Two of Texas’ largest cities, Austin and San Antonio, go to the polls Saturday to decide on ballot initiatives related to police oversight, and there’s plenty of drama in both contests. Voters in the capital city will be presented with two competing questions that are both called the “Austin Police Oversight Act,” one supported by the local Democratic party and the other backed by the police union. In San Antonio, meanwhile, city officials have warned that state law would prevent most of the proposed charter reform amendment from going into effect.
We’ll start in Austin, where both Proposition A and Proposition B are yes or no questions that ask voters if they want to strengthen “the City's system of independent and transparent civilian police oversight.” There’s one key difference: Only the text of Prop. A says it “will deter police misconduct and brutality.” Prop. A, which was drawn up by the nonprofit Equity Action, qualified for the ballot back in September, and it has support from the Travis County Democratic Party and local NAACP. The Austin Police Association’s allies at Voters for Oversight and Police Accountability responded by launching a successful petition drive for Prop. B, which Spectrum News says would keep the status quo intact.
“The only reason that you come behind a ballot measure that's already on the ballot and give it the same name and the same description is to try to intentionally confuse people,” Equity Action’s Chris Harris told KVUE. He argues that only Prop. A would make personal files accessible to the public and prevent officers from filing formal complaints against the Office of Police Oversight and the Civilian Review Panel. “I would say one other really important distinction between the two ballot measures is anonymous complaints―the ability for people to submit a complaint or a compliment of a police officer without having to reveal their identity,” Harris added.
And while both measures would let the OPO file police disciplinary recommendations to the chief, only Prop. A would require the chief to provide a written explanation should they reject them. Equity Action, reports Community Impact, took in $380,000 from Jan. 1 through March 27, compared with less than $4,000 Voters for Oversight and Police Accountability. But the pro-Prop. B group outspent its rivals $240,000 to $70,000 during this period, while Equity Action had a $410,000 to $240,000 cash-on-hand edge for the final weeks.
Both groups are urging a no vote on the opposing proposal, with Harris warning, “It's almost certain that Prop A that strengthens police oversight will not be able to be implemented in full because something that also passed says the exact opposite.” Community Impact writes that in this event the city would add each to Austin’s code as “separate chapters covering police oversight.” It’s possible that a “yes” vote for just Prop. A wouldn’t get its proponents all they want because of state law and negotiations with the police union.
The battle in San Antonio is over a different Proposition A, a wide-ranging charter reform amendment that proponents call the San Antonio Justice Charter. The multipronged measure would forbid the police from enforcing laws that criminalize either abortion or "low-level marijuana possession." Cops would also be barred from employing choke-holds and no-knock warrants, as well as being directed to "using citations instead of arrests for low-level nonviolent crimes," while an appointed justice director would ensure all of these policies are implemented.
The city attorney warned in February that Texas law would prevent the bulk of the amendment from going into effect, except for the creation of a justice director and some smaller items. The measure's proponents naturally see things differently, and they argue that a "yes" vote would still result in real changes. The local police union very much agrees that this is a threat, and KSAT says anti-Justice Charter groups outspent proponents by a 9-1 margin through April 26. Mayor Ron Nirenberg, a liberal independent who has an uncompetitive reelection contest on Saturday, is also urging a “no” vote.
2023 may be an off-year, but that just means Virginia takes its traditional place as one of the key states to watch. With odd-year state elections, Virginia has often been a key bellwether for the rest of the country and this year is no different. Both the State Senate and the General Assembly are up and both chambers could be won by either party. Daily Kos Elections Editor Jeff Singer joins us to preview the key races in both the June primary and the fall general election.