District 8 race will test Trump effect

I’ll tell anybody who will listen that I would much rather cover local government than the circus in D.C. And I said that before Donald Trump was president. Sure, there is ignorance, mischaracterizations and hyperbole in the world of Austin city politics, but it’s not even in the same universe as Planet Trump, where outright lies are the rule, not the exception.

Austin is not as liberal as people think. But there are few places in town where ties to Donald Trump would be an asset. Don Zimmerman got stomped in what is likely the most conservative district in 2016, which Hillary carried easily.

The Dems are still totally capable of screwing up the 2018 midterms, but I think that at the very least they’ll perform better-than-average in highly educated suburban areas. Translation: Ellen Troxclair, the only remaining Republican on Council, is going to face a tough race to hold on to her Southwest district. So far, Troxclair has dodged questions about Trump and national politics and emphasized her focus on local issues. She wouldn’t tell me who she voted for in 2016.

Troxclair’s City Council photo.

The three libs vying for Troxclair’s seat are all taking different approaches to appealing to the non-Republican voters in the district.

Bobby Levinski, who used to work for Laura Morrison and now works for Save Our Springs, is very much the anti-growth/neighborhood association candidate. Key points from his website:

Bobby’s work has focused on prioritizing the needs of Austin’s families, such as making Austin more affordable, protecting our neighborhoods, addressing traffic congestion, creating more parkland and open space, and increasing governmental transparency and accountability.

And this:

“Bobby is the only pro-neighborhood candidate in the race. He has a long history of fighting to protect our neighborhoods and our quality of life. Bobby Levinski is someone we can trust.” — Lou O’Hanlon, former VP of Austin Neighborhoods Council

Rich DePalma is the guy who a lot of the anti-Morrison progressives are getting behind, even though he is definitely not a dyed-in-the-wool urbanist. His website pitch is similar to Levinski’s. His priorities:

  • Bringing Our Fair Share of City Resources to District 8
  • Advocating for Creative Infrastructure Solutions
  • Ensuring Our Community’s Public Safety Needs are Met
  • Reducing Taxes by Fixing the State’s Broken Recapture System
  • Protecting What Makes Southwest Austin Special

He pledges to:

  • Fight for REAL tax relief
  • Address transportation needs of our community
  • Improve and protect our parks, open space and schools
  • Advocate for local control

The focus on REAL tax relief and local control are an ostensible jab at Troxclair and her GOP pals in the Capitol. Like Adler, DePalma is arguing that the blame for high property taxes lies with the state that takes a huge percentage of Austin’s school revenue and reallocates it to other districts, forcing the school district to raise taxes further.

Then there is Paige Ellis, who has made a point of emphasizing national issues, clearly hoping to grab the attention of liberals who may not be plugged into City Hall affairs but are planning to turn out this November to vote against Trump et al. Her website currently lists four main issues: Environment, Housing & Affordability, Gun Control, and Reproductive Rights.

The Ellis strategy probably makes more sense now that Council elections are held in November, as opposed to May. The higher turnout means a larger number of voters who aren’t tuned into local issues but may be receptive to local candidates who signal their national ideological/partisan preferences.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the multiple liberal candidates might allow Troxclair to not bear the brunt of a “blue wave.” Because the liberal vote will be split, there will likely be a December run-off, which will be a low turnout affair. In 2016, that helped the Democratic candidate, Alison Alter, since there were tons of pissed off progressives who wanted a chance to take their anger over Trump’s victory out on a Republican, any Republican. How will people be feeling this December, a month after the midterms? I’ve got no idea.

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