February 06th, 2013
In an effort to continue evolving the show, Jad proposes the idea that the show occasionally focus on local Austin politics. Kevin has spent some time working in various local political organizations and was immediately keen on the idea. For a few minutes, a whimsical meta-discussion turns to local content.
The episode primarily focuses on the changes coming to Austin with the new 10-1 [re]districting structure. After decades of a 7-member at-large city council (mayor included), the November 2012 elections paved the way for something new and potentially exciting. Starting in 2014 the City of Austin will be divided into 10 single-member districts, each providing one council member to the public cabal. As far as we know, the mayor will still be elected at-large and will be 11th member of the council.
Jad and Kevin spend some time discussing the age-old “gentleman’s agreement” – the one that was supposed to ensure racial equality on the council. They also discuss how this new proposal finally came to pass and how it will likely change some of the city landscape and project funding.
Kevin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the JK Podcast. Every week, we try to excite, delight, and incite our listeners with the grand ideas of liberty, humanity, and equality for all. If you haven’t yet visited our website, stroll over to www.JKPod.com for a complete episode listing.
It’s not very often that Jad and I bring the meta-discussion into our episodes, but it’s also not never. As residents of Austin, Texas, Jad proposed the idea of occasionally pursuing some local political agendas in addition to the global picture that we typically focus on. I could go on with this, but he does a much better job explaining it.
Jad: To tangent out of content and into meta-conversation, I was thinking about this the other day, like, our mutual expertise is in technology, and you have a particular expertise that’s very rare in like, city government. Not many people have any fucking idea what’s going on, but they’re all interested in it, you know what I mean? But the best they can do is like read letters to the editor at The Chronicle to try to get a gauge of what’s happening. The analysis you bring and the information you have is just so much more nuanced, you know, it’s not even – they don’t even compare, right?
So I was thinking like, it seems like those are you know, because we talk about things that are – they’re nobody’s area of expertise, which is I guess why we can hold our own talking about philosophy because there are no philosophers, you know, or there’s so very few. Or we can do it you know, talking about radical political theory because no one talks about radical political theory. You know, neither of us are that you know, expert at it or anything, so I was just kind of thinking and I was wondering if that would be something we could focus more on, say Austin, or focus more on you know, technology, privacy, that sort of stuff.
Kevin: Yeah. We talked about that once I thought, about –
Jad: Oh, we did?
Kevin: Yeah, well I thought we did about the possibility of talking about some local governance, and I’d actually be really interested in it. I think we could probably get a pretty decent base of people who would be interested in hearing about it. Particularly right now as this whole member district thing’s going to turn up, I really think that the politics in Austin are about to get really interesting, albeit it’s not going to be for a year.
And that’s really all it took for the meta-discussion to end, and for the local political discussions to begin. As always, here to titillate your inner ear is the voice of the co-creator, Jad Davis, mine as well, Kevin Ludlow, welcome back to our show.
I have a friend who’s the policy aid for one of the council members, and she was telling me pretty much how it’s going to unfold starting in the beginning of 2014. Apparently that’s when the 10 districts are going to take effect, so it’s got another year yet, but all of the council members will be taken off the board at that point.
Jad: Right, right.
Kevin: Only one of them will be eligible to run, per the term limits. So essentially what you’re going to have is at least 9 brand new council members from 10 different districts around the city.
Jad: Oh, yeah. But if you have any like, more in depth information about what’s going to happen that you’re privy to give out or whatever, then let me see it and maybe next Wednesday, we can do a show just on re-districting.
Kevin: Oh, sure.
Jad: You know, and again, it’s – the limits are scoped to Austin to some degree, we don’t have to have it in the same stream podcast, but I think a lot of people would be interested in it and like I said, just kind of a – it’s a very niche area of expertise, so it seems like it would be useful.
Kevin: Well sure, I’d love to talk about it and to the other thing, I mean talking about privacy, and just technology in general I mean yeah, I think we can both just talk circles around that and I think it is interesting to find people who are both politically motivated, and capable of communicating well – at least with one another but I think with people in general – and have knowledge of a niche of technology in itself. Like I said, that NSA – I wished people like us had been conducting that interview, I think it would’ve been far more interesting you know, at a very technical level that I think technology people and privacy people would be really interested to listen to.
Kevin: You know, it’s funny, when I got that article published in Forbes back in June or whenever – July or whenever it was – that woman – her name is Cashmere Hill – she’s a writer for Forbes and she actually specializes specifically in online privacy – like, that’s what she writes about for Forbes which is why she picked up that article. But yeah man, I’d love to talk about that – in particular the re-districting, there’s so many sides to it right now I think all them are so very interesting, and I think a lot of it has to do with the whole California migration, and a lot of it has to do with – a lot of it has to do with money, so –
Kevin: – I’m just intrigued.
Jad: Yeah man, well don’t – I don’t want to walk blindly into it – but the thing that seems strange to me is that is it like new money overwhelming old money? Because it seems like the status quo or the historical establishment has enjoyed being from three zip codes, right?
Kevin: Right. For the most part, yes that’s correct.
Jad: So they finally – it sounds like in this idea has kind of gone past like, whatever, 8 or 10 times and every time it gets voted down but somebody keeps trying to pass it, and that somebody has enough clout now that they finally got it through, right?
Kevin: Yes, well it’d be interesting to actually look up the history of it as far as what people wanted in terms of member districts. Quantifying that number plays a pretty big role too, right? Austin only has 6 city council members and then it has a mayor, so there’s 7 on the city council because the mayor counts as one of them. But from what I’ve read, that’s actually incredibly small for the size of Austin.
Kevin: So if you take an average American city, compare the size of it, and then compare the number of governance structure, it’s really, really small. Like I think Manhattan for example – I’m not entirely sure of this – but I think they’ve got something like 32, or 38 council members just for Manhattan.
Kevin: So it’s huge, which is not surprising because it’s a huge population, but the point is is that that plays a role into it too, like maybe a long time ago – some of the single member districts – maybe they only wanted to create like 5 member districts and then have a mayor. There’s been other proposals like you’ve seen to have a few member districts, and then several at large people. Well the derivation of that – divvying up the city – plays a really big role, and I think with the number that they’ve come up with – 10 – I think that is pretty substantial in and of itself because inevitably what’s going to happen is you’re going to have enough districts that are going to be on the fringes of the city who are going to – I assume – strongly oppose a lot of the positions that those inner 3 zip codes have thus far taken.
Whereas if you just had, say 4 member districts, and then 3 at large people, well the at large people are – that’s a wash, so that doesn’t matter – and then of course, you could pretty easily quarter up the city such that you still had enough of that core support where you could still pretty much get anything you wanted passed.
Kevin: And I just – I think with the number that they’ve created; I don’t think that’s going to be possible anymore.
Jad: Right. So I guess my question is or what I’m wondering is given that there was the other proposition 4 or whatever, as well as the position of just leave the things the way they are, the Austin establishment is on that side. The other side is Californians, and people coming in from other places, or is there like a defection, some people – I can’t imagine who’s defecting because they’re all going to get thrown out, so it’s not like – it seems like it would have to be a defection of the beaurocracy, more than the elected leadership – if there was one.
Kevin: Well, so I’ve sat in a couple of groups over on the east side, so like I told you, there’s the Austin Neighborhood Council, and the Austin Neighborhood Council is responsible for having put a couple of people – or a number of people over the years – on the council, and as of right now they’ve got at least two people – Chris Riley is the third[?], he’s kind of on the fringe of ANC, I don’t know if he’s direct representative of them, but anyway, I think he’s still in that group. The two primary ones are Cathy Tovo[?], and Laura Morrison, who are – Laura Morrison was the president or char – whatever they call it – of ANC for some time, and I don’t know if that’s true of Cathy Tovo[?] also.
But the point is is that the majority of ANC or a lot of ANC is kind of in those central areas that we’ve talked about before. Well, there’s other parts of the city that also have like, their own little chapters of ANC, so there’s like the ANC East, which is what yours would be a part of, and that pretty much encompasses I mean, anything that’s – anything east of 35 really, but it’s stretching from the river, basically up to at least 290, but maybe even all the way up to 183, I’m not really sure.
And you know, I’ve sat in on those groups for a number of years, and they’ve actually always – I think, if I recall – they’ve actually always really been in favor of single member districts, and I know it’s been on their agenda for the last couple of years that I’ve participated with them. I haven’t gone to any of their meetings in about a year and a half, but I still get all their e-mails and everything. I think there has been a group of people – probably predominantly on the east side – who are or have been in favor of single member districts because they look at it from the minority or the civil rights point of view, and the reality is is that you’re familiar with the gentleman’s agreement that’s been in place?
Jad: Right, right.
Kevin: So I guess for anybody who doesn’t know, there’s been a gentleman’s agreement for years, and it’s actually some interesting history with it when it was challenged I think by Gus Garcia in the early 90s – I don’t remember the exact history but I’ll find it. Anyway, the idea being that you would always have a Hispanic on the board, and you would always have an African American on the board, and I believe that I extended to say that you would have a woman on the board as well. And so the way that Austin works is that even though everybody’s at large, you still have places, which is really weird.
A long time ago they had ex-council members – let’s just say 6 – and so whoever got the highest votes throughout the city, those were your council members, right? But that’s not the way they do it, so you’ve got like a place 2, and place 2 at this moment is the Hispanic seat. So it’s taken over right now by Mike Martinez, who’s been in office for some time. Well, if somebody was going to challenge Mike Martinez, they would be a Hispanic.
Now they don’t need to be, but that’s just kind of the way that the gentleman’s agreement has been set up so that way, a Hispanic is challenging a Hispanic, and one of the two of them is going to win that seat – even if they get a very small percentage of the overall vote, I guess, or even if most people didn’t vote for them, but they’re only competing with one another at that point.
Kevin: So anyways, I think there is a large group of people who are interested in that and who have actually wanted to have single member districts just to push the civil rights issue, but I believe that what’s happened is with the influx of people that you’ve had – predominantly from California – many, many, many whom have settled in the east side of Austin because properties are really cheap, and it’s you know, all about being a hipster there. I think that that has largely changed the influx of the vote. I could be dead wrong about that, but that’s my speculation as far as why it’s finally topped the scales, and they won by – I mean I think it was like 60/40, if I’m not mistaken.
Jad: Oh, wow.
Kevin: So it was pretty substantial for election terms, when you get a 60% of something.
Jad: Oh, sure, yeah. That’s crazy.
Jad: Okay, cool, yeah. That sounds like that’s a rich topic.
Kevin: Oh yeah, for sure.
Jad: I think we’ve probably in the last 5 minutes, there’s actually a teaser episode already, so.
Kevin: Well we can definitely do that.
Jad: So the other part of it then, jumping back to the meta-level you know, I don’t know how much time or energy either of us has for this sort of thing, but you know, there are people that also – I mean, somebody at The Chronicle writes about this stuff, right?
Jad: We could – what do you think about like, trying to actually get people like that to do interviews with them, or something like that? Would that be interesting, or is that jumping the project to a too taxing of a level?
Kevin: No, I mean you know, I’m all about taxing myself.
Jad: Yeah, I know. That’s the thing, I feel like my time commitments are – I mean, they’re not waxed – but you know, you’re like driving a 140%, so I don’t want to like you know, over commit you if it’s going to burn you out.
Kevin: And there you have it, our very first push into some local Austin politics. Thank you so very much for listening, and we truly hope you enjoyed the content of our show. As mentioned earlier, we do have a website up at www.JKPod.com, and of course we’d love for you to stop by. If you have any ideas for our show at all, please reach us at JKPod.com, or at either of our personal websites. Jad is at Jad-Davis.com, that’s J-A-D dash D-A-V-I-S dot come – don’t forget the dash – and I’m at KevinLudlow.com, K-E-V-I-N-L-U-D-L-O-W dot com. Thanks again, and we’ll be back again next week.