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Place 3 candidates make their cases to Austin Republicans

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

After weeks of courting Democratic groups, City Council candidates crossed the aisle yesterday, taking their messages to a forum hosted by the Republican Club of Austin.


Forum moderator and club President Dewayne Naumann told In Fact Daily that the number of Republicans in Austin may be small compared to, say, anywhere else in the country but that he and his more than 200 fellow members feel it’s the responsibility of all potential elected officials to address the concerns of all their constituents, not just those with whom they share a ideological bond.


“We have had a mayor and Council members who were Republicans in the past,” Naumann said.” And if it’s happened before, it can happen again. What we have to instill is the responsibility in people who either have the job or will have the job that we make up a large portion of the population in Travis County. 


“You’re responsible to the people who elected you, whether Democrat or Republican, and you have to speak to their issues.”


The candidates vying for the Place 3 seat tried to do just that. Kris Bailey’s road was perhaps the least treacherous, as he already espouses a philosophy of limited government that could be viewed favorably by Republican voters.


Asked whether he would require the city and Austin Energy to reach the 35 percent renewable energy goal set out in the 2020 generation plan, even with the possibility of unsustainable rate increases, Bailey sang the praises of the free market and questioned the need for a government-run utility at all.


“Lots of people want renewable energy; let them buy it. Let’s open the markets up; let’s sell Austin energy; let’s stop buying our power from the government,” Bailey said. “The market can definitely handle our power needs. People who care about renewable energy can buy from renewable sources. Allowing people to do what they want in the marketplace is really the answer in this.”


Defending the generation plan she approved, incumbent Place 3 Council Member Randi Shade said that her support for the addition of an affordability matrix in the plan, guaranteeing rates would not go up more than 2 percent in any given year, caused her grief with some of her constituents but was the right thing to do.


“I got a lot of heat for being one of the Council members most strongly in favor of adding the affordability metric into the mix, and it did delay the approval of the plan,” Shade said. “But if it means we get to the goal later because the costs don’t work, so we won’t make it by 2020; it’ll be 2025. It’s a goal. The affordability metric was important to add and it was worth the wait.”


Another question, this one about Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s proposed plan to include more bond money for urban rail in the 2012 city election, gave candidate and former Council Member Max Nofziger a chance to rant against one of his favorite topics: Metro Rail, Capital Metro’s new commuter rail line.


“In 2000 I worked … to defeat a $2 billion light rail system,” said Nofziger. “Now, Metro Rail cost $150 million and it only removed a small number of cars from the road. I will work to prevent light rail being on the ballot in 2012 and work to replace it with a plan that will actually reduce traffic congestion and improve our air quality. My experience can save billions of dollars.”


Meanwhile, Kathie Tovo said she would support an urban rail system but that Austin taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear the burden of paying for it alone.


“I support a multi-modal system that includes rail, but I don’t think it should be on the backs of Austin taxpayers. I think we need to be creative in looking toward federal grants, tax-increment financing, and other kinds of public-private partnerships to reduce the expense,” Tovo said.


All in all, the candidates did their best to speak the language of their Republican constituents. Bailey pushed for more law and order and fewer arrests for what he called “victimless crimes” but failed to mention that the crime he was speaking of is marijuana possession. Tovo, meanwhile, stressed affordability and equated Shade’s vote in favor of Water Treatment Plant 4 with a vote for utility rate increases.


Nofziger balanced his environmental record with a belief that there needs to be a “fiscal conservative” on the Council who will cut the city budget and rein in “through-the-roof spending.” Even the incumbent, Shade, made sure to let the room of hard-line Texas Republicans know that despite having graduated from Harvard Business School and serving in Gov. Ann Richards’ administration, she spent two years working for Texas conservative hero George W. Bush as well.

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