Across Texas, Voters Weighed In On Police, Homelessness And Local Offices

Voters in Austin, Fort Worth and San Antonio turned out in unusually high numbers to vote on propositions and for city candidates.

By Jill Ament, Kristen Cabrera, Joy Diaz & Shelly BrisbinMay 3, 2021 11:37 am, , , , ,

Across the state, Texans voted in municipal elections over the weekend, weighing in on proposals affecting police, the role of the mayor and where people experiencing homelessness can congregate. Some voted for city council members and mayors, too.

Fort Worth mayoral race

There will be a runoff in the race to lead Fort Worth. Longtime mayor Betsy Price decided not to seek reelection.

Chris Cobler, founder and editor of Fort Worth Report, told Texas Standard that Deborah Peoples, the chair of the local Democratic Party, got slightly more votes than Mattie Parker, who was Price’s chief of staff for five years.

“They’re both high-profile candidates and very similar, but very dissimilar in a lot of respects too,” Cobler said.

Fort Worth has become more politically “purple” in recent years, giving Democrat Peoples a potential chance of victory in a community that has been very conservative in the past.

Turnout in Fort Worth was higher this year than in 2019, with almost 68,000 people casting ballots. Cobler says between the mayor’s race and nearly 50 candidates vying for eight city council seats, runoff turnout is expected to be considerably lower.

Austin camping ban and strong-mayor propositions

Citizen-proposed measures on the Austin ballot focused on homelessness and the structure of the city’s electoral system. The most hard-fought was a proposal to restore a ban on camping in public. The city council lifted criminal penalties for camping in 2019. Supporters of the camping-ban measure, which passed with 58% of the vote, have said it will address problems they argue are caused by the encampments of people experiencing homelessness.

KUT Austin’s Audrey McGlinchy told Texas Standard that turnout on Saturday was unusually high.

“It’s pretty surprising,” she said. “We don’t typically get a large turnout of voters in May elections, which are typically local elections.”

McGlinchy says the camping-ban measure’s passage means a nighttime curfew on panhandling will be reinstated; sitting or lying down in most of Central Austin will be banned once again; and camping in much of the city will be illegal. Mayor Steve Adler said the city will enact these measures on May 11. But it remains up to the police department to decide how to enforce the rules.

Austinites voted down Proposition F, a proposal for a strong-mayor form of government. Currently, the city manager runs the city’s administrative functions and hires and fires staff. Austinites overwhelmingly opposed the change.

“Voters overwhelmingly said ‘no’; they wanted no change to [how] Austin’s government works. So we had nearly 86% of voters vote against Prop F,” McGlinchy said.

San Antonio considers Police labor rules and a mayoral vote

Texas Public Radio’s Joey Palacios says San Antonio residents narrowly rejected Proposition B. The measure was part of a police accountability package pushed by citizens in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

“It was meant, initially, to be a part of this package to remove collective bargaining and also civil service protections for police officers,” Palacios said.

Prop B would have stripped police of collective bargaining rights.

“Currently, under collective bargaining, once a contract is signed, that’s it, then it’s set for the next five years until the next contract negotiations, and San Antonio is the only major city in the state that uses collective bargaining,” Palacios said.

Other Texas cities negotiate with police through a so-called meet-and-confer process.

Prop B lost by 3,300 votes. Palacios says it was a victory for the city’s police union.

He also says that even though a mayoral election was on the ballot, it drew less attention – and fewer votes – than Prop B. Incumbent Mayor Ron Nirenberg was reelected.

This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the nighttime curfew applies to panhandling, not a blanket curfew.

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