Saturday, May 13, 2006

Live in Austin? Vote today to open city government, police misconduct records

Today (Saturday) is election day for Austin's municipal races. Here's a list of polling places. I wanted to briefly offer my own endorsements, making clear they represent only Scott Henson's picks, not any of the groups with whom I work.

More important for the future of the city than any of the candidates are a raft of charter amendments, including Proposition One which I've defended at length on this blog and at Open Government Austin. Bottom line: I'm supporting all of them.

On Prop One, the Open Government Online amendment, if nothing else think how fun it will be for local bloggers when most city government information is online, including city councilmembers appointments and phone logs. I'm telling you, that will fundamentally change the culture in which city government operates, and for the better. In addition, the amendment would open key records about police misconduct that are available at most other police agencies but not the Austin PD.

But the other amendments are important, too.
I support raising the campaign contribution limits (hell, I support getting rid of them). I don't like term limits so extending them is okay by me. I want to restrict development and roadbuilding in the Barton Springs watershed. I think it's fine to allow health benefits for unmarried partners of city employees regardless of sexual orientation. All that's good stuff. There's not one proposal that does anything bad. To me, Prop One, though - the Open Government Online charter amendment - is the most important for the general public by far. It truly has the potential to permanently democratize politics in ways no one now can imagine.

As for the council races, I've learned in local politics it's unproductive to choose the lesser of evils, so I can't advise voting for any of them and don't think it matters THAT much who gets it. (In a dream world, I'd like to see underfunded longshot Kedron Touvell, who was great on the issues, take out the arrogant bully Brewster McCracken.) But elections don't change a bad process, and history shows what really matters is holding council's feet to the fire once they're in there (which is why we need the new public tools in Prop One).

In the Mayor's race, though, Danny Thomas clearly is a better choice than incumbent Will Wynn. I've disagreed plenty with Thomas, a former Austin police officer and current Place 6 city councilman, but you can appeal to him based on what's right and wrong, while the Mayor can't be appealed to on any level but raw, tiresome power games. I fear Thomas can't overcome the money disadvantage, but I'm voting for him.

UPDATE: We lost. It was ahead of it's time, I suppose (or perhaps just the victim of scurrilous lies by the opposition) but the open government online amendment failed at the ballot box. I mean, how often in a campaign does a judge say negative campaign attacks are "misleading"? In the end it didn't matter. Surprisingly, with strict message discipline, outright fabrications work well as a campaign tactic in the short run, expecially if, as in this case, the folks who buy ink by the barrel are on their side.

That's the other weird element of this election: This campaign forced the local Austin print media, the Austin American Statesman and the Austin Chronicle, to choose sides: Are they insiders and power brokers, in which case they benefit from secrecy? Or are they journalists who benefit from public information? News flash: They're insiders. They'd rather be gatekeepers for the news than let everybody see information themselves online. After all, then why would we read them?

1 comment:

Catonya said...

I'm truly sorry Scott. I don't live in Austin or even Texas anymore but I can't tell you how disappointed/sad I am to see such a progressive prop fail at the polls. :(