Debate on ballot propositions focuses on donors

I really have no idea how Proposition J and Proposition K will fare at the polls next week. But what is clear is that if either of them fail, they’ll have their donors to blame. So far, the opposition to both propositions has focused largely on who is funding the efforts.

That’s particularly true of Prop K, which is passed will require the city to hire an outside consultant to conduct an efficiency audit of city programs. Here’s an ad put out by Austin Citizens for Truthful Petitions about it:

The opposition to Prop J, which started as an anti-CodeNEXT thing but is now aimed at “preventing the next CodeNEXT,” includes far more substantial policy objections. But the fact that IndyAustin, the group running the Prop J campaign, has gotten most of its money from billboard companies and racetrack investors has played nicely into the opposition’s narrative.

“No on Prop J,” the group run by Adler aide John-Michael Cortez, has accused Prop J of trying to “Trump Austin.” Here’s one of their recent online ads:

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The attacks appear to have been effective at stigmatizing both propositions among liberals. You’ll recall that the four neighborhood preservationists on Council –– Ora Houston, Kathie Tovo, Leslie Pool, Alison Alter –– have been very supportive of subjecting the land development code to a vote. And yet I haven’t heard a peep from them about Prop J as other liberals on Council –– Adler, Casar, Garza, Renteria, Kitchen, Flannigan –– have denounced it as a corporate-backed scheme that will hobble Austin’s ability to fight climate change and build affordable housing. The Austin Chronicle, which has generally become more urbanist-friendly in recent years but is still owned by preservationist-minded Nick Barbaro, came out against J as well.

Similarly, the efficiency audit’s standing among liberals has plummeted and the handful of Old Austin anti-CodeNEXT liberals who are backing it –– Bill Bunch, Fred Lewis, Nelson Linder –– are being raked over the coals for doing the bidding of a dark money conservative group. Leslie Pool and Alison Alter were initially sponsors of the resolution that would put in place the efficiency audit without a referendum, but Pool withdrew her support and Alter is not listed as a supporter on Prop K’s website. Ora Houston still supports it, but it’s not backed by any of the candidates running for her seat in District 1, including Vincent Harding, who she endorsed. Similarly, in District 8, Bobby Levinsky, who works at Save Our Springs under Bill Bunch, is an adamant opponent.

The focus on the donors behind J and K are reminiscent of the successful campaign against the Uber/Lyft-backed Prop 1 two years ago. If these propositions go down, it will be an encouraging sign that dark money and corporate contributions are not always politically beneficial.

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