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Photo by Jo Clifton

Voters soundly reject Prop A throughout city

Wednesday, November 3, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Austin voters resoundingly rejected Proposition A on Tuesday’s ballot, which became clear as soon as Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir released the early vote numbers. With more than 85,000 early votes cast, more than 67 percent of early voters said they were opposed to the proposition from Save Austin Now, and less than 33 percent were in favor of it.

At the end of the evening, with 92,728 votes counted, 32 percent were in favor and 68 were against the proposition the city said would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Even in the more conservative part of Austin in Williamson County, the nays outnumbered the ayes by 88 votes at the end of the evening – with the no vote at 2,243 votes, or 51 percent, and the yes vote at 2,155 votes, or 49 percent.

“Tonight is a victory for the safety of all Austinites, and for our democracy. Prop A was an irresponsible ballot measure that would have forced Austin to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more on the police department by cutting funding from other essential city services,” said Laura Hernandez Holmes, campaign manager for No Way on Prop A.

“No Way on Prop A built one of the largest and most diverse groups in the history of Austin politics and together, our coalition exposed the truth about Prop A by cutting through the persistent lies from Republican-front group Save Austin Now. We know that the safest cities have more resources, not more police. Our coalition members will continue to push back on misinformation and propaganda, and support comprehensive, community-focused approaches to public safety,” Holmes concluded.

Proposition A would have required the city to employ two police officers per 1,000 residents, which city financial officials said would cost between $271.5 million and nearly $600 million over five years. There were a number of other requirements, including how much time an officer had to spend on community policing, which city officials said would increase the number of officers needed beyond two per 1,000 residents. Opponents of the measure argued that the ratio put forth in the petition would not increase public safety.

In a broadcast on Facebook Live, Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek, founders of Save Austin Now, told supporters not to give up hope, assuring them that they would be back next year. Mackowiak thanked Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, the only member to support Proposition A. He said his side lost because opponents were able to convince voters that the price for the proposition was too high. However, he said there was little disagreement over the fact that the city needs more police officers, saying, “It’s clear that things are going to have to get worse before they get better.”

Mackowiak told supporters that they should be ready to get involved next year when Council Member Greg Casar’s seat comes open. Casar has said he is likely to run for Congress and his seat will become vacant as soon as he announces. Mackowiak also made it clear that the group would be working hard to elect new Council members whose thinking was more in line with theirs.

The city has attempted to deal with issues such as mental illness and homelessness through avenues other than law enforcement and cut the police budget by $150 million initially, mostly by transferring different functions such as the crime lab out of the police department. However, the Texas Legislature rejected those attempts and approved legislation requiring the city to keep spending on police officers, with the threat of financial penalties for any city cutting its police budget. The law requires cities to budget for police departments at the same level or above the budget in the past two years. In order to avoid financial penalties, Austin was required to fund its police department to 2019 levels, or at least $432 million.

Pollster and political consultant Mark Littlefield told the Austin Monitor that the electorate voting on the November ballot “is probably going to be bigger than the electorate that voted in May. And obviously it’s going to be younger and much more Democratic than it was in May … I’ve not seen very many precincts” that voted in favor of Prop A, he said, only a few in Old West Austin, including Tarrytown and Pemberton. He concluded, “When you have something defeated this soundly it’s a pretty big statement.”

Casar, who campaigned against the proposition, released the following statement after learning of the early vote results: “Austin answered overwhelmingly tonight: We believe in criminal justice reform. We believe in comprehensive public safety – not simply putting poor and working-class people behind bars. Tonight’s results show that Austinites have rejected right-wing division and are marching forward for progressive change. Our city will continue to fight for comprehensive public safety, civil rights and a better city for all.”

Peck Young, a retired political consultant with more than 40 years of experience working for Democrats, told the Monitor he thought the campaign in favor of Prop A was poorly run. The campaign, run by Mackowiak, chair of the Travis County Republican Party, was well-funded but still lost badly. Young said the whole idea behind simply saying the city must have two officers per 1,000 residents was not well thought out.

The No Way on Prop A campaign enlisted an impressive array of civic groups, from criminal justice proponents, environmentalists and Democratic organizations to unions for city employees, firefighters and EMS workers. Their signs could be seen throughout neighborhoods and at polling places. The Save Austin Now campaign did not enlist many supporters outside the police community, although three former Austin mayors endorsed the proposition.

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