AUSTIN — After two contentious citywide issues and public votes in Texas’ capital city, Mayor Steve Adler says he wants to raise the requirements on citizens who want to respond to city hall’s decisions.

In a recent interview with local station KXAN, Adler said citizen petition requirements are “way too low.”

The Context

Back in May, citizen group Save Austin Now successfully completed a petition effort with more than 26,000 signatures to place a proposed city law on public camping on the ballot. The citizens were campaigning to override Adler and the Austin City Council’s contentious and disastrous 2019 decision that legalized unrestrained homeless camping in nearly all public spaces across the city.

In the May election, citizens overwhelmingly voted to rebuke the council and restore the city’s original camping rules.

Afterward, Save Austin Now launched another petition campaign, this time to override the Democrat-run city council’s “defund the police” decision, when they unanimously voted last year to slash the Austin Police Department’s budget by up to $150 million (one-third). Adler and the council’s decision forced the department to disband numerous units and sparked a record-level killing spree on the streets.

In response, SAN gathered another 25,000+ signatures to restore police staffing to the APD, again successfully placing the proposal for a public vote in the November election. That effort, however, overwhelmingly failed earlier this month.

Currently, if Austinites want to get a proposal on the local ballot, they must start a petition and get at least 20,000 signatures from registered voters (or 5 percent of the city’s qualified voters population, whichever is less). The petition is then submitted to city hall and certified by the city clerk.

Adler Buckles Down

Now, Adler wants to make the petition rules harder.

“Save Austin Now is a group that says they are not done,” the interviewer began. “They’re gonna push for more things to get on the ballot for the next election cycle. They want to tackle budgeting, transportation. Since this is a group that was able to get enough signatures to put it on the ballot, what is your reaction to that?”

“I think that the threshold we have in our city for getting things on the ballot is way too low,” Adler replied. “Government by ballot, I think, will lead to ballot fatigue. We really do need to save this really important democratic process, but that’s what the law is now and everyone is free to access it.”

He added: “But when you lose an election like this, I think there’s a lesson in that.”

Citizens responded to Adler’s comments on social media.

“Sounds like he wants to silence the opposition’s voices and their rights,” one wrote.

“I’m split here—there was not a call to raise the number of people needed until this petition having been on the ballot,” another wrote. “But I do agree that because of the city’s growth in population it should at least be considered.”

“There should be a higher standard to be a mayor,” another posted.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.