Austin at Large: Don’t Go Away Mad, Just ...

If legislators want to break up with Austin, they should at least put their backs into it


Briscoe Cain in 2018 (Photo by Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Former state Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Hous­ton, who currently awaits sentencing for federal tax evasion (he pleaded guilty in late October), was the last legislator I remember before the current crop who trotted out a bill to turn Austin into a state-run government district, like D.C. (or Mexico City) but unlike any other state capital. This was around 20 years ago when he was mad at the city for wanting to close the former airport – Mueller, now a neighborhood – which as a private pilot he found more convenient than Bergstrom, which had already opened. He was also friendly with the various real estate interests who would go crying to the Legis­lature whenever Austin asked them not to destroy the very environmental assets that made their land valuable, so Wilson was always ready with a quote about what trash we are. When he sprung his District of Travis stunt move, he reminded his colleagues that Austin was not a real city, and without the state capital would be "some sleepy town in the hills." (This was about 15 years after the first South by Southwest and 20 years after Dell was founded.)

Wilson got primaried out in 2004, but the idea has been revived by those lovable rogue characters Briscoe 'n' Frisco, the Panderin' Pups – Reps. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, and Jared Patterson, R-Frisco. The latter has prefiled House Bill 714 and House Joint Resolution 50, identical to bills Cain filed last session, which would change the law and ask voters to amend the Texas Constitution to make the new District of, rather than the City of, Austin the seat of state government. This is necessary because we cannot be trusted to govern ourselves as commies and criminals and antifa supersoldiers, but also annoying vegans and soy boys and I guess also groomers? All at the same time.

We Contain Multitudes

The "groomer" bullshit, which was never funny even when it was supposed to be a joke, is no longer something any of us should tolerate or let slide. It is slander and deserves a response to slander – boycotts, lawsuits, breaking some (metaphorical!) teeth. It's extra rich coming from soft-sided young MAGAsexuals like Briscoe 'n' Frisco who have no moral core and rely on the Second Amendment to help them stand upright.

As Cain's disasterlarious tenure atop the House Elections Committee last session showed, you don't want to put these people in charge of anything they might break, and it's not clear that, having OWND us libs, Patterson intends to break a sweat figuring out how to put this idea into practice. HB 714 as written just changes names and adds a requirement to give notice to each chamber of the Lege when City, er, District Council adopts ordinances, including the budget. It doesn't eliminate home rule.

Now, H.J.Res. 50, to ask voters to amend the Constitution, says, "The legislature may enact local laws to govern the operation of the district or to amend or repeal a law, ordinance, order, policy, or other measure adopted by the governing officer or governing body of the district." The Lege generally thinks it has such powers already; this language was crafted by Cain after Steve Adler canceled New Year's Eve and made people sad during the pandemic, which was a rare instance when Austin leaders had the ephemeral power, briefly, to avoid the routine trammeling of local governments and pummeling of their less wealthy citizens at the dumb dead hands of the state.

Totally Missing the Move

The small-mindedness and lack of imagination of the Lege's Austin bashers has led them to overlook the real alpha-dog power play of moving the state capital somewhere else, just like Sam Houston intended. That way, Dem­o­crats could be forced to spend time and money in the reddest parts of the state: Lubbock or Amarillo, perhaps, or more likely a brand-new city built at great expense and with lousy urban design standards, as in Nigeria or Indonesia or Egypt, also large and messy places contaminated by climate criminals' money. The new Egypt­ian capital, which doesn't have a name yet, arose from murky real estate transactions controlled by the military at a site only 30 miles from Cairo; it'd be like the state taking a chunk of Caldwell County to make a new Capitol Complex. People are getting paid.

As Austinites we're supposed to flinch at the thought of being ditched this way by Daddy Texas, and I'm sure Adler and the mayors before him would all have protested loudly about us losing our capital jobs and status. (The university stays.) But even 20 years ago, Austin's trajectory was headed into territory where being the capital was a lot less relevant. If we put the question up to a vote in Austin today, who would campaign hard to seek to retain our status, and who wouldn't give a shit? Who might welcome the chance to reduce our contact as a city with the moronic likes of Briscoe 'n' Frisco? What would the rest of Texas say?

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