Election Ticker: They Ban, We Plan

Celia Israel and Kirk Watson answer urbanists, Israel lays out repro rights plan, and more


In the Council race that is most up in the air (in part because it has the most candidates competing), a forum Sept. 20 brought all seven District 9 contenders out to field questions from neighborhood associations: (l-r) Linda Guerrero, Benjamin Loeffler, Zena Mitchell, Zohaib "Zo" Qadri, Greg Smith, Joah Spearman, Tom Wald (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Texas state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, now a candidate for mayor, announced a pretty bold reproductive rights and sexual health policy plan last week. "Our rights are under attack from every level of government in this country," Israel said at a Sept. 15 press conference. "There is a role for local leaders to play at this most unique moment in American history. We need a leader in Austin who will fight back."

Israel, a member of the Legislature's Women's Health Caucus, knows her way around the issue. Her full plan includes dozens of provisions that may end up on Council agendas to come, in five categories: helping Austinites get abortions in and outside of Texas; protecting patient privacy; expanding access to affordable birth control methods; increasing funding for culturally responsive sexual health and wellness services; and funding sex education.

Some policies would have effects felt well beyond sexual health. For example, Israel proposes changing the city's model for funding nonprofits from reimbursement to upfront funding (before funds can be taken away by future Legislatures) and locking down data protection on public Wi-Fi that might be used to schedule appointments for care or track pregnancy status. More direct proposals include expanding publicly funded condom distribution through Austin Pub­lic Health and seeking grant funding to purchase emergency contraception (Plan B) in bulk for Austinites with limited access to health care.

More boldly – as in, a direct shot at Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton – Israel wants "legal clarity" on how the city can (i.e., will) contribute to abortion funds and support groups. She also proposes that Austin partner with nearby haven cities to get pregnant Austinites abortion access, and work with airlines to add more low-cost direct flights to locations with legal abortion care. See the full plan at celiaforaustin.com/choice. – Maggie Q. Thompson

Mayoral Front-Runners Grilled on Land Use

Mayoral candidates Celia Israel and Kirk Watson met virtually with members of various urbanist groups Friday, Sept. 16, in a candidate forum on housing and transportation policy co-hosted by AURA (An Austin for Everyone), Farm & City, Safe Streets Austin, and the Friends of Austin Neighborhoods. Each candidate took the opportunity to lay out their approach to housing supply and affordability and how Austin handles them politically. Israel noted that even two years ago, when Council had already approved a new Land Development Code on two readings before the process was derailed in court, Austin's housing crisis (or "emergency," as Watson calls it) was much less acute. She's banking on the idea that the urgent need for more housing and lower rents will give her the backing – perhaps even a nine-vote supermajority – needed on the dais to push through real reforms.

Watson offered a more tailored vision of land use reforms that could muster nine votes or otherwise avoid opposition from protesting neighbors, with an eye on Project Connect transit corridors as prime locations for extensive development, some of which could call for housing unit minimums rather than maximums.

Neither Israel nor Watson needed to get too deeply embroiled in Austin land use politics as members of the Texas Legislature, but they've both been involved in wrangling over Interstate 35. Israel did not endorse an alternative, in terms of either strategy or design, to the state's current plans for rebuilding the highway through Central Austin, but said she was unhappy with how the Texas Department of Trans­portation was planning the rebuild, and that she would push for more transit access. Watson, on the other hand, generally supported TxDOT's direction; there may be other design approaches he liked more, but they'd be politically out of reach for the city, and like it or not, I-35 will remain a main route for people coming into Austin – especially those displaced from living in the city but who still work in it. – Austin Sanders

Got a Paxton Problem? Be Part of the Solution.

The fact that Rochelle Garza, the Demo­cratic nominee for Texas attorney general, is not 10 points ahead of indicted and disordered incumbent Ken Paxton is kinda crazy, but she's not, and her fundraising has lagged seriously behind even her fellow downballot Dems, so now would be a good time to lock in your vote and introduce Garza to your persuadable friends. She'll be rallying and block-walking with Travis County Democrats this Saturday afternoon, 1-4pm, at the party's Southwest offices in Oak Hill, 6156-B U.S. 290. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, whose new district once again includes portions of Austin west of I-35, will join her and has offered to match donations to Garza's campaign up to $5,000; County Attorney Delia Garza (no relation) will also be on hand. – Mike Clark-Madison

The Rest of the Ticker…

Endorsement Watch: EMILY's List for Israel; University Democrats and Stonewall Democrats of Austin for Israel; AFL-CIO Central Labor Council and several member unions, and Workers Defense Action Fund for District 8 incumbent Paige Ellis…

Vote Early and Late! Travis County Judge Andy Brown announced on Tuesday an agreement to pay for early voting megacenters to stay open until 9pm on the two busiest days of early voting, which runs Oct. 24-Nov. 4. All other sites will be open 7am-7pm as usual…


* Editor's note Thursday, Sept. 22, 11am: This story has been updated to correct that Israel did not speak at the UT Students for Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood Texas Votes panel. She planned to be on the panel but did not attend due to day-of miscommunication, per her campaign.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Celia Israel, Kirk Watson, District 9, Ken Paxton, Rochelle Garza, November 2022 Elections

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