's no secret that with accelerating climate change, the cycles of natural disasters are intensifying. As we work hard for resilience and to mitigate the recurring damage, we can still give thanks for our green Texas oasis.
For the Season: The King household is already easing into the holidays this week, with visiting family and friends, and with others checking in from all over the country. Chronicle colleagues are on an accelerated schedule – by the time you read this they will have put to bed an early Thanksgiving issue, and will be taking a few days off from the whirlwind of news and city beats. I thank them all, for long-lasting diligence, for collegiality, for friendship.
Finally, I want to make a farewell shout-out to departing News Editor Chase Hoffberger, who has done his job-and-a-half for several years with distinction and tenacity, has reported and written with courage and clarity, and has edited all our work with fairness and insight. Chase now returns to his beloved Baltimore (and his beleaguered Orioles) and to the whirlwind of family and future.
Thanks, thanks to all. And have a very happy Thanksgiving.