The Death of a Candidate

What happens when the alternative becomes mainstream? As the city of Austin delves further into its live music and hipster vices, with $200 ACL-fest ticket and plethora of skinny jeans, suddenly grunge is luxe. In tonight's Hustle for Mayor, hosted by the alternative weekly newspaper the Austin Chronicle, the two mainstream candidates Lee Leffingwell and Brewster McCracken sipped coolly on Lone Stars and Miller Lites while answering softballs in front of a youthful, sweaty crowd at The Mohawk.

Strangely absent from the stage -- but not the venue -- were lesser-known mayoral candidates David Buttross and Josiah Ingalls. Nevertheless, Buttross managed to distribute glossy push-cards to attendees and Ingalls, a janitor at the Downtown Hilton, stood awkwardly in a poorly fitting suit and tie at the back of the audience. He was, as one Chronicle staffer put it, "uninvited."

The Chronicle, representative of Austin perhaps now more than ever in its scenester popularity, seemed unapologetic for eschewing an alternative voice in its Austin mayoral debates. A questioning of senior staff writer Michael King resulted in him saying "I don't think he's a serious candidate - do you?"

Political workhorses, journalists, or even local activists, will make the argument that a candidate's viability -- and when they say this, beloveds, don't think for one second they aren't actually meaning the word "electability" -- can and should factor into these debates. Those who do not have a chance of being elected stand to be shut out for the sake of...what? Time? Public interest? For the sake of the desire to feature those more like "the others?"

Nevertheless, a quivering Josiah Ingalls took the stage, saying as he went up "I've got to go up there, they let me talk for two minutes." I asked him if he'd been invited to the forum and he said "No," smiling in a way that showed many years of covering sadness, "but I crashed the party."

As he spoke on stage, I saw not a hobby candidate or someone with nothing else to do but make a name for himself. He was not an unemployed transient looking for a new gig. He was an earnest, minimum-wage earning candidate, perhaps more like all of the youth at the forum there, trying to push his agenda of mental health services and poverty. He said that when he talked about affordability, he was "not talking about $1000 a month for rent." As he spoke, I realized that people were not simply cheering for him -- they were agreeing with him.

The same could be said about the once unknown voice of an alternative paper, not a "serious" newspaper, of course, but a quiet, uncomfortable reminder that the world does not only revolve around the mainstream. Hands wringing, under and unfunded, Josiah Ingalls stood at the back of the Mohawk, uninvited, but there nonetheless.

The ultimate viability of any entity is not in its corporate support, or its over-stocked qualifications, or even its electability, but its ability to be there, real and alive. Our variety of mayoral candidates are not much different from what was once our alternative weekly: a representative voice -- speaking for the lesser few, pushing the agenda of the oft forgotten, and changing the conversation to promote those who go unpromoted.

Sexism in the City

I was fortunate to grow up in a society that is relatively progressive when it comes to women -- the only time I've felt discriminated because of my sex was in tenth grade when I tried to join my high school's extracurricular ice hockey team. I was told by one of the school counselors, who was also the mother of the best player on the team and the person who had pushed the team being formed, that it was for boys only -- after all, I wouldn't want to knock out a tooth would I? After thinking about it, I decided that no, I didn't. I also had never shot a hockey puck. But that also didn't stop me from writing a (no surprise here) angry letter, carbon-copied to the principal, demanding that I have the option to knock out a tooth if I wanted to. They changed their minds.

This morning, as I do most every day, I logged on to Burnt Orange Report to read a few headlines. And I felt the same seething rage as I did back in high school when I read an article entitled "Chris Riley for Austin City Council - Place 1," by local community activist Eugene Sepulveda.

"Perla - beautiful, committed and a compelling life story. Obviously, would represent an addition to the council's diversity (woman and Hispanic). Though, there is NOT a single mutual friend with whom I've spoken who doesn't agree there is NO comparison between the intellectual fire power between the two. Chris is very smart, experienced and knows the city's intricacies."

As most readers know, my friend Perla Cavazos is running against Chris Riley. I've never met Chris, but frankly, I like what I've heard. I also like what I've heard about Perla -- I'm supporting her primarily because of her longstanding commitment to affordable housing in Austin, the fact she cared enough to walk around Elgin to get out the vote for Larry Joe Doherty and Donnie Dippel, and her desire to help make the Council more active instead of reactive. With that said, I think both of them are great candidates and will do great things for Austin -- which is in part why this race has become such a close one.

But since when did it become appropriate to endorse someone based off of their looks, and discredit their "intellectual firepower" by chalking them up as just another pretty face?

As one commenter said, "I'm glad we get to vote for the candidates and not the supporters." And it would be easy for me to overlook Sepulveda's comments as some unexplored psychology and attitude to women that this one supporter of Chris Riley happens to have, not that this ignorance lessens the damage it does to females everywhere. But I then noticed in the comments section another item that stood out, written by Chris Riley's campaign manager Katherine Haenschen:

"Thanks Eugene! Chris really values your support. I read your post to our field director, Mike, from the coordinated campaign, and he said 'This may be the best endorsement I've heard yet!'"

The best endorsement he's heard yet is a 153 word summary of Chris Riley's resume, without a single mention of what Riley intends to do as City Councilman? The best endorsement he's heard yet is a sexist remark about someone's physical qualities? Really?

I can't help but feel as though this statement, and the Riley campaign's support of it, reflects poorly on the values of not only the campaign but the candidate. Austin is a progressive city that respects equality. We need our leaders to be, too.

Sidenote: I will a panelist at the Women's Caucus at the 77th Texas Young Democrats Convention tomorrow, Saturday, at 11 AM. I'll be joined by Karen Brooks from KXAN and Robert Jones from Annie's List. A full schedule of the festivities, which begin tonight, can be found here.

I Love Secession in the Springtime: Rick Perry's One-Man Show from Texas

Crossposted on HuffPo.

Stephen Colbert must be having a hard time coming up with material these days. It's difficult to create political satire when the GOP's reality has become more like an HBO one-man comedy show, live and uncut. Texas Governor Rick Perry, the new Sarah Palin of the South, rallied with teabaggers in the city of Austin yesterday, reinforcing his secession message from last week that the "federal government has become oppressive in its size, its intrusion into the lives of our citizens, and its interference with the affairs of our state." He forgot to add, "You're welcome, America."

All of this hypocrisy had this tax-paying Texan thinking of the Colin Powell Pottery Barn caveat: You break it, you buy it. The Republican party has been an elephant in the china shop for the last eight years, yet suddenly their base is turning up their noses at the mess. They're trying to distance themselves from their dismal leadership, clinging only to talking show hosts and those with a moral code low enough to pander to their deluded notions that somehow, this isn't their fault. Enter Rick Perry, stage left.

When Dubya was in office (you know, the guy that got us into this mess?), if you dared to ask what the color orange represented on the color-coded "The Terrorists Are Coming" scale, you were considered an anti-American Bin Laden sympathizer. Now suddenly the new fight song of Texas is "Secede!" and our Governor is calling these empirically-frustrated teabaggers "patriots."

But the nationwide tea parties yesterday came across more like self-satisfactory pity parties, a group of sulking sore-losers who are too consumed with their own ideology to look up from their Bibles to notice that their administration allowed all of this to happen. They want to complain about deficit spending? Our last Democratic president left office with a surplus that Bush whittled away to pay for two wars and color-coded threat assessment charts. Government intrusion? It was your guy who signed the Patriot Act into law.

So, spare me. Teabag away, but spare me the "life's not fair" grumblings while you wave flags to the sounds of Toby Keith and watch your party die a slow, strange death, like stunned deer losing a fight with a Suburban. I don't remember Rick Perry asking me how I felt about spending $300 million tax dollars a day while occupying Iraq for the last six years. And if anyone had asked, they wouldn't have listened to the answer. They were too busy calling us unpatriotic.

The Be Like Me Party

Crossposted on HuffPo.

In the Texas House this week, it was Take Your Bigoted Representative to Work Day. For North Texas residents, that resulted in the softly-coiffed and loudly-talkin' Republican Betty Brown once again putting the proverbial Chico's pump in her mouth. This time it was on the issue of voter ID, also known as "voter suppression legislation" to anyone with a conscience and a calculator (after all, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott spent $1.4 million chasing voter fraud butterflies and -- surprise -- found nothing).

On Tuesday, Ramey Ko, a representative of the Organization of Chinese Americans, found himself testifying against the legislation in front of the House Elections Committee. That's when Brown felt compelled to state that Asian-Americans should find a way to make their names, well, more like Republicans' names.

"Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese -- I understand it's a rather difficult language -- do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?" Brown said.

Now, I happened to meet Ko on a couple of occasions in Austin, and the last time I checked, he wasn't a nation. Or even a governing body. Nice guy, well-spoken, but certainly not a sovereign leader of a nation.

However, Brown seems to think that Ko and his "citizens" should see things her way, later saying, "I see a need here for young people like you, who are obviously very bright, to come up with something that would work for you and then let us see if we can't make it work for us." For those of you who don't speak Bigot, I'll decipher that for you (I live in Texas -- I've had ample time to study the language). In this instance, "like you" is loosely translated "minorities." And "us" is loosely translated to "the Republican party that is trying to disenfranchise voters." You're welcome.

After eight years of the same, this "Why don't you make it work for us" message continues to be the GOP battle cry. The continuing selfishness of the Republican party astounds even the most cynical of Texans, while we watch our Governor, elected by mere 2.5 million people in a state of 24 million, reject unemployment benefits and the Texas GOP plots their tax-day "Tea Party."

But, then again, I could see how Brown could get confused by difficult words like "Ko." She's a Republican from the Texas House of Representatives, after all. Not every name can be as straightforward and puritan as Bristol, Trig, and Trip, don'cha know.

Highland Mall Takes the Low Road

Over the weekend, the city of Austin hosted the Texas Relays, an annual track & field event that brings in athletes from high schools and colleges across the state. Just a week after the SXSW festivities, the city seemed no different: traffic jams, street closures, and downtown parties raged on. The only noticeable difference between the hipsters of last week and the athletes of this weekend were their quadriceps and lack of incessant self-important twittering (I can say this because I do this).
As a self-proclaimed bar fly, I've found myself downtown (usually on the popular bar-crawl area of 6th Street) every year during the Texas Relays since 2005. One year I think I got a piggy-back ride down the street from a 6' high jumper in Nikes. Last year I have a distinct memory of posing for pictures with a relay team from…well, somewhere, on the corner of 6th and Colorado, passing a Sprite bottle as a baton. During these times, I've always felt like a bit of an Austin ambassador, sending the athletes on their way, drawing maps to the best bars on receipts and offering breakfast hangover recommendations for the next day. After all, I'm a native and I used to run (not very fast) the 400M in high school. And on Texas Relay weekend, those are really the only credentials you need.
Highland Mall, apparently, did not get the memo. Known for its general disrepair and the first mall with a JCrew in Austin, Highland Mall just can't seem to get it right. On Saturday, Highland Mall closed its doors at 2 PM due to "security concerns" relating to the Relays. This reaction had some saying that "security concerns" was just a euphemism for "racism."
This morning I tuned into KVET's Bucky & Bob talk show, where they were interviewing Councilman Mike Martinez about various local issues -- the budget, the "no refusal" DUI blood draws -- when the subject of Texas Relays came up. Bob then read an email from a woman in San Antonio who had come to Austin for a "benefit," and found herself sitting in traffic at 2:53 AM, feeling "unsafe." The woman proclaimed she'd never return to Austin again on a weekend.
Bob wondered aloud "Where were the police?" and Councilman Martinez smartly responded that there was so little context to the woman's letter that it's hard to say if police were even necessary.
But I had to wonder this: Would she have felt unsafe if Highland Mall hadn't been closed? And if she'd felt unsafe, would she -- could she? -- have felt justified in writing a letter to a radio show about it?
Fear begets fear, and racism -- intentional or not -- begets racism. It's the "everyone else is doing it, so it's okay" mentality. By standing by while Highland Mall closed its doors, blanketing their closure with thinly-veiled security concerns, some woman from San Antonio then felt completely justified in her (likely unjustifiable) fears.
We should be careful about what we fear for.