Who is behind the attack on Natasha Harper-Madison?

Austinites for Equity is a political action committee linked to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1624, which represents employees of the city of Austin and Travis County.

In union-friendly states, AFSCME and teachers unions are frequently the two most important players in Democratic politics. They’re not nearly as important in Texas because public sector employees (except public safety workers) don’t have collective bargaining rights. It’s not so much that Texas is a “right-to-work” state that bars mandatory union fees, but that the state has prohibited one of the main benefits of union membership for public sector employees.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of city and county employees who are voluntarily dues-paying AFSCME members. They benefit from representation in grievances and, more importantly, they are part of a larger group advocating for municipal employees, strong public services and other left-of-center policies.

This year, Austinites for Equity’s political activity is mostly consistent with what you’d expect from a public employees union. It funded ads against Proposition K, the proposed efficiency audit of city services pushed by anonymous right-wingers. It supported all of the bond measures. It is attacking Frank Ward, the Republican vying for District 8.

It’s much harder to explain why the group is bashing Natasha Harper-Madison, one of the two candidates in the runoff for District 1. Here is a mailer they sent out in support of her opponent, Mariana Salazar.

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I get that AFSCME endorsed Salazar, perhaps because she answered some questions on a questionnaire better or because they relate to her better since she’s a former public employee herself. But Harper-Madison is hardly what AFSCME should consider an enemy. She’s not hostile to public services.

But then again, although Austinites for Equity is run by AFSCME’s political director, Jack Kirfman, and it receives almost all of its money from the union, it has received some money in recent weeks from a couple decidedly non-labor sources.

On December 4, it received $5,000 from Natin Paul, a local real estate tycoon. The same day, it received $5,000 from Stratus Properties.

The fact that those two developers very likely bankrolled this mailer makes the substance of the attack levied at Harper-Madison deeply ironic. And then of course there’s the fact that Salazar and Harper-Madison are pretty much on the same page in terms of development; both agree that density is part of the affordability, transportation and environmental equation.

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