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Taking apart the Austinites for Progressive Reform vote

By Nick Barbaro, April 16, 2021, News

We do the Chronicle endorsements by consensus – by a unanimous vote of the editorial board or else it's a "No Endorse­ment" – but that doesn't mean various of us don't have reservations about some race or another, in just about every election cycle. Perhaps you've had the feeling yourself, of having to figuratively hold your nose while you voted for the lesser of two evils, or mentally flip a coin as you weighed the merits of two equally attractive candidates. That's sometimes where we are as a group, with no clear consensus when we begin our discussion. That consensus usually develops as we talk it out, and we try to have some of that thought process reflected in the text of the endorsement itself. Some­times there's no consensus, and we craft a "No Endorsement" trying to present both sides.

Then there are cases like this May 1 Special Election, and in particular Propo­si­tions D through H, the Austinites for Progressive Reform proposals. In an only slightly more perfect world, these proposals would've been brought forward through a sympathetic City Council Member's office – god knows the APR folks had access, and likely champions for most of their agenda – and given the thorough and really quite effective public vetting and refining process that city charter amendments go through before they come to Council. Instead, they were conceived and drafted by a small group of political insiders, got little public vetting, and yet are largely set in stone by virtue of being citizen petitions, set to be written into the City Charter, our version of a constitution.

Not ideal. Yet here we are, faced with five proposals, including some very attractive ideas, that we have to vote up or down on – warts and all, yes or no. If we vote yes, they go into the city charter, with in some cases some potentially serious flaws or unanswered questions. If no, presumably the ideas are dead for now, defeated at the polls, so harder to bring back any time soon though the normal city process.

Taken individually, as we saw it in our editorial board meeting, we were about as close to unanimity as we ever are: opposed to Prop F's strong mayor and G's related 12th Council Member, but in favor of the other three (ranked-choice voting, moving the Mayoral election to presidential years, and the "Democracy Dollars" public election funding plan). And I'm happy with those positions, because I think they're good ideas, and we're better off with those things happening than with those ideas dead, and I think it's right that the Chronicle should endorse those ideas.

But as I told my colleagues then: personally, as a voter, this is one of those times when I'm probably not going to follow our endorsements, and instead I'm going to have faith in that slightly more perfect world, where these proposals – especially the Democracy Dollars plan, which already has proposed amendments of unproven legality, and whose costs and administration are as yet unclear – come back soon, with proper vetting, through proper channels. And then I'm sure we'll endorse them again, and I'll vote the straight Chron­icle line like I (almost) always do.

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