Tuesday, March 14, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Adler: A blue Texas “all but inevitable”

It’s something of an old saw in the political world that progressive cities in otherwise red states are like “a blueberry in a bowl of tomato soup.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler and his mayoral colleagues on Friday’s “America’s Mayors: Holding The Line” panel at South by Southwest didn’t invoke that line themselves but let panel moderator and Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Emily Ramshaw use it to illustrate the clashes that can happen while they try to lead their cities.

During the hourlong session, Adler, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer discussed how they deal with conservative state legislatures that they see meddling in city policy, minimizing resident concerns over federal roundups of illegal immigrants and increasing citizen engagement on local, state and federal issues.

Each mayor had unique wrinkles to their city/state relationships, but on the whole they were simpatico on the frustration they experience at times and how important it is for them to work to protect local interests that cause their cities to be economic engines for their respective states.

This being an Austin-focused publication, here are Adler’s thoughts on a variety of the topics discussed.

On the Trump administration: “The feds are adding a high degree of uncertainty to what we do because we don’t know the policy with respect to things like immigration. There’s also the budgets for housing and things like nutrition, so there are lots of services offered and needed that may be compromised.”

On immigration: “Some things don’t change. The culture and soul of the city are the same. I spend time with our immigrant communities, and they’re looking for signs that the folks in positions of authority care most about community safety. We’ve also increased legal aid to nonprofit groups that are providing assistance to those communities with legal help when it is needed. Any answer I give is going to be insignificant. What we saw with the recent increase in raids is that the people who were rounded up weren’t found because they’d committed a crime and were a threat. More than half of the people in Austin that were taken in were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

On Austin’s economy: “Austin is responsible for one-third of the patents and half of the venture capital money in the entire state of Texas. Austin is different, and what is weird to some is why we have people who are entrepreneurs come here. Or they come to work for Apple or Google, and those companies are here because it’s where the people they want to hire want to live. I don’t want (Texas cities) to all be the same, because that creative spirit is what we are.”

On police being pressed into immigrant roundup duty: “I follow the best advice from our public safety professionals, and they say the best thing is to be in the community and to be trusted. If they’re used as federal immigration agents then we lose that trust and we will be less safe. There’s then the question of, for $500,000 or $1 million (in hypothetical federal money), at what price do you vote against your principles and make your community less safe?”

On turning Texas blue: “The demographics say it’s all but inevitable that the state goes Democratic. But for that to happen, and as we’ve seen this past November, we have to stress to everyone that elections matter.”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Mayor Steve Adler: Mayor of the city of Austin, elected in November 2014

SXSW: Organizers of the massive annual festival that takes over the City of Austin each March. SXSW has donated to the Capital of Texas Media Foundation.

Texas Legislature: The state’s legislative governing body composed of the House and Senate.

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