Yes, Austin, your taxes are rising (and more to come)

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Lately I’ve been feeling like a grad student at III Forks. The menu looks great. I’m just not sure I can afford it.

Officials have recently unveiled several ambitious proposals befitting Austin’s progressive reputation. A modern transit system, possibly with light rail lines, that could cost upwards of $10.5 billion to build. A $250 million to $300 million investment in much-needed affordable housing. At least $33 million to fix up some city pools — or make that $60 million if you want to cover all the needed repairs to prevent any pools from closing.

And maybe it’s just bad timing, but all of these proposals bubbled up the same week we got our new property value assessments. Let me guess: Yours went up, too.

So you can bet, despite the drumbeat on affordability over the past few years, that higher tax bills are coming. Not because there’s no other way: Officials could lower the tax rate to offset the rising values, such that homeowners would pay the same amount as last year. But that rarely happens. The government’s need for your tax dollars is too great. More often than not, officials get the best of both worlds: They enjoy political cover by touting no increase in tax rate, while raking in the extra dollars from applying that same old tax rate to your increasingly valuable home.

You may remember last year’s sobering analysis by American-Statesman reporters Melissa B. Taboada, Mary Huber and Claire Osborn, which found the average Austin homeowner was paying $7,607 in property taxes, an increase of $517 over the previous year and a $1,342 spike from five years earlier. Those rising bills get folded into rents, too, and not surprisingly, a study last year found nearly half of Austin renters were “burdened,” or spending more than 30 percent of their income just to keep the roof over their head.

We’re hurting. But instead of relief, we’re getting new proposals to spend even more money.

City and county officials are quick to note — and rightly so — that the largest and fastest growing piece of your property tax bill comes from the state’s dysfunctional system for raising public school revenue. True. And state lawmakers need to fix that, urgently.

But local officials don’t get a pass. They’re adding to the pricey menu, too.

Capital Metro officials are months away from finalizing their Project Connect plan, which includes rapid bus or light rail lines up North Lamar/Guadalupe, down South Congress and out to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, among other routes. Early estimates suggest the system would see 121,900 boardings per day across nine new routes, easily taking tens of thousands of cars off the road and providing better service to many who need it — all laudable goals.

The price tag could come in considerably lower than $10.5 billion, if officials opt for buses instead of rail, among other things. But this system would take new tax dollars nonetheless. As early as 2020, Cap Metro could ask voters to open their wallets for the first phase.

By then, taxpayers will notice their bills rising from the $720 million “go big” transportation bond approved in 2016 (a tax increase of $56 to $108 a year, depending on various factors), as well as the $1 billion Austin schools bond (officials never gave a clear number on the cost to homeowners) and the $185 million Travis County road, parks and drainage bonds passed last year (costing up to $24 a year for the typical homeowner). Again, all worthy projects. All adding to your tax bill.

Meanwhile, the city of Austin is crafting its big ask of voters for this fall. Council Members Greg Casar, Delia Garza and Sabino “Pio” Renteria, whose districts are home to many of Austin’s poorest residents, are calling for a $250 million to $300 million affordable housing bond. All three have touted the plan as one that won’t raise taxes — meaning, the tax rate. But remember your rising home values? For the owner of the median value home, keeping the same debt service tax rate could add roughly $24 to the tax bill, city officials told me.

Yes, I could absorb that $2 a month, especially to help my neighbors. But the ask will likely be more than that.

Garza, whose District 2 in southeast Austin has some of the city’s worst flooding issues, wants another bond to support flood buyouts, drainage improvements and land buys of open space to prevent future flooding problems. She hasn’t settled on a number yet.

And the numbers could get bigger still. Working groups with the city’s bond advisory task force have drawn up proposals totaling $851 million in bond funding, to cover everything from parkland and some pool repairs to new fire stations and about half of the affordable housing that Casar, Garza and Renteria are pushing for. The task force may revise its numbers before making its formal pitch to City Council members next week. The council will hammer out a package to its liking over the next few months before asking voters to decide in November.

It’s not a simple calculation at this point to determine what an $851 million bond, for the sake of discussion, might cost the typical homeowner. The city does the borrowing in pieces over several years, while at the same time earlier bonds are getting paid off, making a bottom line calculation challenging.

But you can bet it’s more money than what you’re paying today, and that’s not even counting the main tax rate you pay to support day-to-day operations at the city,  including salaries for police officers, firefighters and other city staffers. Those taxes have also climbed in recent years, and at a budget forecast presentation to council members this week, the question wasn’t whether to raise taxes even more, but by how much.

I tugged on Garza’s elbow at this week’s Fair Housing Summit, not only about the proposed affordable housing bond, but about the big picture. A few years ago she championed the creation of a regional affordability committee, made up of representatives from various taxing entities, after recognizing the cumulative effect on taxpayers when $50 is added here, $75 there, another $100 over there. She told me the coordination among taxing entities isn’t as far along as she’d hoped — “it’s still very siloed,” she said — but added the discussions have been worthwhile.

She acknowledged “it is a delicate balancing act” between raising taxes to provide more affordable housing and adding to the tax burden that’s making Austin increasingly unaffordable. “Even if this bond were approved,” she said, “the impact on your average homeowner would not be significant.”

It’s just one bite. Voters will decide in November if they have the appetite for it.

In Khizr Khan’s inspirational story, a mighty river flows

Khizr Khan, father of fallen U.S. Army Capt. Humayun S.M. Khan, speaks as his wife Ghazala listens at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Maybe sometimes it takes a stranger to remind us of our greatness and of the things we hold dear as a nation, but which we take for granted. Maybe it takes someone like Khizr Khan, a Pakistani immigrant who chased his American dream and is living it.

You remember Khan. At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in 2016, the Gold Star father of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in combat in Iraq fixed a stern gaze at the television camera as if it were a portal into the American consciousness.

With his wife Ghazala beside him, Khan pulled a copy of the U.S. Constitution from his jacket and ripped then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for his proposed Muslim travel ban and his rhetoric on immigrants. Then Khan famously asked if Trump had even read the founding document.

“I will gladly lend you my copy,” he said as the audience roared. “In this document, look for the words liberty and equal protection of the law.”

An electric moment, it rocketed Khan to national prominence.

As we now know is his standard impulse, Trump took to Twitter to fire back. Never mind that attacking the grieving parents of a U.S. Army captain who had given his life for his country seemed outrageously undignified, beneath what we expect of someone wanting to be president.

Khan wasn’t surprised, he told me before an appearance last Saturday morning at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Austin: “We had known (Trump’s) caliber and his mentality and his lack of empathy, his lack of compassion.”

Today of course, Trump is the president of the United States. Khan isn’t shrinking from the spotlight, either. He is traveling across the country with a newly published book, “An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice.” The event at St. Andrew’s, where he spoke to a few hundred people about the book and about his life, was his 175th event since that fateful, life-changing night in Philadelphia.

“I’d rather be with my grandkids,” Khan told me with a warm smile. “But it’s for a good purpose — to share a message of unity and hope. We are lacking that now.”

But not Khan. His faith in America remains resolute. “The book,” he said, “is a tribute from (our family) to the goodness of America. We are expressing our gratitude.”

Later inside the school auditorium, Khan, wearing a dark suit and a Gold Star lapel pin, deftly wove his life story before a rapt, diverse audience. A Harvard-educated lawyer he spoke in a low, soothing timbre, and reminded them that among the things Americans cherish most are the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

“Human dignities,” he called them. “The founding document gave me these dignities. In Pakistan I did not have freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom to address my grievances in a court of law and due process.”

Life led from a seat on a small cot at his rural Pakistani home with no electricity to his current home of Charlottesville – yes, that Charlottesville in Virginia, where a rally of white supremacists exploded in deadly violence August 12.

In the moonlit darkness of his Pakistani home, Khan’s grandfather offered the young boy wise counsel, paraphrasing one of Rumi’s seven advices. “He told me, ‘So what if you are thirsty. Be a river for others,’” Khan said.

In Charlottesville, three days after the ugly violence, the Khans joined other families in walking the same route the neo-Nazis had taken. Like his grandfather, Khizr Khan had his own lesson to impart.

“We showed our children that these were not American values,” he said. “We stood together to show them that this is the real America.”

Some Americans have blamed Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants for emboldening white supremacist protesters. Khan didn’t address the criticism.

The Khans didn’t intend to accept the Democratic convention’s invitation to speak. Confidantes had warned them there would be backlash, and they were right. Khan receives much hate mail – most of it unsigned and with no return address – and he must travel with great precaution.

But they could not ignore the concerns of their Muslim neighbors’ children, who with Trump’s talk about banning Muslims from entering the U.S., were reluctant to attend school because they feared their parents would be gone — deported – when they returned.

“They would ask, ‘Is this possible? But we were born here,’” Khan said.

In some ways, Khan’s appearance at St. Andrews bore some of the hallmarks of both a celebrity appearance and an inspirational seminar for people thirsty for hope. A long line of people waited to have their photo taken with Khan, who exuded a quiet and gracious humility.

At times audience members fought back tears. At others they rollicked with laughter. The idea of holding up the Constitution had been an afterthought, conceived in a taxi on the way to the Democratic convention. Khan described a comical scene like something out of The Three Stooges: in rehearsing pulling the pocket-size Constitution from his jacket, he displayed the back cover, ruining the intended dramatic effect.

“Practice,” Ghazala scolded him.

In Austin and across the country, at a time when political civility has gone missing, at a time when some in America vilify those who don’t look like them, Khan might be the unlikeliest of rock stars, spinning a love poem to democratic ideals.

If he is thirsty, he is not letting on. Instead, he is a river to others.

 

 

Flaws in AISD’s bond decisions show need for an independent committee

TA Brown Elementary on Friday, November 4, 2016. Unstable floor leads to cancellation of classes at Brown Elementary. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

Ideally, a bond package for schools would bring together diverse communities across Austin whose residents share a strong support of Austin public schools. Yet the bond package currently being considered, whose price tag is about $1 billion, has divided much of the Austin community, tearing open old wounds of classism and racism and raising new questions regarding transparency, accountability and leadership.

Clearly, the process is broken and in need of drastic change.

To that point, the Austin school district would benefit greatly from an independent bond commission made up of both supporters and skeptics to hash out the complex and often contentious priorities of a large urban district. That commission should reflect the community it serves – economically, racially, ethnically and geographically. It’s one way to move beyond the bitter politics that is driving decisions regarding the current bond package that seems headed to a November election.

In the end, whatever decisions are made still would have to go to the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees for a vote. But right now, matters have turned toxic with a board and superintendent who have bent over backwards to accommodate well-heeled, influential Austin parents and neighborhoods at the expense of many low-income families and people of color.

That can be seen in an emerging, lopsided bond package, which supplanted some key recommendations by an advisory committee to make the bond package more geographically and equitably balanced.

Prime examples of how things have gone off the rails include the last-minute proposal for the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, whose student body is mostly white and affluent, and the elimination of a highly recommended middle school that would serve many students of color who are lower-income.

RELATED: Alberta Phillips: How Austin ISD botched decision to move an acclaimed academy.

LASA would move from the LBJ High School campus to the Eastside Memorial High School campus, displacing mostly minority and low-income students there. Eastside students would move to a new campus at the original L.C. Anderson site. In all, that would cost about $100 million.

Never mind that the LASA proposal would increase segregation, as noted by Trustee Edmund “Ted” Gordon, by increasing to 3 the number of high schools with student bodies that are “over 90 percent black and brown.”

“In each one of those high schools, we’re well over 80 percent and heading into 90 percent in terms of socioeconomically underprivileged,” said Gordon, who represents Northeast Austin.

But the dysfunction doesn’t stop there. Trustees continue to lean toward a single bond proposition, offering the lame excuse that if they gave voters, say two choices, voters might approve the less-urgent proposition and vote down the proposition that contains the district’s vital needs. In other words, voters are too dumb to discern the district’s true needs from the fluff.

We all owe gratitude to the 18 people who serve on the district’s Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee. FABPAC members did their job, holding dozens of community meetings and combing through mounds of reports and information to craft a facilities master plan to be used as a blueprint for bond packages. They went about that task for 18 months, prioritizing which schools were most in need of repair, replacement and upgrades, and neighborhoods that needed new schools.

That kind of work is best done by those with a passion for public schools. But the next steps in deciding the scope, shape and timing of a bond package should be done by an independent group, which can impartially assess the district’s most urgent priorities, while at the same time gauge what taxpayers can afford.

That would be a healthy, trusted process that provides more checks and balances.

FABPAC members will tell you that in doing their work, they began with a foregone conclusion: There would be bonds. And soon. That was not debatable. The rest they have left to trustees, such as the bond package’s price tag, number of propositions and the date they appear on a ballot. Trustees are scheduled to fill in all of those blanks on Monday.

Unfortunately, that process invites the kind of manipulation of the process we’ve witnessed from Superintendent Paul Cruz and others. It was Cruz who fast-tracked LASA’s expansion and move.

RELATED: Community reactions mixed over proposed LASA move to Eastside site.

Obviously, the FABPAC did not believe LASA’s expansion rose to the level of needs at T.A. Brown Elementary School, with significant structural deficiencies. That was signaled by the FABPAC’s recommendation to insert LASA, along with a middle school for the Mueller development, in its second-tier priorities.

Yet, trustees elevated LASA, but not Mueller’s middle school. That did not sit well with Gordon, who referred to such eleventh-hour maneuvering as the “Eastside switcheroo.”

“If reinventing the urban school system means abandoning the urban areas of the city, then we’re in trouble,” Gordon said. “It can’t mean that. It has to mean a way in which the east and west can come together to create a school district which is diverse, which is equitable, and which provides all our kids with a quality education – not some kids an elite quality education, and other kids no education – all our kids a quality education.”

To achieve that goal, the Austin district needs a new business model for bond planning.

 

 

Do you agree with Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim countries?

Demonstrators gather in solidarity against President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. and suspending the nation’s refugee program Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, outside City Hall in Cincinnati. In addition, earlier in the day Mayor John Cranley declared Cincinnati a "sanctuary city," meaning city will not enforce federal immigration laws against people who are here illegally, in keeping with current policy. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Demonstrators in Cincinnati gather on January 30 in solidarity against President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. and suspending the nation’s refugee program (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Unsurprisingly, criticism of President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States has been swift and harsh.

There’s enough in the ban to criticize: From the void of American values of defending the marginalized “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to the legally questionable practice of targeting and discrimination of a single religious group. It may be billed as a tool against terrorism, but the danger in its text serves more as a fan to inflame radical-Islamic enemies.

Critics – as well as thousands of protestors across the country, including here in Austin – aren’t standing idly by.

The New York Times, just one of many editorial boards across the nation quick to call out Trump on the order, calls the ban a “bigoted, cowardly, self-defeating policy.”

And then points out that the “breathtaking in scope and inflammatory in tone” order issued on Holocaust Remembrance Day, no less, lacks any logic. “It invokes the attacks of Sept. 11 as a rationale, while exempting the countries of origin of all the hijackers who carried out that plot and also, perhaps not coincidentally, several countries where the Trump family does business.”

Civil rights activist and Baptist preacher Jesse Jackson makes similar comments and adds that Trump’s policy will make it more dangerous for American Muslims here in the U.S. while it also makes for excellent ISIS recruitment material.

“The real problem is that the unintended consequences are likely to be far more dangerous than doing nothing. For ISIS and al-Qaida, the order is a gift. It feeds their argument that the Muslim world is facing a war on Islam led by the Great Satan (the U.S.) intent on persecuting Muslims.

“The anger and hatred generated will make it more difficult for moderate Muslim leaders to cooperate with the U.S. At home, a Muslim community under siege — and faced with rising hate crimes — is likely to become more closed, not less, and less cooperative, not more. If we will not respect their rights and security, they will be less likely to be concerned for ours,” Jackson wrote.

Not everyone, however, is a critic.

Jack Hunter, of the conservative-libertarian Rare.us, points out the hypocrisy in some of Trump’s critics regarding the ban.

“Why is this kind of outrage seemingly now just limited to Donald Trump?”

He says, for example, “The Los Angeles Times featured a story on Sunday about Alexander Gutierrez Garcia, who fled an oppressive dictatorship to seek refugee status in the United States, but unfortunately for him America’s president issued an executive order that denied him entry.

“That order came from President Barack Obama.”

Hunter continues: “So many of those outraged right now — and rightly — generally liked Obama. They trusted him. Now, similarly, Trump supporters will defend this president’s actions, no matter how much harm he causes, because they like and trust him too.

“But shouldn’t other people’s pain come before partisanship? …Shouldn’t lending our moral support or outrage be based on something more than merely what presidents we like?”

Plenty of others have and will weigh in on the issue. And no doubt, some of those opinions will make it onto our Viewpoint pages. But right now, we want to know what YOU think of all of this by taking our single-question poll (above and below).

President Trump: Don’t let people of color down

Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Melania Trump looks on during the 58th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Melania Trump looks on during the 58th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Today is a somber, anxious day for people of color in America.

On this day, as we witness the swearing in of Donald J. Trump as POTUS No. 45, we are conflicted.

As Americans, we respect the Oval Office, its traditions and a democratic process that determines our Commander-in-Chief. But as brown people with a not so distant history of subjugation and discrimination, we are worried that our country is moonwalking into a less friendly era.

Yes, I know that many whites, and especially white Democrats, are crazy with anger and sad to the point of tears. But they have an advantage in their skin color that never will make them vulnerable to the bigotry – and dangerous practices, such as racial profiling – to which people of color are susceptible. They luckily never will feel the sting of the N-word or humiliation from having a hijab snatched from their heads in public.

As we look ahead to a Trump administration, many African Americans and Latinos are fearing that the clock will be turned back on civil rights, deportations of undocumented hard-working families will swell and public schools, the great leveler for all people no matter their race, sexual preference or place of birth, will be kicked to the curb.

We’re woke, knowing any one of those things could return us to a condition in which prejudice is practiced with impunity. But collectively, such measures could do greater damage, hindering progress of our children for generations.

I hope not. And thankfully, Trump’s speech provided some glimmers of hope for those of us looking for something – anything – to hold on to in this new president. Here are Trump’s words I found hopeful:

“At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction — that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves. . .”

“When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”

“It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget — that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.”

I have to tell you that those last words truly touched me as the daughter of a World War II veteran, Grover C. Phillips, now deceased, who was wounded by shrapnel in France during the war. The scar was over Dad’s heart.

I know I don’t speak for every person of color; Polling shows that 18 percent to 29 percent of Latinos voted for Trump, so the vast majority of Latinos voted for Hillary Clinton.

Can you blame them when he kicked off his campaign last year with a speech in which he said, “When Mexico sends it people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Among African American voters, 8 percent voted for Trump. And I don’t have to tell you how Malcolm X would refer to that small group of voters, so I won’t go there.

But I will share some personal experiences of family members and friends:

My mom, Esther Phillips, who turned 87 in August, cried as she watched the inauguration, asking “Are we going backwards? What will Trump do to help young African Americans get their education and jobs?”

My niece, who is attending graduate school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., did not attend the inauguration but is going to the Women’s March on Saturday because she is concerned that sexism and male privilege are on the rise.

My colleague, Gissela SantaCruz, told me of her nine-year-old son who woke up shaking, crying and nose running, at the thought of President Obama leaving office and Trump taking over. SantaCruz told me her son fears being treated differently in a world he believes now will focus on his ethnicity over all else.

Her 22-year-old son called her at the office, seeking comfort on Obama’s last full day as president, asking if they might meet for dinner and drinks as he was feeling anxious and down about the future.

Few, aside from U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, are openly questioning Trump’s legitimacy. To be clear, Trump won the election. Period. But his victory had as much to do with Clinton’s liabilities and sense of entitlement — as well as the tone deafness of the Democratic National Committee — as with Trump’s appeal to a nation hungry for a new face. That much is evident in the fact that Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million.

I’ve spent time with Lewis, a man of deep moral conviction. And I don’t blame the civil rights lion for boycotting the election. Lewis still carries the physical scars of having his scull cracked by Alabama state troopers for standing up for voting rights. Clearly Trump’s support of voter ID laws and other restrictive voting practices are hard to swallow given the country’s history of denying African Americans the vote.

And it doesn’t help that Trump seems to define outreach to African Americans in terms of photo ops or meetings with black entertainers and athletes, such as Steve Harvey, Kanye West, Jim Brown and Ray Lewis. If that is his comfort level for African Americans, we’re in trouble.

If Trump is interested in improving inner cities and helping African American youth succeed, as he said in his inaugural address, then he should start meeting with the mayors, council members, congress men and women and others elected by black communities.

Mr. President, you said today that “I will never, ever let you down.”

I hope that promise extends to all Americans.

 

 

 

Is your child feeling anxiety or fearful after the election?

SARASOTA, FL - NOVEMBER 07: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds up a rubber mask of himself during a campaign rally in the Robarts Arena at the Sarasota Fairgrounds November 7, 2016 in Sarasota, Florida. With less than 24 hours until Election Day in the United States, Trump and his opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, are campaigning in key battleground states that each must win to take the White House. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds up a rubber mask of himself during a campaign rally in the Robarts Arena at the Sarasota Fairgrounds November 7, 2016 in Sarasota, Florida. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

On Thursday morning, Austin Independent School District Trustee Paul Saldaña wrote an open letter to students in the district in response to the anxiety and fear many students across the district have reported feeling after hearing news of Donald Trump winning the presidential election. Election results-related anxiety is what led students at two local elementary schools — Sunset Valley and Matthews — to kneel during the Pledge of Allegiance on Wednesday in protest of Trump.

As a parent of a 9-year-old bright and curious child, I appreciate Saldaña’s gesture. I only wish I’d had it on Wednesday morning.

That’s when my 9 year-old son woke up wondering who had won the presidential election the night before. And, unlike past elections, I dreaded answering his question.

It was an especially trying and uncommon campaign season for us both. During most elections, I welcome reading and talking about candidates and the issues on the ballot. But, this election season, thanks to the hostile rhetoric that became to familiar, I did my best to shelter my 3rd grader from news of Trump or Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Yet, despite my efforts, we had plenty of conversations about the two candidates vying for presidency during our drives to and from school. Unfortunately, most of those conversations were to specifically address my son’s fears over something the Republican candidate had said should happen or promised to do as president. At times I wondered if I was doing much to help my son settle his anxiety.

So when my son asked who won the election, I froze and changed the subject. What more could I say? I had already spent weeks trying to ensure him that regardless of the winner, he — no, WE as a family and WE, as a country — would be fine. Yet, I knew, news of the winner would be a hard blow for his kind and sensitive soul. As a child of Mexican American parents, the grand-child of immigrants and whose group of friends are as diverse as the fabric of this country, my son took each insult made by Trump as a direct hit to those in his closest circles. So, I told him. Silent tears followed.

Then, the most heartbreaking question came: “Mom, where was I born?”

My son spent weeks worrying about what might happen to his friends who spoke a different language or whose skin color was much darker. Now, with a president-elect that has shown little regard for people who look like my son’s friends and family members, he wondered how he personally would be affected by this new president.

There are families across this country, in this city in fact, having similar conversations with their children. And their taking place at schools, as well. Some educators, like Mathews Elementary Principal Grace Martino-Brewster, have taken the time to personally address this anxiety they see in their students.

Saldaña takes it a step further. He reassures all students in the district that they matter, that they are heard and that they are safe. He also is working to organize a town hall meeting soon to address the issue, he said.

“I have been hearing from students, teachers and parents the last two days and several have requested a community conversation,” Saldana wrote in an email. “Parents are struggling how to broker and/or respond to their children.”

The full text of his letter:

Looking for our 2016 endorsements?

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

 

Early voting for the national and local elections starts October 24 and while the Editorial Board is not endorsing in the presidential race, we are weighing in on some very important issues facing Central Texans.

There’s no doubt that by now most Americans know how they’ll vote on the main ticket this presidential election, but local races are just as important — if not more so, some will argue — and deserve voters’ attention. It’s at the local level that the Editorial Board has decided to focus and dig a little deeper, providing both analytical editorials on some of the most pressing issues coupled with Q&A’s with candidates who will take on these issues if elected. Below, you’ll find a list of the races and issues we’ve chosen to weigh in  on.

So whether you choose to head to the polls next week (early voting ends Nov. 4) or decide to wait for Election Day on Nov. 8, we encourage you to make it through to the end of the ballot and cast as an informed vote as much a possible. (BTW: Need more info on Austin City Council Candidates? Don’t know who represents you? No problem. Use the Statesman’s City Council Candidate Explorer to answer your questions.)

Presidential Election:

Mobility Bonds Election:

Travis County Sheriff race:

Travis County District Attorney race:

Austin City Council District 2 and 4 races:

Austin City Council District 6 race:

Austin City Council Districts 7 and 10 races:

Austin Community College Board of Trustee races:

Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees races:

 

And of course, you can get full election coverage here: Statesman Elections 2016

 

Who made the list of Texans and Latinos at the DNC and RNC?

Texans, Latinos, and yes, Latino Texans. They were every bit present during the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Their numbers may not have been large, but they made strong appearances, leaving memorable remarks.

The Los Angeles Times, which broke down the list of scheduled convention orators for us, found that the DNC had nearly twice as many and more diverse speakers than the RNC. Not surprising.

DNC had 133 speakers of which 43 percent were women and 44 percent were nonwhite, according to the LA Times. Meanwhile, the RNC had a total of 71 speakers, of which 35 percent were women and 20 percent were nonwhite.

So how many were Texan? Latino? And Texan Latino?

LA Times said six Latinos spoke at the RNC and I found more than 20 took the stage at the DNC. From Austinite Robert Rodriguez (in video above) to Ted Cruz, Latino Texans made for some of the most unforgettable appearances at both conventions.

And while the Los Angeles Times did not have a count of speakers from the Lone Star State, at least five spoke at the DNC and three at the RNC.

There’s no surprise to find the lists lopsided in Latino and minority representation. One need only look to the party platforms to see why. The parties differ on everything from health insurance coverage to college education with most Latinos favoring the Democratic positions. But perhaps the most stark difference is on immigration in which Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump calls for the deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants and the building of a wall stretching nearly the length of the southern border between Mexico. Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ candidate, calls for comprehensive immigration reform.

So, who exactly showed up at the conventions? Here’s a list — and links to some of the speeches:

AT THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION:

From Texas to the DNC:

  • U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (Houston) | Speech
  • Actress Eva Longoria (Corpus Christi) | Speech
  • Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (Austin / San Antonio) | Speech
  • U.S. Representative Joaquín Castro (San Antonio) | Speech
  • Sheriff Lupe Valdez (Dallas) | Speech

Latino representation at the DNC:

  • U.S. Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona
  • U.S. Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona
  • Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti of California
  • Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, California
  • State Senate President Kevin de León of California
  • U.S. Representative Xavier Becerra of California
  • U.S. Representatives Linda and Loretta Sánchez of California
  • State House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran of Colorado
  • U.S. Representative Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois
  • State Senator Ruben Kihuen of Nevada
  • U.S. Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico
  • U.S. Representative Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico
  • Hillary for America Latino Vote Director Lorella Praeli
  • Civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, civil rights leader
  • National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia
  • Disability rights advocate Anastasia Somoza from New York
  • Immigration advocates mother and daughter Karla and Francisca Ortiz
  • DREAMer activist Astrid Silva
  • Jose Arraigada, speaking about the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting
  • Singer Demi Lovato
  • Actress America Ferrara
  • Musician Sheila E.

AT THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION:

From Texas to the RNC:

  • Former Governor of Texas Rick Perry (Austin) | Speech
  • U.S. Representative Michael McCaul (Austin) | Speech
  • U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (Houston) | Speech

Latino representation at the RNC:

  • U.S. Senator Marco Rubio from Florida
  • Kentucky state senator Ralph Alvarado Jr.
  • Libre Initiative spokesperson Rachel Campos-Duffy

 

 

Central Texans still need to decide who their candidates will be in several races

(RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
(RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Have you noticed those “Vote Here” signs hanging outside a public library, grocery stores or public schools? No, they aren’t simply leftovers from the Uber/Lyft ordinance election that took place earlier this month. They’re evidence that the job of an involved voter is never done.

Those signs are there to remind us that Tuesday’s Runoff Election Day will determine several Republican and Democrat nominees for state and county offices. Those signs are there to remind you that your voice needs to be heard.

Yes, most of Austin is either chattering about the failed Proposition 1 Transportation Network Company ordinance — like most of the tech world, for that matter — or talking of the upcoming presidential election. It’s easy to understand how Tuesday’s runoff election may have slipped some minds.

Never the less, it is important for voters to show up to the polls. After all, there’s still plenty of business to take care of locally – and it’s this business that most directly affects the lives of Texans. Because a larger than usual number of incumbent officeholders locally have chosen not to run for re-election, the there will be plenty of new faces.

The good news is the ballot is short since only a few items from the March primaries went unresolved, including a very tight primary race for Texas Rail Road Commissioner for both parties, the Democratic race for Travis County Commissioner Precinct 1 and the Republican race for Williamson County Commissioner Precinct 1.

Today, the surviving candidates in each of those races face off in their party’s runoff. And there is plenty to consider.

In the Railroad Commissioner race, for instance, Texans have the opportunity to elect a moderate candidate. Back in March, seven Republicans and three Democrats ran for an open seat on the three-member Commission. Now, it’s down to the final four: Two in each race. While the Editorial Board has endorsed Gary Gates, one of the two Republicans left standing. The board chose not to endorse either of the Democrats left in the race.

Why, you ask, does the Railroad Commission even matter? Simple. The incorrectly named agency regulates the oil and gas industry, and as such the decisions made here determine the state’s energy and environmental future. That’s a huge responsibility. And yet, the agency is not one with controversies including growing criticism for its close ties to the oil and gas industry.

A progressive candidate, some experts say, would be a welcome change.

Even closer to home are the Travis County Commissioner Pct. 1 and Williamson County Pct. 1 races. The candidates in each position will help shape how their respective county handles transportation, health care, criminal justice and other challenges wrought by explosive population growth in those areas. Experience will go far in these seats.

Earlier this month, the editorial board made the following endorsements in those races:

  • Democrat Jeff Travillion for Travis County Commissioner Precinct 1.
  • Republican Landy Warren for Williamson County Commissioner Precinct 1.

Victories in these races will be determined by those who take the time to vote.

A USA Today poll from 2012 showed that 59 percent of nonvoters said they were frustrated because “nothing ever gets done” in government, while 54 percent cited “corruption” and 42 percent pointed to the lack of difference between the Democratic and Republican parties as their reasons for not voting. That same year, voter turnout was lower than in 2008, dropping from 62.3 percent of eligible citizens voting to 57.5 percent in 2012.

Today, voter confidence only deteriorated. Only 2 percent of Americans said they were “very satisfied” with the way things are going in the country, while 71 percent of Americans said they were dissatisfied with the state of the nation, according to a 2015 Quinnipiac poll.

With so much change in leadership coming to Central Texas, this is not the time to be disgruntled and removed from the polls.  People say they don’t vote because they feel elected officials don’t serve their interests. But elected officials can only reflect the interests of those constituents who actually show up to vote.

The solution is simple. If you want change, make yourself heard at the polls.

Yes, eligible and soon-to-be-eligible voters are already looking forward to November’s big show, but pressing matters in our own back yard need your attention.   Don’t miss your opportunity to have your voice heard. Go vote.

Austin isn’t the only city with an Uber debate

In this photo taken Feb. 25, 2016, an Uber decal is displayed in the their window of the car owned by Steve Linnes, a music teacher in State College, Pa., who is also a part-time Uber driver. Gov. Tom Wolf and Pittsburgh-area officials said Tuesday, May 3, 2016, they want Pennsylvania regulators to greatly reduce their record-setting $11.4 million fine against ride-sharing company Uber. The Public Utility Commission fined Uber last month for operating six months in 2014 without the required approval. (Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT; MAGS OUT
(Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times via AP)

The Editorial Board weighed in against the May 7 ballot that calls for the repeal of existing regulations of Transporation Network Companies like Uber and Lyft. We also hosted a good number of op-eds both in favor and against the ordinance.

Those weren’t the only  voices who had something to say. Here are a few others:

“Uber and Lyft want a playing field heavily tilted to their advantage, so they can eliminate the local competition and monopolize the ride-hailing market – after which they will resume squeezing drivers and riders as they have persistently done elsewhere.”  — Austin Chronicle editorial board: Endorsement against Prop. 1: 

“With Proposition 1, Uber and Lyft have tried to turn a regulatory debate into an argument over ride-hailing itself, knowing that these services are both popular and necessary in Austin. If voters accept that frame, they are being played as unsophisticated. Proposition 1 is Uber and Lyft’s effort to fight back against regulation by undermining local government.” —Kriston Capps, City Lab: From the Atlantic: Austin’s Uber War is dumb

“I voted in favor of Proposition 1 yesterday with no hesitation for the simple reason that if Austin City Council wanted to cast itself as a responsible steward of the ride-hailing market, it shouldn’t have completely failed to do so for decades.” —Erica Grieder, Texas Monthly: A vote for Prop. 1

“Politics in the time of social media and atrophied attention spans depends on narratives, and opponents of Proposition 1 are peddling a doozy, with the able assistance of the Austin American-Statesman editorial board.”– Mark Lisheron, Watchdog.org: An Uber narrative runs amok

Other Texas cities may not have an election but are grappling with an Uber debate:

In Houston, where Uber has made threats to leave if Houston won’t change existing regulation:

“Don’t let them take you on a ride, (Houston) Mayor Turner. Don’t give in to their threats. In the world of political carrots and sticks, Uber deserves a good bop on the nose for its tone-deaf and entitled attitude towards our city.” — Houston Chronicle editorial board: Another Uber threat

In Dallas, where Uber plans to expand in an underserved part of the city:

“The new collaboration between Uber and the city should allow more southern Dallas residents to take advantage of a handy option to get around. And putting money in the pockets of more Uber “driver-partners,” who can basically become their own bosses, is nothing but good news all around. That’s especially important in some areas of southern Dallas where people struggle to make ends meet.” — Dallas Morning News editorial board: Expanding Uber makes sense

Opinions on Uber  (and fellow ride-hailing company Lyft) are just about everywhere. In fact, elsewhere across the country, and the world for that matter, cities are at different stages of dealing with the presence of Uber. For example:

In Miami, where Uber has illegally forced its way into the market:

“These ride-hailing services not only should be made legal in Miami-Dade, county officials should consider them a vital component in expanding the transportation options beyond what satisfied customers already have taken advantage of.” — Miami Herald editorial board

In New Jersey, where regulating Uber is still a challenge:

“Regulate Uber, yes — but uniformly. Not by treating it like local taxis.” — Miami Herald Editorial Board wrote:

In Toronto, where the focus is still on creating a level playing field for taxis:

“Some additional tinkering may be required, but on the whole the new rules before council represent the best way forward. The question now is whether politicians will have the fortitude to serve the interests of consumers or bow to the taxi industry.” — Toronto Star editorial board