Abbott shouldn’t mess with Austin’s success

Will Austin attract Amazon’s $5 billion HQ2 project? Will bats be involved?

 

Gov. Greg Abbott wants to have it both ways: Proclaiming Austin’s success as one of two Texas cities that made it to the elite 20 – the cities Amazon named this week as finalists for the tech giant’s second headquarters, called Amazon HQ2.

Meanwhile, doing all he can – along with his self-described wingman Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick – to wreck the very business, environmental and social climate that is so appealing to Amazon and a slew of other tech companies that have flocked to Austin.

Here is what Abbott tweeted following the news: Texas is the land of opportunity & hotbed for the tech industry. That is why two #Texas cities are finalists for @Amazon HQ2.

Austin was among 238 cities across North America that submitted bids for Amazon’s second headquarters. Dallas also emerged as a finalist.

There is no denying that the state’s business-friendly regulatory and tax structures are key in attracting big companies to Texas and play a role in wooing Amazon. Also, the state offers generous incentives. But here’s a newsflash: Those businesses, particularly high-tech companies, aren’t relocating or expanding by and large to red zones controlled by Republicans, but to blue cities and counties that are run by Democrats.

Along with Austin, count Dallas, San Antonio, Laredo, El Paso and Houston in that category. There are exceptions, such as Round Rock, Tarrant County and other cities and counties that benefit by their close proximity to blue zones.

In no doubt a reference to Austin, Abbott has said “Texas is being Californianized.”

He added: “It’s being done at the city level with bag bans, fracking bans, tree-cutting bans” that are “forming a patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that is eroding the Texas model.”

He and Patrick have used such propaganda to attack local control with the goal of replacing city councils and county governments, which are closest to the people they serve, with state government — a huge bureaucracy that is far less accountable to local voters and taxpayers.

Abbott, Patrick and many other Republicans, including Attorney General Ken Paxton, want to homogenize Austin and other blue regions with their focus on eliminating bans on single-use plastic bags, regulating bathrooms used by transgender Texans, prohibiting local tree-cutting ordinances and dictating taxation levels of local governments. Though those measures were not entirely successful in the Legislature last year, the fight over bag bans is now before the Texas Supreme Court.

Austin is unique and that is worth protecting. The city’s embrace of environmental protections, including a bag ban to curb litter and protect parks and green spaces and an ordinance protecting heritage trees, are key to its appeal to big companies whose employees are not just looking for fat paychecks, but quality lifestyles. They want opens spaces, robust arts and music scenes, bicycle lanes, clean streets, libraries and universities and local policies that reflect their values, including respecting the rights of gay and transgender people.

Here are some things Abbott, his wingman and other state Republicans might want to consider as they go about homogenizing the state: Since 2004, 524 companies relocated to the Austin region and another 863 employers expanded their workforces. That generated nearly 52,000 jobs, according to Opportunity Austin, a regional economic development arm of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

As of last month, Austin area’s unemployment rate was 2.8 percent, more than a point below the state’s 3.9 percent and below the national unemployment rate of 4.1 percent.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler tells the Austin story this way:

“Austin is recognized as the safest big city in Texas, and the best place to start a business in the country. We lead the state of Texas in patents, startups and venture capital.”

People across the nation are voting with their feet. City demographer Ryan Robinson estimates that between 100 and 110 net persons move to Austin daily. That includes people who move out.

Instead of trying to homogenize Austin so it resembles a red city, Abbott should think about taking the Austin model to scale by promoting Austin’s progressive culture and ideals as good business practices.

I won’t hold my breath. At the very least, Abbott shouldn’t mess with success.

Small communities affected by Harvey need our attention

Cecilia Gutierrez looked for clothes she could salvage from her mobile home which was damaged by flooding from Hurricane Harvey. (RESHMA KIRPALANI / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The nation – perhaps the world – is aware of the devastation Hurricane Harvey caused in Texas. Many know of Houston’s ongoing struggle to recover. Forgotten are the smaller towns along the coast and beyond that are also hurting from the destruction caused by Harvey.

The saga of how small towns have been overlooked has been the focus of an American-Statesman two-part series that concludes Sunday. Reporters Sean Collins Walsh and Jeremy Schwartz found that recovery efforts are nearly non-existent in areas receiving little to no attention from state and federal officials.

Experts in disaster recovery say it’s common for small communities to struggle to compete for state and federal relief funds.

For that reason, small communities should lobby their state representatives to urge Gov. Greg Abbott to tap into the state’s $10 billion savings account, the Economic Stabilization Fund (the official name of the Rainy Day Fund), for their recovery efforts.

Places like La Grange, with its population of 4,690, are in dire need of help. There, a wall of water made its way down the Colorado River, cresting at 54.2 feet and displacing more than 100 residents. In Columbus, population 3,625, an entire neighborhood experienced severe flooding, displacing most residents. In these and other smaller communities, natural disasters often affect a greater percentage of the population than they do in big cities, making it more difficult to get back to normal, Walsh reported.

Governments in small cities often lack the manpower or expertise to handle what promises to be years of seeking grants and recovery funds from the federal government. Unincorporated areas — where residents do not pay city taxes that provide services like street repairs, sewer maintenance and other social services — are at a higher risk of being overlooked when resources are distributed because they have no officials, like a mayor, advocating for them.

Shannon Van Zandt, a Texas A&M professor who has studied disaster responses, said such “nonentitlement jurisdictions,” must instead look to funds distributed by the county or local council of governments and “compete for what recovery money is left over from the entitlement jurisdictions and hope that it funnels some money their way.”

The choice to request relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is a difficult decision for some small communities, like Seadrift City, which has a population of just over 1,500. FEMA requires a 10- to 25-percent match paid upfront from the requesting city, an amount not readily accessible to the town, Schwartz reports.

This brings us back to the Rainy Day Fund.

Experts, state officials and local leaders in affected areas have requested that Texas dip into the fund to help recovery efforts. Abbott rejected such a request made on Monday by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Now was not the time, Abbott said of Turner’s request. The state, Abbott said, will eventually tap into the Rainy Day Fund to help cover hurricane-related costs. But that won’t happen anytime soon — not until the next legislative session, which starts in January 2019.

That may not seem very promising. But small communities shouldn’t be discouraged by Abbott’s response, said Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp.

“One of the things that Abbott really seriously wanted was for us to pay special attention to the smaller areas and least populated areas, and make sure none of those were overlooked,” said Sharp, who was tapped by Abbott to lead the hurricane recovery effort in Texas. “I’m from probably the second-smallest town in the whole impacted area, so I’m really sensitive to that kind of thing.”

If true, that could be mean good news for folks in La Grange, Columbus, Bayside and other hard-hit small communities. It will be up to the people in those small communities to keep up the pressure and ensure they aren’t overlooked. It’s up to Texans to ensure these small communities know they aren’t forgotten.

Dan Patrick: lieutenant governor or viceroy?

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick presides over the Texas Senate during the final days of the 84th Texas legislature regular session in May, 2015 at the Texas state capitol in Austin. (Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News)

 

Maybe we should change Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s title to viceroy.

That seems appropriate since he is acting more like a ruler exercising control over colonies – Texas cities and counties – than a statewide elected leader interested in solving the big problems and challenges facing Texas, such as the state’s broken school finance system, the high number of Texans who are uninsured when it comes to healthcare – including one of four women – and soaring school property taxes that are choking Texas homeowners.

Instead of the latter, Patrick has focused on dissembling representative democracy of cities and counties by overruling their elected leadership and supplanting their policies with his own. That is what viceroys do.

If the public has not gotten that message in the anti-local governing measures Patrick swiftly passed in the Senate during the regular and special sessions — some handed down from our sovereign governor — he made it crystal clear last week on the Fox Business Network.

“People are happy with their governments at the state level. They’re not with their cities,” Patrick said.

That’s bizarre, since it is we, the people, who elect mayors and city councils. And when we’re not happy, we turn them out of office. But Patrick’s statement went further:

“Our cities are still controlled by Democrats. And where do we have all our problems in America? Not at the state level run by Republicans, but in our cities that are mostly controlled by Democrat (sic) mayors and Democrat city councilmen and women. That’s where you see liberal policies. That’s where you see high taxes. That’s where you see street crime. The only place Democrats have control are in our cities, and they are doing a terrible job.”

Got that? It’s the cities that are run by Democrats that are causing all the trouble.

It’s obvious to anyone paying attention that Patrick’s disdain for Democrats is a form of code-switching aimed at conveying to his base – white, socially-conservative Christians – that those “Democrat” people are what’s wrong with Texas and the nation.

His use of the term “Democrat” is a euphemism for people who call themselves Democrats. And we know who those people are. In the Lone Star State, and the country, they tend to be Latinos, African Americans, poor people, single moms, gay and transgender folks, white progressives and lower-wage workers.

Fortunately, it takes two chambers to get things done in Texas and that means Patrick and his court of GOP senators cannot prevail in ruling directly over Texas cities and counties without approval of their co-equal body — House of Representatives run by Speaker Joe Straus. Like the Senate, they are Republican and conservative, but thankfully conducting themselves in a deliberative manner that respects cities and their voters, even in disagreement.

By contrast, Patrick has declared war on blue cities, such as Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. He knows he can’t win the battle at local ballot boxes because voters will elect representatives who share their values and ideals. Given that, Patrick uses the power of the state to preempt and overrule pesky voters in his path. That is what viceroys do.

Consider that Patrick has passed legislation in the Senate that would make it more difficult for city and county governments to set property tax rates at levels they deem necessary to provide police, fire, EMS and other services for residents. Patrick’s Senate Bill 1 would require local jurisdictions to get voter approval for tax rate hikes above 4 percent.

That is a tight squeeze for Austin, which because of rapid growth, has regularly exceeded that limit. Given current trends, the city would need to conduct a tax election every year. The House version sets the level at 6 percent.

State law already provides protections for taxpayers without hamstringing cities and counties or forcing costly elections to do their jobs by permitting voters to petition for a rollback election for increases above 8 percent.

In addition to SB 1, there are proposals to prevent cities from regulating tree removal on private property, to place limits on local government spending and to make it harder for cities to annex outlying areas without their residents’ approval.

But here’s the thing: Legally, Patrick can’t target only blue cities. That means unintentional targets – cities, counties and suburbs run by Republicans — become collateral damage in Patrick’s war.

Their autonomy is every bit at-risk as Austin’s and other blue cities. And Patrick’s attacks won’t stop with the end of the special session on Wednesday. They will continue on conservative radio or television and in public speeches until Patrick prevails — or voters send him packing.

That’s what viceroys do.

 

No need for bathroom bills; women’s restrooms have private stalls

Monica Roberts addresses the crowd at a rally for All In for Equality Advocacy Day at the Capitol on Monday, March 20, 2017. Event organizers and participants rallied and spoke with legislators about LGBT issues. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

I find myself evermore confused about Texas transgender bathroom bills especially in light of a new measure Texas House lawmakers unveiled this week.

American-Statesman writer Chuck Lindell reported that House Bill 2899 by state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, would nullify local anti-discrimination protections that regulate access to multiple-occupancy bathrooms, showers and changing rooms. The measure effectively blocks cities, counties and school districts from enacting or enforcing transgender-friendly restroom policies.

So as I read that, it blocks jurisdictions from preventing discrimination. Got that?

A different version, Senate Bill 6, flew through the Senate last month along party lines. It would require government buildings and public schools and universities to limit bathroom use to the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate.

I’m seriously trying to understand the problem Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott and many other Republicans are trying to fix in public – and now it seems, private — bathrooms and why I have been so unaware of the abuses they cite apparently going in ladies’ rooms across Texas. They have cited concerns over privacy and the scary threat of men, pretending to be women, in order to peep, or worse, at women taking care of their business.

Do they know that women’s restrooms have individual toilet stalls?

Perhaps all the confusion is contributing to my own bathroom issues.

During intermission at a recent performance at Austin’s Vortex playhouse I found myself along with several other women standing in line for the men’s restroom. It was the shortest line and some of us didn’t realize that the restrooms were labeled by gender. It is after all, the Vortex. Ultimately we did bail and join the women’s line, which snaked across the lobby.

But on a recent trip to New York during intermission of a Broadway show, dozens of women, including yours truly, jumped over to the men’s restroom line when it was clear we wouldn’t make it back to our seats for the start of the second act. At $200 a ticket, you aren’t fussy about such things. And yes, we did encounter a gentleman at a urinal, but he seemed OK with it, shrugging his shoulders and saying something like, “Go ahead, do your thing.” We did.

At one point, watching North Carolina’s meltdown on the transgender bathroom issue, I figured this deal to be a loser. Texas, I mused, was too smart to go down that rabbit hole. At least GOP House Speaker Joe Straus, recognizing the harm to the Texas economy, is opposing such measures.

That is underscored by a recent report by The Perryman Group that stated “reductions in travel and tourism activity would likely result in a gross product loss of almost $3.3 billion per year as well as the loss of over 35,600 full-time equivalent jobs (based on 2016 levels of activity).”

Consider that losses would total nearly $412 million in the speaker’s hometown of San Antonio.

While estimates are based on the Texas Senate’s version of the bill, the report, titled, “The Potential Impact of Social Legislation on Business Activity,” cautioned that “If the Texas Legislature passes a law viewed as discriminatory against lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender persons, it is likely that some meetings and events would be canceled and that some leisure travelers will also avoid the state. The resulting reduction in travel and tourism would involve substantial economic costs.”

Feeling its own economic squeeze, North Carolina did adjust its bathroom rules enough to appease the NCAA, which had threatened a boycott. It is unclear whether such tweaking will satisfy other big players.

Unfortunately, Texas is way down that rabbit hole now with Abbott weighing in on bathroom measures this week via Twitter, saying, “I support the principles of both the Senate and House to protect privacy in bathrooms. We will work to get a bill to my desk.”

OK, but what have we been doing up to now about our bathroom choices? Wouldn’t we have known by now if there was a problem? And why not trust local jurisdictions to address public bathroom policies, since it is local taxpayers who pay for them, be they in schools, city halls or parks?

That way Austin and San Antonio could enact protections for transgender people, while Cedar Park and Kyle could require everyone to use public bathrooms based on the sex listed on their birth certificates. And the private sector certainly is capable of taking care of its own bathroom business.

Certainly there may be some who have abused bathroom privileges. We’ve all read or seen news stories about smart phones hidden in walls, elevators and bathrooms for lewd purposes. But those are crimes committed by peeping Toms and perverts – not transgender people.

In any case, I wish Texas leaders had collected evidence to substantiate abuses so we would know what in the Sam Hill is going on in restrooms and how widespread it is? Then we would at least have facts driving legislation instead of hysteria, confusion and ignorance.

And would someone please tell our leaders that women and girls don’t even do No. 1 in the open. We have individual bathroom stalls.

 

Abbott’s Texas stomps Austin, local governments

Governor Greg Abbott speaks before signing his new book ‘Broken but Unbowed’ as he launches his book tour at the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation. Wednesday, May 18, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Welcome to Gov. Abbott’s Texas, where the state bullies local governments to bend to its will and strangles efforts of local people to govern themselves. That sounds surreal, but it is not a stretch if Abbott gets his way.

The Texas Tribune reported this week that Abbott is proposing a “rifle-shot” law to pre-empt regulations of cities and counties that run counter to the state’s interest. Such an approach would wreck the current democratic process in which the Legislature publicly debates local ordinances before either validating them or striking them down.

Here is what Abbott told the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, an Austin-based think tank, during a Q&A session at the group’s meeting in Corpus Christi.

“As opposed to the state having to take multiple rifle-shot approaches at overriding local regulations, I think a broad-based law by the state of Texas that says across the board, the state is going to pre-empt local regulations, is a superior approach,” The Tribune reported.

Abbott added that such an approach, “makes it more simple, more elegant, but more importantly, provides greater advance notice to businesses and to individuals that you’re going to have the certainty to run your lives.”

Yes, Governor, democracy is messy, tedious and time-consuming. But that is what the framers of the Constitution had in mind in setting up a system to ensure that ideas are debated in the public square in front of the people so presumably the best ones would prevail.

A sweeping law aimed at diluting or eroding that process is antithetical to the Constitution.

Our democratic system was not intended to be “elegant,” or means of granting “notice to businesses and individuals” so as to provide certainty in their practices or lives, as the governor seems to believe. And the notion that elected lawmakers need some kind of break in doing the jobs we elected and pay them to do – pass laws – is misguided.

Aside from being imprudent, Abbott’s proposal is unnecessary as the limits of municipalities, such as the city of Austin, and all 254 Texas counties, are spelled out in the state’s constitution and legal principles, as Austin attorney and former Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire, notes.

“The Texas Constitution and statutes establish different legal principles regarding power of cities and counties,” Aleshire told me Wednesday.

“The principle for home-rule cities is that they have any power necessary for protection for the health, welfare, or safety of the city residents that is not prohibited by state law. The opposite is true for counties, which only have power that is granted to them by state law.”

In other words, home-rule cities, such as Austin, can legally ban plastic bags, require Uber and Lyft to fingerprint their drivers and regulate short-term rentals as those are areas in which the state has not established regulations, with the exception of some restrictions on plastic bag bans. So none of Austin’s local ordinances in such areas violate state regulations.

And if the state does extend its reach in those areas as some Republicans in the Legislature now are attempting to do, Austin’s ordinances would have to come into compliance with state law. The city could, however, decide to challenge state law in court. In either scenario, the current democratic system works in handling such issues.

As for Travis County, no doubt Abbott is madder than hell over new policies of Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez to deny most requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain jail inmates for federal immigration checks before releasing them.

I say that because counties have so little authority in general and already are limited to doing what the state prescribes. So Abbott’s proposal with regard to counties makes no sense. That is especially true since state lawmakers now are considering a law to require Texas sheriffs to fully comply with all ICE detainers or fine them civilly or criminally if they don’t.

As it now stands, Hernandez is only honoring ICE requests when the inmate is charged with one of four crimes: capital murder, murder, aggravated sexual assault or continuous human smuggling.

Again, our current legislative process – including debate and public meetings – is handling the local initiative that has Abbott all riled up. Austin and Travis County leaders might not agree with the Legislature’s response to Hernandez’s ICE policy, but even Hernandez has said she would follow state law under such circumstances, meaning she would honor ICE detainers if that is the law.

As a former state supreme court justice and attorney general for Texas, Abbott should know that upheaval, disruption and disagreement are part of the formula for a healthy democracy. And can you even imagine the reaction of Abbott, who worships at the altar of states’ rights, if the federal government struck that posture with Texas?

And let’s face it, some of the most autocratic countries in the world are the ones with the most certainty and predictability for their people, government and businesses. Like North Korea.

Protecting Texas children from abuse requires training, accountability and money

(USE THIS PHOTO) Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Director Hank Whitman is calld to testify at a public hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Human Services at the Capitol Tuesday July 12, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
(USE THIS PHOTO) Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Director Hank Whitman is calld to testify at a public hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Human Services at the Capitol Tuesday July 12, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Since taking control of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services last month, Henry “Hank” Whitman has wasted no time shaking things up at the state’s child welfare agency. And if ever an agency needed an overhaul, it’s Child Protective Services, which administers the state’s troubled foster care program.

After halting hefty pay raises that were in the works for top executives and directing all 10 regional directors to reapply for their jobs, Whitman released a 10-point proposal this week aimed at keeping children in the state’s charge safe.

That is certainly welcome, as is Whitman’s focus on accountability. Consider that in 2015, 171 children died in Texas of abuse and neglect, many under tragic circumstances that were preventable. That is up from 151 in 2014. In March, agency officials said they mishandled a Dallas child abuse case in which a girl was killed.

Also consider that CPS is dealing with the fallout from a years-long lawsuit over the foster care system. U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ruled in December that CPS needed a massive overhaul to protect children from danger and that children were better off before they entered the system. Got that?

The pressure to improve the agency also is coming from Gov. Greg Abbott, and rightly so.

“I was hired, bottom line, because our governor was sick and tired of reading about infants and toddlers who were severely injured or killed while or after they were involved with Child Protective Services,” Whitman said.

Those comments came this week as he detailed his proposal to the Texas House Committee on Human Services.

The American-Statesman’s Julie Chang reported that Whitman’s plan calls for training 146 special investigators with the agency over the next few months in forensic techniques used by law enforcement so they won’t miss signs that signal that something is amiss or that a child is in danger. Those investigators then will train 2,200 caseworkers.

He also said CPS will work with the DPS to train information analysts to do criminal background checks on potentially abusive parents and guardians before caseworkers arrive at a home. Though that provision could be viewed as violating a person’s privacy, such checks have become routine in many jobs. And if done discreetly, could help protect children and caseworkers. Williamson and Milam counties are piloting such efforts now, Chang reported.

Whitman’s plan also would expand a 2014 state initiative in which all foster services for a region are transferred to one provider, allowing local communities greater flexibility in how they care for foster children. That approach has shown some positive results in Fort Worth. And in effort to increase the number of foster and adoptive parents, Whitman said he would expand partnerships with religious organizations.

Those are all good steps no doubt influenced by his law enforcement background as a former chief of the Texas Rangers. And Whitman deserves credit for identifying key problems within CPS. But those efforts also must be coupled with better support and compensation of front-line workers.

Consider that the agency pays the average entry-level caseworker about $33,000 annually. It’s no wonder that there is so much turnover and turmoil among those employees. In 2015 nearly a quarter of caseworkers quit during their first year at the agency. Those who remain are overburdened.

That is the case in Travis County, where of the 110 investigator jobs available, just 54 staffers are currently juggling dozens of cases. This spring, the number of delinquent cases in Travis County skyrocketed 76 percent.

Last month, Travis County state district Judge Darlene Byrne wrote that “Texas is doing a shameful job of parenting many of its foster children. The situation is worse than I have seen during almost 13 years as a judge hearing Child Protective Services (CPS) cases.

At a minimum, Byrne said the state must spend more money on hiring and retraining many more CPS caseworkers and pay them at a “rate that recognizes the harrowing nature of the work they do.”

I applaud Whitman’s accountability measures and his awareness that caseworkers need better pay. But improving the agency’s ability to protect foster children cannot be done on the cheap. As Whitman rightly raises the bar for CPS workers, he also must raise their pay.

 

Support Reed Williams for Texas Senate District 24

State Senate 24 Republican candidate Reed Williams on Monday, February 1, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
State Senate 24 Republican candidate Reed Williams. PHOTOS BY DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The Texas Senate District 24 seat once occupied by Troy Fraser is up for grabs. In June, the senator from Horseshoe Bay announced he would be stepping down after 19 years. Vying to replace him are six ready and capable Republican candidates.

As expected, the contenders agree on a variety of issues that would resonate with Republican party politics, including limiting government, opposing immigration and supporting anti-abortion policies. On the matter of Austin Energy, most of the candidates would support the deregulation of the city owned public utility provider, as did Fraser.

After taking a closer look at each candidate, we urge voters to choose Reed Williams in the March Republican primary race.

What sets Williams apart from the others is his elected office experience and willingness to look at a much broader picture, which would be an asset for constituents of this  solidly Republican district that stretches about 20,000 square miles, from Abilene to the northwest suburbs of Austin. Williams, a retired oil executive who now grows grapes for wineries,  amassed valuable experience on the issues of energy, water and budgetary planning during his six-year tenure as a San Antonio public servant. He spent four years as a councilman representing North Side and two years as a San Antonio Water System board trustee. Williams’ knowledge on of the issues that affect both urban and rural residents would make him  an effective voice for Senate District 24.

State Senate 24 Republican candidate Dawn Buckingham on Monday, February 1, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
State Senate 24 Republican candidate Dawn Buckingham.
State Senate 24 Republican candidate Ryan Downton on Monday, February 1, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
State Senate 24 Republican candidate Ryan Downton.

That said, this is a crowded race and Republican voters have a capable group of candidates from which to choose.

Also running are Dr. Dawn Buckingham of Lakeway, Ryan Downton of Temple, Jon Cobb of Lakeway, State Rep. Susan King of Abilene and Dr. Brent Mayes of Fredericksburg.

Buckingham, an Austin ophthalmologist, served on the Lake Travis Independent School District’s board and as vice chair of the State Board of Educator Certification. Buckingham also served as a lieutenant governor appointee to the Sunset Advisory Commission in the past legislative session and has the backing of former Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Charles Schwertner.

Downton, a businessman and lawyer, ran for the 2012 Republican nomination for Texas House District 47.

Mayes is a small businessman and former radiologist. Cobb owns a small business.

State Senate 24 Republican candidate Jon Cobb on Monday, February 1, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
State Senate 24 Republican candidate Jon Cobb.
State Senate 24 Republican candidate Brent Mayes on Monday, February 1, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
State Senate 24 Republican candidate Brent Mayes.

Williams is not the only candidate in the group with experience in an elected role.  King — who did not accept our invitation for a meeting — has served five two-year terms in the Texas House. King, R-Abilene, suspended her House race to run for Fraser’s empty seat. In her tenure in the House, King has consistently championed conservative policies, especially with regard to immigration. Last session she authored a bill that would have pushed chronically ill immigrant children down on a growing waiting list for services through a state and federally funded program. The bill died in the Senate.

Never having held a legislative post shouldn’t slow down Williams. His knowledge of the issues facing District 24 and beyond will ease his transition into the Texas Legislature.

In San Antonio he earned a reputation as a strong unifying voice on the council. His colleagues and critics praise his ability to tackle complicated and controversial issues, including successfully taking on prominent issues like rate increases at CPS Energy and the San Antonio Water System. Voters should take note of such experience.

The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Virginia “Jennie Lou” Leeder of Llano in November. Early voting begins Feb. 16.