What happened to Proposition 2, on the November 2008 ballot via a citizens petition drive, is why we started ChangeAustin.org in December 2008. Proposition 2 (to prohibit most retail subsidies, including the Domain luxury shopping mall’s) had widespread community and political support. All political parties and most all political clubs within those parties supported it. A virtual “who’s who” of Austin neighborhood and civic organizations endorsed Prop 2, together with 500 local homegrown businesses which included some of Austin’s signature establishments such as the Alamo Drafthouse, Bookpeople, Guero’s, Opal Divine’s and so many more. To our knowledge, Austin has never seen such a broad based coalition for any citizens initiative.
So who or what killed Prop 2? Here’s our take on the subject.
1. In the final 4 weeks of this campaign, the big money PAC called “Keep Austin’s Word” lined up to pay approximately $400,000 for a misleading and massive ad bombing campaign to shoot down Prop 2. Originally, the faces on the anti-Prop 2 campaign were former City Council member (and Domain subsidies champion) Betty Dunkerley and current Council member Lee Leffingwell. When the ad bomb began, however, the opposition switched their public face to outgoing (in May) Mayor Will Wynn. He urged that Austin “keep its word”, without so much as a mention of the Domain mall. (More on Wynn and Leffingwell in a minute.)
So where did they raise this monstrous lump of money? Below is an incomplete (more to come) list of contributors that showed up on the most recent campaign finance report filed by the anti-Prop 2 PAC Keep Austin’s Word. They represent, largely and not surprisingly, those who stood to gain from Prop 2’s defeat, together with — for lack of better term — Austin “growth for growth’s sake” machine:
◊ $85,000 from the Domain & it’s owner, Simon Malls
◊ $50,000 from Endeavor Development (the original Domain developer)
◊ $100,000 from the Economic Development Corp. (controlled by the Austin Chamber of Commerce) & the Chamber itself
◊ $56,250 from the Real Estate Council of Austin
◊ $25,000 Home Builders (their PAC and association)
◊ $25,000 Prologis (formerly Catellis), the Mueller developer
2. Austin Mayor Will Wynn staked his name and office on the defeat of Prop 2 along with a bevy of local politicians including all sitting Council members (other than Laura Morrison). As a leading proponent of the real estate “growth for growth’s sake” machine (and a downtown developer himself), Mayor Wynn has pushed for ever increasing population growth development. Prop 2 threatened the machine’s unrivaled dominion over allocation of city resources even with its narrow scope on retail subsidies. Both Lee Leffingwell and Brewster McCracken, who would soon be running for Mayor in May 2009, played key roles in anti-Prop 2 efforts and protection of the dominion.
3. Most local newspapers, in particular the Austin Chronicle, confused a public that otherwise would have voted for Prop 2. Why are we fingering the Chronicle, even though the Statesman, Daily Texan, The Villager, La Prensa, and Burnt Orange blog endorsed against Prop 2? Because the Chronicle is seen as Austin’s “alternative” newspaper. We wouldn’t have even minded had the Chronicle covered the issue fairly in its endorsement edition which came out a few days before early voting began. In fact, the Chronicle even tried to undo the damage in the issue that came out two weeks later, we assume because of the hell their readers and advertisers gave them for their bone-headed endorsement against Prop 2. But it was too late since most Austinites had already voted early. The Chronicle wound up supporting the “Keep Austin’s Word” propaganda, hook line and sinker. Or should we say stinker?
4. Though the Travis County Democratic Executive Committee (the precinct leaders) overwhelmingly endorsed Prop 2 by a vote of 58 to 7, party leaders worked behind the scenes to thwart the endorsement by waiting over a month, until the end of early voting, to issue the release to the party’s massive email list and then only issued the release once. Current TCDP Chair, Andy Brown, deceived party activists claiming a press release had been sent out, when it had not. This hurt Prop 2 amongst the hundreds of volunteers out working the polls during early voting and on election day. Many of these good people were simply unaware of the TCDP endorsement until it was too late. Leaders also prevented Prop 2 supporters from distributing literature at official functions and stopped Prop 2 from simply placing a sign on the TCDP building alongside other campaigns they supported. ChangeAustin.org will continue working with activists in all parties who support fair elections inside and outside their parties.
5. E-voting machines, in particular, the Hart InterCivic was programmed to make it easier for voters to miss voting on the propositions, particularly if you voted straight ticket. We cannot, however, prove the extent to which this helped defeat Prop 2. Read more about this in our Confusing Voters section.
6. Ordinary voters who didn’t take the time to research the ballot before they got to the polls. Some apparently went for the “Keep Austin’s Word” ad campaign, never thinking about whether Will Wynn and other Council members who fought Prop 2, had kept their word to protect our tax dollars and local businesses from predator corporations like Simon Malls. You can do better than this Austin!
7. Stop Domain Subsidies failed to raise the money needed to counter Prop 2’s opponents the last two weeks of the campaign. The money SDS raised the last week was too late, given the early voter turnout totals.
The good news is that ChangeAustin.org, with your help, can rectify number 7. We have a great start with 123,209 voters for Prop 2. We just need to find them (you, and those who want to join us now) and get everyone on board to clean up City Hall! If everyone joins, and gives whatever contribution (of money and time) you can, we can overwhelm City Hall and put the city on track.