AUSTIN — A pivotal local election battle is unfolding in Texas’ capital city.
Amid a two-year public safety disaster on the streets and a “defund the police” movement at city hall, Austinites are now campaigning to restore law enforcement to their town—but more leftist out-of-state donors keep trying to stop them.
The Big Money
Early voting in the November election began Monday, and the most contentious issue on the ballot is Proposition A: a citizen-organized public safety proposal that, if approved by voters, would reform and restore adequate police officers to the desperately understaffed Austin Police Department.
Among several reforms, the proposition would enact the nationally recognized “Safe City Standard” in Austin to require two police officers per 1,000 citizens.
Texas Scorecard previously reported that New York billionaire George Soros recently intruded into Austin and gave $500,000 to oppose Proposition A. Now, other big players are joining him. Washington, D.C.-based labor union The Fairness Project and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (the largest trade union of government employees in the nation) are also pumping money to defeat the citizen-led effort.
The Fairness Project, which has previously supported harmful employer mandates in Texas, poured in $200,000 to kill the police campaign, while the big-government union tossed in $25,000.
The Local Fight
The overall story traces back to last year, when the Democrat-run Austin City Council unanimously voted to defund the APD by up to $150 million (one-third of their budget) and cancel three police cadet training academies. Since then, the department has lost hundreds of officers and disbanded numerous units, including some related to DWI, family violence safety and stalking, and criminal interdiction.
Over the summer, APD Chief Joseph Chacon said 911 response times are now “dramatically slower” and the department is in a “dire situation.” Earlier this month, he announced the department will no longer dispatch officers for numerous 911 calls.
Meanwhile, a killing spree is happening on the streets. In September, Austin counted the most homicides in a year in the city’s history, according to records dating back to 1960—and that was with three and a half months still remaining in 2021.
The crisis in Texas’ capital city even prompted the state Legislature to approve a law this year that punishes city governments that defund the police. Though Austin city officials responded by recently “refunding” the department in next year’s city budget, citizen activists have said city hall’s response was “wholly inaccurate” and may not actually address the public safety needs in the department and the city.
The Citizens’ Campaign
Austinites are now taking it upon themselves to try to override the council’s defund decision.
Citizen group Save Austin Now recently organized and completed a petition campaign (with more than 25,000 signatures) to put the proposed public safety law on the November ballot.
“We are now at 1,540 available police officers, down from 1,959 authorized strength and 1,800 available just two years ago,” wrote SAN co-founder Matt Mackowiak last month. “We will be at 1998 police staffing levels by the end of the year, when our city was 25 percent as large as we are today.”
Save Austin Now already succeeded against city hall earlier this year when they brought together an overwhelming majority of Austinites from both political parties to override the council’s disastrous homeless camping decision.
Now, leftist megadonors are trying to make sure the citizen group doesn’t succeed again.
“Why? Who benefits from chaos and why is New York money trying to keep our city on this trajectory?” wrote Save Austin Now on their website, referring to Soros.
“Massive out-of-state funding for our opponents show two things: That Austin donors won’t fund the anti-Prop A campaign and that the stakes in this effort to restore public safety to Austin could not be higher,” said SAN co-founders Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek in a joint statement. “We are now going to fight twice as hard and we hope all our supporters will as well.”
Austinites, however, will ultimately decide on the police staffing reforms this fall. Early voting began today, October 18, and runs through October 29. Election Day is November 2.