Throughout 2021, Save Austin Now founder and Travis County GOP Chairman Matt Mackowiak has jockeyed to make himself the face of a new political movement in Texas’ capital city — one fueled by fear-mongering, misinformation, and thinly-veiled dog whistles. Armed with the signatures of a few thousand residents, the Republican political consultant put local leaders on notice this spring, when he managed to gin up enough panic (and enough funding from wealthy conservatives) to pull out a victory in May’s Prop B contest. That was just an opening act for a much bigger fight to come, Mackowiak promised, when Save Austin Now would take the city to task over police funding during its November elections.
Instead, Prop A, Mackowiak’s baby, got destroyed on Tuesday. And it wasn’t even close. All told, 69 percent of Austin voters rejected Save Austin Now’s GOP trojan horse, sending a definitive message to the right-wing organization and its leader. As the votes rolled in and the dirt piled atop his political grave, Mackowiak offered up a concession speech littered with half-hearted assurances and delusions of grandeur. “We’re not going to save Austin now tonight,” he admitted to a meager crowd of supporters at Micheladas in downtown Austin. “But we will.”
As satisfying as it was to watch Mackowiak and his fringe organization go down in flames, Prop A’s demise carries a deeper meaning. This is about the more than 100 groups and entities who banded together to form No Way on Prop A, said Chris Harris, director of policy at the Austin Justice Coalition (AJC). Alongside nonprofits like the Sierra Club and Austin Pets Alive!, labor unions such as the local AFSCME, postal workers, and iron workers chapters, and first responder associations, AJC worked to activate a broad coalition of voters. Tuesday’s victory, and the margin by which it came, should send a clear message about where Austin is headed politically, he said.
“When you have a margin this large, it reflects a sound and complete choice by the electorate. In this case, it’s a rejection of the politics of fear and a renewed commitment to a more just public safety system, a more just city budget, and a more just city overall,” Harris told the Signal. “This is an affirmation of the Black Lives Matter movement and, really, the demands that were made last summer — how we invest in public safety and what it looks like to everybody in the community. Let’s hope it’s a message to the folks who have tried to divide us and circumvent the decisions of our democratically elected leaders with ballot initiatives, too.”
Harris’ point echoes a similar one made by AJC founder Chas Moore, who appeared on the SignalCast in October. Those within the criminal justice and advocacy space viewed yesterday’s election as a referendum on the promises made during last year’s George Floyd–inspired protests. Would Austin back up its 2020 push to reimagine public safety? Or would it revert back to a narrower focus that views police as the only tool for fostering healthy communities? For at least one election, voters answered that question.
Looking ahead, the key is to use this win — and this coalition — as fuel for further gains in public safety and equity, Harris said. That means addressing pressing needs like extreme affordability issues, creating widespread and accessible public transit, and food insecurity within low-income communities. There’s also the issue of negotiating the Austin Police Association’s next contract with the city, set to expire next fall, which AJC will likely play a leading role in. Now isn’t the time to celebrate and go home, he said: Now is the time to seize on this momentum to create lasting, substantive change.
“A lot has to be done, there’s no doubt about it. But we, this city, have an opportunity to increase the ability for everyone that’s here to live safely and with dignity. We can’t let that slip away,” Harris said. “We’re hopeful that, over the next couple years, we’re going to keep this coalition together to push for and achieve changes that are going to make this city work — changes that will inspire other communities around Texas and the country.”