Austin's got its first mayoral candidate heading into the November 2022 race.
Jennifer Virden, a conservative real estate broker and general contractor who challenged District 10 Council Member Alison Alter last year, announced she is running in a series of tweets Monday.
As Mayor of Austin beginning in 2022, I'm going to lead and keep Council focused on what we are charged to do: competently manage and fund core municipal services, such as APD/AFD/EMS, water, waste, electricity, roads, and parks. (1 of 3)
— Jennifer Virden (@Jennifer4Austin) June 21, 2021
Virden's platform stands in sharp contrast to the direction of City Council in recent years, with four key planks, according to her campaign website:
- Restore police budget cuts
- End homeless camping
- Increase the homestead tax exemption to 20%
- End the land use code rewrite process
In addition to these issues, Virden tweeted that she would be a champion of parks and other green spaces, including the hotly debated Lions Municipal Golf Course, and "minimize the virtue signaling resolutions overwhelming our City Manager," if elected.
Regarding Muny, and our parks & nature preserves, there's a new, bona fide "Parks Lady" in town - me! I grew up in Austin & truly understand how our iconic parks & green spaces are a part of our DNA as Austinites - and I'm not just referring to neighborhood pocket parks. (2 of 3)— Jennifer Virden (@Jennifer4Austin) June 21, 2021
Let's maximize our attention to those things and minimize the virtue signaling resolutions overwhelming our City Manager. Let's do this in 2022! 🏆🏆🏆 (3 of 3)— Jennifer Virden (@Jennifer4Austin) June 21, 2021
Virden, a native Austinite, ran against Alter in the crowded District 10 council race last year. Both opposed the camping ban, but Virden clashed with Alter on other issues, including Project Connect, which Austinites overwhelmingly supported in the November election, and efforts to cut police funding. Virden forced Alter into a runoff, which she narrowly lost.
Although Austin mayoral and council seats race nonpartisan, Virden is a conservative candidate running in a very liberal city. Only 26% of Travis County voters supported Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential race. Alter highlighted Virden's donations to a Trump-affiliated PAC in the runup to the Dec. 15 runoff, telling the Austin American-Statesman, "I think that tells a lot about someone's character." A coalition of Young Republican groups also hosted a "statewide deployment" of Republicans to Austin to support Virden around the same time.
Virden has received endorsements from two former Austin mayors: Lee Leffingwell, a Democrat who served two terms from 2009 to 2015 and endorsed Virden as well as District 6 Council Member Mackenzie Kelly last year, and Ron Mullen, a former San Antonio police officer who served from 1983 to 1985.
Mayor Steve Adler's second and final term ends in early 2023, although he can petition for a third term. No other candidates have entered the race so far, but some speculate that District 4 Council Member Greg Casar and Adam Loewy, a personal injury lawyer and major donor to Democratic candidates, are mulling runs.
The winner of the 2022 mayoral race will serve a two-year term after Austin residents voted to change mayoral elections to presidential years in the May 1 local election. Another mayoral race will occur in 2024.
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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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