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Austin Environmental Democrats Endorse Garza

Thursday, August 21, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Austin Environmental Democrats got an early start on endorsements Wednesday, or at least voting on endorsements. Though they heard from candidates from Districts 1, 2 and 3, they finalized only one endorsement in the end.

Only District 2’s Delia Garza got more than 60 percent of member votes, which is the threshold set by the group for endorsements. District 1’s Ora Houston got more than 50 percent of the votes, followed by DeWayne Lofton and Andrew Bucknall. In District 3, Fred McGhee and Pio Renteria won the most votes. Renteria was not at the forum due to a family emergency.

Not all of the candidates were in attendance at the forum, though all three districts were represented. Bucknall, Houston, Lofton and Valarie Menard represented District 1 candidates. Garza was the sole candidate from District 2. And Mario Cantu, Christopher Hoerster, Shaun Ireland, McGhee and Eric Rangel represented District 3.

Unlike the group’s previous forums for mayoral and District 9 candidates, attendance was sparse. Austin Sierra Club’s Roy Waley thought it indicative of a larger problem.

“This is exactly why we need 10-1, and why we need district representation,” said Waley. “Honestly, I find it really embarrassing to be here today … If it was a rumble, the members would lose against the candidates, because we are outnumbered today. What does that say about the representation we are getting in Austin? This is exactly why we need the different districts. This speaks of an unspoken racism in Austin, and I think it needs to be addressed.”

Waley continued, “It’s a shame that we had this room packed to the gills for the mayoral race and for the (District 9 race) but we’ve only got a scattering of people here.”

Districts 1, 2 and 3 are all minority-opportunity districts that have been traditionally underserved by the city. That history was reflected in many of the candidates’ answers at the forum.

“Environmental issues are really social justice issues,” said Garza. She explained that her treasurer, former Council Member Jackie Goodman, had been a mentor on environmental issues. Garza said she did not support the proposed rail bond and that, though she supported rail in general, she could not support a package that ignored parts of her district that sorely needed transportation infrastructure.

Candidates in District 1 also focused on the social justice aspects to environmentalism.

“The environmental community has kind of been pretty sketchy in District 1,” said Houston. “I mean, you are there sometimes, and sometimes you are not. We’ve got the challenge of how to work together on environmental conservation and education all over the city, not just in certain parts of the city.”

Houston said the most critical issue in her district was landfills, pointing out the largest landfill in Travis County was right next to homes. She also warned that flooding and erosion problems in the district had been ignored for too long.

“We have some creeks that flow behind our cemeteries,” she said. “Because of the erosion, we are soon going to have body parts flowing down the creek.”

Concerns about erosion were also cited by Bucknall and Menard. Lofton added the problem of illegal dumping in the community, which he has seen, and fought, as a deputy with the sheriff’s office.

District 3 candidates represented a wide array of perspectives. Some, like Ireland, focused on cutting red tape and putting businesses first. Others, like Cantu, drew from personal experience with the environment. Cantu told those at the forum that he was a climber, believed in the policy of leaving no trace behind and intended to carry that policy with him into office.

McGhee took a more direct approach, telling those gathered that he had an international reputation earned through his work as an environmental professional.

“In this race, I tower, in terms of my environmental credentials, over everybody else,” said McGhee. “I think you know that.”

The Austin Environmental Democrats will hold meetings Sept. 3  to consider endorsing candidates from Districts 4, 7 and 10 and Sept. 17 for Districts 5, 6, and 8.


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