Dire Measures for Dire Times

Texas’s cities are becoming “woke.” How do we save the rest of the state?

The progressive nightmare I described in my City Journal article, “Woke City,” got even worse as a result of the November 6, 2018 election. A blue tsunami swept through Travis County, by a 70% to 30% margin, or worse. Up and down the ballot, Republicans were defeated, including all four incumbents on the Third Court of Appeals and moderate Republican state representative Paul Workman. In Travis County, Beto O’Rourke beat Ted Cruz 3-to-1. Even Gov. Greg Abbott, who beat his opponent handily statewide (56% to 42%), lost Travis County by a lopsided 67%-30%–more than 2-to-1.

A candidate endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America (Julie Ann Nitsch) was re-elected to the Austin Community College Board of Trustees, and a staff member of the radical Workers Defense Project, Stephanie Gharakhanian, was nearly elected to the ACC Board (earning 49.02% of the vote), and will face Sarah Mills (who got 34.14%) in a December 11 runoff.

The Republican candidate for Mayor, Todd Phelps, got only 6.33% of the vote, coming in fourth in a field of seven. Think about this: the candidate endorsed by the Travis County Republican Party received just six percent of the vote! Austin voters overwhelmingly approved nearly a billion dollars of bonded indebtedness, some by an 80-20% margin. Proposition K, the efficiency audit, was resoundingly defeated. Big-spending Steve Adler was re-elected in a landslide, and now claims “We have been given a mandate and we need to deliver.” Expect transit boondoggles and more sweetheart deals with crony developers.

Frank Ward, the District 8 candidate to succeed Ellen Troxclair as the lone Republican on the Austin City Council, limps into the December 11 runoff having gotten only 25% of the vote on November 6, barely ahead of the Chronicle-endorsed Bobby Levinski, who finished third with 23%. The math doesn’t look good for Ward. Austin could end up where it started before switching to single-member districts: all Democrats, except now they are hard-Left progressives pandering to the special interests in their respective districts. We were better off with at-large voting.

Needless to say, this is not an auspicious picture.

What can we do to fix this? With more millennials and hipsters moving to Austin every day, and young families moving from Travis County to Hays and Williamson counties for more affordable home prices, better schools, and lower property taxes, Travis County is beginning to resemble California’s two-tier society—rich and poor with no middle class. My friend John Davidson wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, “Austin risks becoming the San Francisco of the South—an expensive playground for wealthy progressives.” A few years ago, in a City Journal article entitled “Red State, Blue Cities,” I lamented that Texas’ cities were becoming liberal enclaves. That trend has now spread to Texas’ once-conservative suburbs. Beto carried Hays, Williamson, and even Tarrant counties.

The blowout of the GOP was a result of several factors, including record turnout by Democrat voters energized by Beto, who then voted straight-ticket.  But the loss of state legislative seats may also have been influenced by an electorate frustrated by the Republicans’ failure to enact property tax relief and other tangible measures despite having had control of state government for over a decade. Speaker Joe Straus’ stalemate of the policy agenda favored by Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick may have cost the GOP both enthusiasm and votes. The Legislature, under a new Speaker in 2019, will have to do better.

What I propose is not so much a solution as damage control. At the state government level, Republicans must take action to manage the progressive tilt at the local level. When the Titanic hit an iceberg, the goal was not to repair the hull, but to close off the water-proof compartments to keep the ship from sinking.

  1. We must restore some semblance of ideological balance at our state-funded colleges and universities, which have become SJW indoctrination centers. We should not tolerate brainwashing posing as pedagogy. Stop the Insanity at UT. Our universities are busy producing Democratic voters. Some observers are crediting the registration of voters at Texas State San Marcos and greatly-increased voter turnout by students as one of the main reasons for Hays County flipping for Beto in November. The Governor must appoint solid reformers to all of the schools’ Boards of Regents (especially UT), the Legislature must exercise greater oversight over the schools’ ideological direction and orientation, and administrations must realize that they will face budget cuts if excesses are not curbed. Tuition should be capped at current levels, or even reduced. Students graduating with large amounts of debt are predisposed toward progressive policies.
  2. The Legislature should pass laws preempting local measures that are contrary to state policy, or which represent rent-seeking by liberal special interest groups. Paid sick leave requirements, minimum wage mandates in excess of the FLSA (direct and indirect), plastic bag bans (now moot) and similar measures, limitations on employer hiring prerogatives (so-called “fair chance”), etc., as well as “release time” for public employee unions, collection of union dues by government payroll deduction, and recognition of and bargaining with employee associations acting as de facto labor unions for teachers and other categories of public employees. All such practices by political subdivisions should be prohibited. Unless controlled, progressive cities will supplant the state legislature. This reform will include banning the use of taxpayer funds for lobbying on behalf of local government. The TML must be de-funded.
  3. The Legislature must enact tax reforms that reduce the economic burden on property owners and disempower corrupt and ideologically-driven political subdivisions. Public school teachers (and administrators) have become a radicalized, one-issue special interest group—bordering on a political party, complete with taxpayer-funded GOTV. Require voter approval by super-majority vote before bonds can be approved or taxes increased by more than a prescribed threshold (annually and over a five-year period). Repeal Robin Hood; recapture is theft. TPPF has proposed a school finance reform that would eliminate the school district M&O property tax by modestly adjusting the state spending limit and redirecting those funds toward a “buy down”. Under this plan, the Legislature could eliminate the M&O tax over a 12-year period. Tie any increase in K-12 public education funding to an efficiency audit, similar to Prop K. Taxpayers should know that their current tax dollars are being well-spent before adding billions more. Uniform election date for local bonds. Disclosure of debt implications on the ballot, etc.
  4. The Texas Supreme Court must be prepared to increase its caseload. With the intermediate courts of appeals changing hands to liberal Democrats in all of the state’s major urban centers (Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin), the number of cases requiring Supreme Court review will increase significantly. Imagine a game of baseball if all the fielding had to be done by the outfielders because the infielders were absent. The Supreme Court, once a back-up, now has to catch every ball that is hit.
  5. Indoctrination of students does not begin in college. We must make sure that the K-12 curriculum of Texas’ public schools is doing an adequate job of teaching civics, Texas history, economics, and assimilation, and not poisoning the minds of our youth with identity politics and progressive ideology. This will require oversight by both the Lege and the state BOE.
  6. Finally, Texas’ political transformation is being fueled by rapid economic growth causing significant in-migration from other states, especially California. New residents—who tend to be young, unmarried, and college-educated, a progressive trifecta–are drawn to Texas’ cities, making them Democratic enclaves. Stop subsidizing this transformation with tax incentives, “economic development” boondoggles, and relocation assistance. The process of “picking winners,” in addition to often masking cronyism and corporate welfare, is attracting liberal voters from Blue states who will destroy the Texas Model if allowed to achieve majority status. Import enough Californians, and you will eventually become California.
  7. Ensure the integrity of our elections. The voter roll needs to be cleaned up and non-citizens purged. We don’t want to become Florida, either.
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