Center for Austin’s Future gets a makeover

The Center for Austin’s Future has made some long overdue changes to its website. This is what the issues section says now:

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It’s still very short on details, but it sends key cues to pro-density/transit folks. You kind of have to read between the lines. It mentions the need for greater housing supply, public transit and elected leaders who think in terms of what’s best for the whole city, rather than simply advocate for the narrow interests of certain neighborhoods.

This is a definite improvement over the last iteration of CAF’s issues section, which looked like it’d been written by a Heritage Foundation intern:

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The CAF, you may recall, is an independent political group formed last year. It is run by Ward Tisdale, former president of the Real Estate Council of Austin, and it has a large board of directors consisting of a variety of political veterans and business bigwigs, including former mayors Lee Leffingwell and Bruce Todd. 

The group runs an annual training program, #ATXelerator, which aims to educate and train talented, civic-minded individuals in the ways of local government and local political campaigns in the hopes that they will one day run for office or otherwise get engaged (board/commission etc).

The group has never articulated a clear political ideology, and it has accepted trainees from across the political spectrum. Some members of its board of directors have said that it is a “centrist” organization aimed at pushing politics to the center, while its president, Ward Tisdale, has frequently invoked urbanist principles, saying the group wants to support candidates who will work for a compact/connected city and against sprawl and economic segregation.

Last year the group supported a number of urbanist-leaning center-left candidates:  Danielle Skidmore, Natasha Harper-Madison, and Pio Renteria. However, in District 8 it backed Frank Ward, a conservative running the standard “lower taxes/build roads” message. Ward was running against Paige Ellis, a center-left candidate with urbanist leanings. At the time Tisdale told me that the group supported greater political diversity on Council, including conservatives. However, the group didn’t even spend any money on behalf of Ward, suggesting it didn’t have strong feelings about the race.

I never really got a convincing answer about why the website’s tone was so out of line with the things said by many of the organization’s boosters, such as Chris Riley, Randi Shade and Tisdale himself.

The organization also drew a lot of complaints from urbanists for a mailer it sent in support of Danielle Skidmore, in which it attacked Kathie Tovo for voting against increasing the homestead exemption. Skidmore herself was opposed to the homestead exemption, a regressive policy that only benefits the homeowner minority and shifts the tax burden onto commercial properties, and therefore, onto renters. Skidmore, an alum of #ATXcelerator, publicly criticized the mailers. Shortly thereafter Chris Riley cut ties with the group.

Anyway, it’s not clear yet how CAF will define itself going forward. Will it just be another standard pro-growth/business group or will it embrace a more liberal, urbanist agenda? We’ll see.

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