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Texas 2020 Elections

Analysis: Austin’s police cuts give Texas Republicans new campaign material

Texas Republicans who were looking for fertile political ground in the runup to the November elections got a gift from a most unlikely source: the Austin City Council.

The CIty of Austin seal inside Austin City Hall.  Sept. 11, 2019.

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Texas Republicans may have found their best argument going into the 2020 general election, thanks to leaders of the state’s most exuberantly liberal big city.

In a political season when almost everything seems stacked against the state’s GOP leadership — the flailing government response to the pandemic, the Rona Recession and a summer of protest against racism and police violence — the city of Austin made itself a perfect target for a good, old-fashioned Republican law-and-order campaign.

By cutting and redirecting a third of the city’s police budget and selling it as a corrective for law enforcement gone wrong, Austin gave Texas Republicans something to talk about, an issue they can use to raise money, rally voters and build a defense in an election year that seemed written for the Democrats.

Support your local police. It’s a revival of an old and reliable establishment rallying point, complete with references to “inner cities” and “thugs” that echo the racism of earlier demonstrations and movements involving law enforcement and people of color.

Texas Republicans are doing with Austin’s police budget cuts what national Republicans are doing with Seattle and Portland — painting it as a dangerous place where liberal leaders are eroding security. Gov. Greg Abbott, joined by legislative leaders at a news conference in Fort Worth, proposed freezing local property tax revenue of cities that, like Austin, cut their police budgets.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican, Democrat, independent, you want to be safe, and people are just not safe now in Austin,” said U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, a Republican who claims Austin as his residence in a district that runs from Burleson, south of Fort Worth, to Hays County, in an interview with Marble Falls radio station KBEY-FM.

“When you begin to lose a city, it’s hard to get it back,” Williams said. “And the problem is, is Austin is becoming an inner city, and you know what I mean by that — where people stay outside the city, they don’t come in, just like they don’t go into Chicago, they don’t go into New York, they don’t go into Portland. They stay out. And I think it’s a shame that Austin is heading toward being an inner city-type environment.

“We need to stand up against these thugs, and the mob that takes these communities over,” he added. “I mean, in the beginning, it looked like we weren’t standing up. People would say to me, ‘What are we gonna do?’ I think it’s good now that they can see people being arrested, people being convicted. It’s an invasion of our freedom and liberty.”

Abbott isn’t on the ballot this year, but Williams is busy campaigning for reelection against Julie Oliver, a Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged him in 2018.

“If we don’t have good people standing up, bad people will, and that’s what we see happening,” he said, a line likely to get more use during the seven weeks between now and the start of early voting.

Candidates for Congress are just two slots down from the presidential race on the ballot, a position that gives them an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how their party’s presidential candidate performs.

President Donald Trump was a beneficial presence for some Republicans in the 2016 election. But Democrats made significant advances in the 2018 elections held in the president’s mid-term, a result widely attributed to voter dissatisfaction, much as the 2010 “Tea Party” election was seen as a rebuke to then-President Barack Obama.

This election’s final couple of months feature a toxic mix of pandemic, recession, police violence and racial injustice that have, to this point, given an edge to Democrats trying to win the presidency, congressional majorities and, in Texas, control of the state House. Incumbent Republicans were in an unfortunate position, spending more time explaining their responses and failures to those catastrophes, and less time trumpeting old successes.

But there is still plenty of time to campaign. Many voters won’t tune in until next month, or even October. And Williams and others have something new to talk about instead of high COVID-19 numbers, testing failures, wrecked small businesses, thousands of deaths, police violence, racism and the resulting civic turmoil.

They can talk about how dangerous it is to live in cities that elect liberals.

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