Austin could finally get its own congressional district, and popular Dem Lloyd Doggett is ready to run for it
Austin is the largest U.S. city without a congressional district anchored in it. But this could change when the Texas Legislature reconvenes later this year for the decennial redistricting process.
The partisan process is controlled by state Republican lawmakers. Last time around, they "cracked" the city of Austin into six districts—represented by five Republicans and one Democrat—in an effort to dilute its political influence. But they may consider a new strategy this year: "packing" Democratic voters into one Austin district, to the same effect.
During the 2011 redistricting process, the city of Austin was split up across six congressional districts.
(City of Austin)
Local political strategists and redistricting experts say consolidating Austin's overwhelmingly liberal voters into one district would help minimize their influence elsewhere. "It's a little bit of an insurance policy for Republicans," said Michael Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.
An anchor in Austin
An Austin anchor district—one that represents a majority of the city's residents—could fall in the vanishingly thin intersection of a Venn diagram with two circles: state Republicans' interests and local Democrats' interests. "It's a coincidence, but one that works for both parties equally well," said Bill Miller, a local political fixer who has worked on both sides of the aisle.
Austin's rapid population growth and the bluing of its outlying suburbs have made it increasingly difficult for some Republican incumbents to hold onto their seats. National Democrats targeted four Republican U.S. House districts that represented Austin last November, driving up election costs and narrowing margins. "I think it's likely, to the extent that some of those (incumbents) are in conversation, they would love to hand over Central Austin to a Democratic congressman," local GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser said.
Local Democrats would also benefit from such a district. The city would gain a dedicated representative in Washington, one who could fight for its interests, such as funding for Project Connect or the University of Texas at Austin. "(U.S. Rep. Lloyd) Doggett (D-Austin) can help his community more effectively when his interests are consolidated," Miller said. "So it helps the community immeasurably."
Six members of the U.S. House represent Austinites.
(U.S. House of Representatives)
Travis County GOP Chairperson Matt Mackowiak and former Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire have also speculated that such a district would attract new progressive challengers, such as District 4 Council Member Greg Casar, in 2022.
A spokesperson for Casar said their comments seem premature since the districts have not yet been drawn.
Casar will primary Doggett and this is the evidence that it’s his plan. https://t.co/VQ0Z9QUnv0— Matt Mackowiak (@MattMackowiak) June 7, 2021
If Travis County gets its own US House seat, would @GregCasar run against @LloydDoggettTX ? Couldn’t he openly run as the Democratic Socialist he claims to be & win the Dem nomination? After all Sanders, Warren, Gabbard got 60% in 2020. 1/2https://t.co/xGUSWgvrCV— Bill Aleshire (@AleshireLaw) June 7, 2021
Others think it's unlikely the two progressives face off. Steinhauser pointed to Casar's record on homelessness. The council member led the charge to overturn the city's public camping ban in 2019; voters reinstated it in May after a campaign led by Save Austin Now, which Mackowiak co-founded. "I would be highly skeptical that Casar runs," he said.
Miller was more blunt. "No one's going to beat Doggett," he said. "Doggett's there for life, or as long as he wants to be there."
And Dogget wants to be there. "Whatever crooked lines they impose next, I am running in whichever district best reflects our progressive values and offers a realistic opportunity to seek justice both for our neighbors and our country in Washington," he said in a statement to Austonia.
A new district?
When state lawmakers return to the Capitol, they will also be tasked with adding two new districts as a result of population growth, especially among residents of color. Local political strategists expect state Republican lawmakers will add seats where it most advantages their party—so likely outside of Central Texas.
"I think the Republicans will be ruthless in gaining the maximum advantage that they can," said Matt Angle, a Democratic political strategist and founder of the Lone Star Project PAC.
The new maps will not only shape the 2022 state and federal elections but also those in 2024, 2026, 2028 and 2030. "It's high-stakes poker when it comes time to gerrymander Texas," Li said.
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Two of Texas' top 10 most wanted fugitives were arrested this week, one of which was captured in Austin, a gang member by the name of Edward De Los Santos.
De Los Santos, a 43-year-old affiliated with the Tango Blast gang, was arrested at a South Austin hotel on Sept. 22 by the U.S. Marshals Lone Star Fugitive Task Force, Texas Department of Public Safety Special Agents and the Austin Police Department.
De Los Santos was wanted for continuous violence against family members, assault with injury, possession of a controlled substance and evading arrest with a vehicle. The Tango Blast member was added to the Most Wanted list on Sept. 2 and has been convicted with multiple accounts of aggravated assault, burglary of a habitation and aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon in the past.
The other, 51-year-old Moises Calderon, was arrested for affiliation with the Hermandad de Pistoleros Latinos gang on Sept. 23 in an apartment in San Antonio.
Calderon has been in and out of prison since 1991, when he was convicted of murder and sentenced to 40 years only to be let out on parole in November 2014. He has been wanted since violating his parole in October 2020.
Both of the gang members were located thanks to tips, which Texas Crime Stoppers will payout. Texas Crime Stoppers is funded by the Governor's Criminal Justice Division and pays out cash tips to those who provide information that leads to an arrest.
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Heading to Q2 Stadium? Four months ago, it would've been tough to do so without dropping a pretty penny, but by mid-September, season ticket holders were clamoring to sell their seats for as little as a $10 beer.
While Austin FC continues to sell-out crowds—their most recent match was at capacity despite their record and scheduling conflict with a Texas Longhorns game—demand has dipped as new factors continue to pull down prices.
Austin FC's rocky season has been met with unbridled fan support, but it's also lost that honeymoon-phase traction as they fell to the bottom of the standings, faced a third COVID surge and were met with school, work and good ol' Texas football.
On Sept. 15, Austin FC fan Tanis Olvedo was willing to strike a deal: two beers for a ticket.
Austin FC went from $200+ tickets to this 😪 we down bad pic.twitter.com/Q3yOr7UBiC
— Darth Concha (@davidhidalgo44) September 15, 2021
Although he later sold at cost to another season ticket holder, many fans have seen the value of their season tickets take a serious dip. By Wednesday, Sept. 15, tickets that were once no lower than $36 had dropped to as little as $14.
Austin Anthem member Phil Stanch used his accounting skills to map out the dip in his ticket sales prices.
Phil Stanch found that the predicted value of his season tickets (in orange) will continue to trend downward. (Phil Stanch)
Here are the main reasons why fans say Austin FC's ticket prices have taken a tumble:
Austin FC's first home game on June 19 seemed like perfect timing—by June 16, 51% of Travis County residents were fully vaccinated. Mid-May saw Austin lift its risk-based guidelines to Stage 2 for the first time since the pandemic's onset just in time for the brand-new Q2 Stadium to open at 100% capacity.
But with the third surge sending Austin back into Stage 5 and hospitalizations skyrocketing in late summer, some diehard fans reluctantly began opting for the couch over a 20,738-capacity stadium.
That safety-consciousness comes tenfold for parents of young children who are still ineligible to get vaccinated, at-risk fans and the older population.
School starting and unvaccinated kids. That’s why we haven’t gone in a while. We are season ticket holders, so we have just given ours away to friends and coworkers that can go.— jae (@jae98342926) September 23, 2021
Austin has stuck to capacity and hasn't added any masking or testing requirements, garnering some criticism from fans.
I stopped going because of the COVID surge. I tried to sell my tickets a couple of times and they didn’t move. Then I decided to eat them to make space. Not happy the club didn’t create a mask or vaccination requirement.— Ruben Cavazos (@rcavazos) September 24, 2021
Just as the surge reached its peak in mid-August, schools across Austin once again opened in-person, leaving many families unable to go to late-night games on weeknights. Ten of the club's 17 home games have been on Wednesdays, Thursdays or Sundays—days that have quickly transformed into "school nights."
With 9-5ers unable to justify 8:30 p.m. weeknight games and kids tucked in bed by 10, fewer fans have been able to make their way to the games.
And with school comes another conflict of interest- tried-and-true Texas football is fully underway, and though Sept. 18 saw a sold-out crowd, a few Verde seats were left empty as the two teams played at home at the same time for the first time.
A combo of a number of things:— Tom H (@hallockitup) September 23, 2021
- Wednesday or Sunday games that end around 10pm are not appealing to people with jobs or kids.
- Being in last place hurts, no matter how passionate people are about the team. Nothing on the line.
- This is still Texas, and it’s football season.
While COVID and fall responsibilities have played a factor, Austin FC is also dealing with the unfortunate reality of being a last-place team.
Season ticket holder Doug Mayo was one of the 4% of season ticket holders who didn't renew his deal with the team. Once confident that he would easily sell the coveted tickets for their original price, the team's record plummeted alongside his own ticket prices. Mayo said that the team's 5-4-16 record caused their honeymoon phase to end prematurely.
"The newness wore off fast," Mayo said. "Nobody wants to go to a sporting event when it's 99% certain the team they support will lose."
For Mayo, it'll take a better record and more passionate play on the field to get him back in the 20,000-member season ticket waitlist.
"Mainly (I want) them to start acting more like a professional team," Mayo said. "We were so excited to have something to look forward to throughout COVID and it's just been a disappointment."
I've been a big supporter in general, I went to 4 games in the first half of the season, but no amount of "fan camaraderie" makes me want to spend $30-40 to see a team that plays without heart. And that's bc the last game I saw we actually won (albeit Houston was down a man).— Brown and in Austin (@DisraelTV) September 23, 2021
Still other reasons abound: some fans say it's those $10 beers themselves that cause prices to dip, while others say tickets were overpriced in the first place. Although Austin FC says 96% of season ticket holders decided to renew for 2022, many did so with a grain of salt, including longtime fan Shawn Collins.
"I have tickets in 110 (the Lexus Club) and even when the demand was crazy high I couldn't get face for my tickets because they were so high to begin with," Collins said. "When I got them I figured I'd make back what I paid on games I couldn't attend."
Austin FC's dip in ticket sales may be more of an MLS problem than a unique issue: gameday employee and University of Texas sports business student Ben Patterson said that prices shot up due to pre-season excitement and are now at more normal levels.
"The initial hype of finally having a pro sports team is likely what drove up season ticket prices at the start of the year," Patterson said. "Now that excitement has cooled off, ticket prices have dropped in value steeply."
But while five straight losses are enough to drive at least some fans away, plenty are committed to staying Verde through thick and thin.
It might not be easy being green, but thousands of fans are now enjoying the benefits of $20 tickets as they continue to pack Q2.
Let's not question why tickets are NOT expensive.
Let's just keep buying tickets at $20. Whaddaya say? https://t.co/HkhOjczzZJ
— AC (@Arc34_) September 24, 2021
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