This weekend, Ranger College tax annexation supporters canceled a press conference where, according to grassroots leaders in Brownwood and Ranger, they had planned to file suit against citizens opposing the annexation.
The political action committee, Vote YES Ranger College PAC released a statement against the Erath County Treasurer of the Citizens Against Ranger Taxation Annexation (CARTA), who reportedly posted on Facebook calling on landlords to send letters to tenants stating the annexation could cause their rents to increase.
The post used $50 a month as an example rate increase if the vote to annex passes.
“Our legal counsel is preparing letters asking the Attorney General of Texas to investigate if these threats of overcharging for rent violate state law,” said in a statement. “We are also asking the local District Attorney if these letters and threats of raising rent should the election pass constitute a violation under Texas Penal Code Chapter 36 relating to bribery and coercion.”
Erath District Attorney Alan Nash responded with a lengthy statement dismissing the claims from the pro-annexation PAC and arguing that their “threats appear to be calculated to suppress deter, and punish opposing political expression and political activity.”
“Despite this claim, to date, I have not been contacted by anyone with Ranger College or its political action committee. I find it quite disconcerting to read in public forums threats relating to the awesome power of felony criminal prosecution. Given that the Ranger surrogates published the threats in multiple Erath County newspaper columns without having contacted the local District Attorney, these threats appear to be calculated to suppress, deter, and punish opposing political expression and political activity. It is particularly alarming that those very public warnings about felony prosecution are made by surrogates for a government entity (such as Ranger College) against its political opposition.”
“I will not allow it to go unanswered when the District Attorney’s Office is invoked in an overtly public manner in order to chill political speech or political activity using the specter of a criminal investigation, particularly when none has been initiated and none has been requested,” Nash continued.
The DA also alluded to the fact that actions taken by Ranger College are just as likely to be investigated.
“If the Ranger tax supporters do what they intimated they’d already done and inquire of my office, we will, with even-handed attention, review the referenced Penal Code statutes. At that time, we will, quietly and without public fanfare, determine how the law applies, if at all, to conduct of Ranger College officials in promising tuition reductions and direct financial benefits to targeted classes of voters, as well as predictions of economic consequences of a tax increase voiced by the opposition.”
Nash concluded by stating “advocates for Ranger property taxation should leave their desire to use the District Attorney’s Office to jail the political opposition out of the public discourse.”
In investigating the issue, Texas Scorecard contacted the office of Dr. Bill Campion, President of Ranger College, for comment. Campion denied all knowledge of any threats of a lawsuit from the Vote Yes Ranger College PAC. However, he did note that he was displeased with Nash.
“What are we coming to where a DA is coming out and saying such a thing?” Campion said. “I am ashamed of our society [Nash] for doing such a thing.”
Campion added, “The simplest idiot can see the difference between raising rent $50 and lowering tuition. God help these people”.
Local Brownwood activist Julia Taylor disagrees. She told Texas Scorecard she is “proud of the grassroots effort that has come forth and grown from this Ranger annexation vote” and “ glad to see people exercising what was truly intended for ‘we the people’ – voting”.
Taylor is frustrated, though, with voters’ lack of knowledge about the ever-growing property tax system.
“I think lots of people have just rolled along not realizing the lasting effects of property taxes. It not just affects your personal property taxes but it in effect causes rising prices on everything in your community: rent, day care, hamburgers, haircuts, everything will go up to offset the costs of doing business in our communities.”
State Rep. Mike Lang (R-Granbury) weighed in by urging citizens to look carefully before voting on the issue.
“Once it is in, there is no going back,” warned Lang.
It is difficult for the power of grassroots activists to go unnoticed. On Facebook, for example, Vote Yes Ranger College has 183 page fans, while the Citizens Against Ranger Tax Annexation has just shy of 10,000 active participants. The college itself has 2,295 page fans.
Thankfully for taxpayers, the annexation election is on a uniform date when voters will already be voting on seven proposed amendments to the state constitution. Counties on the ballot to be annexed by Ranger College are Brown, Comanche, and Erath counties. Early voting begins October 23, and Election Day is November 7.