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November is coming, and endorsements for mayor are rolling in

Thursday, September 8, 2022 by Jo Clifton

Tis the season for endorsements in races for Austin mayor and City Council seats for the Nov. 8 election.

So far, all of the major labor organizations that are endorsing have endorsed Sen. Kirk Watson, a former Austin mayor. Groups backing Watson include the AFL-CIO Central Labor Council and AFSCME Local 1624, Austin Firefighters and EMS associations, as well as lesser-known groups like Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), Workers Defense Action Fund and UNITE HERE Local 23.

The Austin Police Association is unlikely to endorse, according to former APA President Ken Casaday, who retired from the force last week.

Other groups endorsing Watson include the Austin Board of Realtors, BikeTexas and the Texas Restaurant Association Greater Austin chapter.

Former state Rep. Celia Israel’s campaign reports that she has won endorsements from the Northeast Travis County Democrats and Circle C Area Democrats. Several other Democratic clubs, including Austin Environmental Democrats, Central Austin Democrats, Liberal Democrats, and University Democrats (at UT Austin) are likely to announce their endorsements by the end of the month.

The other candidates for mayor include Jennifer Virden, Gary Spellman, Anthony Bradshaw and Phil Brual. None of these campaigns have announced any group endorsements.

While many people are not paying attention to local politics at the moment, the endorsing groups, particularly the firefighters and other organized labor groups, will be spending money to promote their candidates before early voting gets underway.

Those with a lengthy memory and some involvement with Austin politics may recall when endorsements from labor, including the police, and Democratic clubs were very important in convincing voters to cast ballots for a particular candidate. That is less true since the city chose to have single-member districts and Council elections that coincide with national elections.

Peck Young, who worked for 30 years as a campaign strategist and went on to be the first director of the Center for Public Policy and Political Studies at Austin Community College, says those two changes have lessened the impact of group endorsements. Young was a volunteer consultant in 2011-2012 for the group pushing to get the single-member district question on the ballot. Voters approved that change by 60 percent and Austin had its first election by district in 2014.

As Young told the Austin Monitor, when the city moved its elections from spring to November, it increased voter turnout and diminished the power of endorsing groups. Before single-member districts, “The same 60,000 people decided who was going to be in office. And in those days, the power of the clubs – not just labor, but neighborhoods … was enormous. We didn’t want to do away with their power … but we wanted it to be more about” what the voters wanted.

“The club endorsements still have clout, they just don’t have the kind of clout they had before 10-1,” Young concluded.

Young predicts a big turnout this November, driven by national and statewide issues, as well as a drop-off between state-level offices and local offices. His students at ACC used to analyze how many people voted at the top of the ballot races but failed to vote in local contests. That ran from about 12 percent to about 20 percent, he said.

Early voting runs from Monday, Oct. 24, through Friday, Nov. 4.

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