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Council rejects gun rights advocate for commission

Friday, June 9, 2017 by Jack Craver

City Council took the rare move Thursday of rejecting a nomination to a citizen commission over the nominee’s controversial statements.

Only two of the nine members of Council present voted to support appointing Michael Cargill, the founder of Central Texas Gun Works and the executive director of Texans for Accountable Government, to the Bond Election Advisory Task Force.

Cargill, a gun rights enthusiast, is a regular guest of radio talk show host Alex Jones, the nationally syndicated conspiracy theorist.

Council Member Pio Renteria began the debate by reading a prepared statement describing what he viewed as Cargill’s disrespectful and provocative behavior.

“This is a man who has walked into a citizen task force meeting in a church carrying an AR-15,” he said.

He also noted that Cargill has referred to himself as a “troll,” who enjoys provoking controversy online.

Council members Greg Casar and Leslie Pool said they concurred with Renteria’s comments, with Pool highlighting comments Cargill had made on social media in the wake of the murder last year of University of Texas student Haruka Weiser, saying that Cargill had “disrespected her death and her family.”

Council Member Ora Houston, who nominated Cargill, issued a sharply worded defense on his behalf, suggesting that her colleagues were blinded by their political biases.

“Too often we compartmentalize others and view them only through a specific lens,” she said.

Noting that she herself doesn’t share Cargill’s views on guns, Houston described the longtime resident of Northeast Austin as “thoughtful and solution-oriented.”

“I believe he has the skill sets and the willingness to work for the best interest of the haves and the have nots,” Houston said.

Furthermore, she added, Cargill, who has sued the city of Austin over its ban on firearms in City Hall, “assures me that he will abide by all posted signage as it relates to not carrying guns.”

Council Member Ellen Troxclair similarly accused Council members of being allergic to different viewpoints.

“I just think that this Council not approving someone because he doesn’t agree with you on one specific issue is incredibly intolerant,” she said.

Casar defended his position, saying that it had nothing to do with Cargill’s political beliefs but rather the issue of respect that Renteria had broached.

Cargill, who was not present for the vote, told the Austin Monitor in a phone interview that it was a shame that a longtime resident could not partake in a task force focused on infrastructure “because he supports the second amendment.”

He further linked Council’s refusal to appoint him to the city’s declining African-American population.

“This is the reason that African Americans are leaving East Austin,” he said. “We do not have a voice in the decision-making on key infrastructure issues in this town.”

He rejected Renteria’s anecdote about the AR-15 in the church. Houston had invited him there, he said, to give a talk on Texas gun laws. Some of the attendees even signed up for a class he teaches afterward, he said.

He similarly disputed Pool’s characterization of his comments on the Weiser homicide. “What I said was if this young woman was able to protect herself … then things might have turned out differently for her,” he said.

It is exceedingly rare for Council to reject a nomination made by a Council member to a citizen commission. The vast majority are approved unanimously, as were the other 20 nominees Council voted on Thursday.

Former Council Member Don Zimmerman elicited several objections to his nominees during his two-year tenure. His appointee to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs stepped down after a number of Council members called for rescinding her appointment due to incendiary remarks she had made about Latinos. Similarly, Zimmerman’s nominee to the Parks and Recreation Board was blocked over reports of hostile and racist behavior toward parks employees.

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