On the other hand, Steve Rivas of The Rivas Group (not involved in the campaign) was skeptical. “I have also heard rumors about high consulting fees,” Rivas said. “However, I believe that the eight-day report [the next C&E report, due eight days before May 7] will prove that they're just rumors, with the exception of the bonuses. Many consultants lower their fees but include so-called ‘win bonuses’ as a balloon payment in reward for a victory.”
Steven Rivas, another political consultant who has run a number of municipal races, said the limits are too low, and that the six-month time period in which campaigns are allowed to raise money is too short. "We've realized that the 'Mr. Smith goes to Washington,' wear out your shoe leather, go door-to-door, isn't the reality in 2015," he said.
"We’re on track now with the filing of Hillary for president to have an incredible ramp-up," said Steven Rivas, an Austin political consultant helping to organize Clinton supporters in Texas.
The Romo camp might like the timetable, but even they can see the strangeness of a campaign in which blockwalkers are likely to be mistaken for Christmas carolers.
“This is breathtaking,” said Steven Rivas, spokesman for Romo’s campaign. “It’s not often we see campaign signs next to Santa Claus on people’s lawns.”
Austin political consultant Steven Rivas drew our attention to a claim on a donation web page for Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign saying state Sen. Wendy Davis is "fighting to bring California values to Texas" including "Bloomberg-style gun control."
Davis has not threatened tax hikes, but favors review of state tax exemptions that might affect taxes
Greg Abbott, the second-term Texas attorney general seeking to succeed Gov. Rick Perry in the 2014 election, paints the Democrat in the race as inclined to higher taxes.
Abbott, a Republican, said on a Facebook page: "Wendy Davis has entered the ring, threatening to raise taxes up to $35 billion to pay for new government spending. The Wendy Davis Agenda will bring California values to our state if we don’t stop her." Abbott’s web page was brought to our attention by Austin political consultant Steven Rivas.
The Austin school district’s executive director of facilities — who has spearheaded the effort to explain the proposed $892 million bond proposal to the public — has handed in his resignation, days before early voting begins on the school bonds.
Paul Turner said he had long been thinking of retiring, and his decision to leave the district was not related to the proposed bond package. His resignation is effective June 30.
Leaders of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce publicly affirmed their “full support” for the Austin school district’s $892 million bond package on Tuesday, after a messy clash at Monday night’s school board meeting.
Two trustees accused the chamber of blackmail because the chamber wouldn’t support the bond issue unless the district adopted a firm deadline for a plan to address the problem of underenrolled schools. The majority of the trustees at first softened the deadline, but the chamber’s education leadership quickly withdrew its support, prompting trustees to call a second vote and agree to the June 2014 deadline.
Monday night’s flip-flop likely caused some damage to the bond campaign, political watchers say, but it was likely the biggest resistance the district will face in passing the bond package, the largest ever attempted by a Central Texas school district. The package is larger than the last two district bonds combined.
Turnout is expected to be low for the May 11 election — the May 2010 Austin trustee election turnout was 9,463 voters, or 2.52 percent, and political consultants predict an even smaller turnout this spring. The district’s employee union and the chamber give the pro-bond crowd a wide base of support.
“The support of any community organization is paramount to getting that bond passed,” said Steve Rivas, a local political consultant.
Rivas, who supports the bond, campaigned for three of the four new trustees who were elected in November.
“It’s a difficult time to get voters to the polls traditionally,” he said, and the chamber’s support is key.
The president of the Travis County Taxpayers Union, the only group that has publicly opposed the bonds, agrees.
“The chamber has always been considered very important; that’s a no-brainer,” said Don Zimmerman. “How can we ask businesses to oppose it if they belong to the chamber?”
At Monday night’s meeting, some trustees expressed concern that they couldn’t meet the June 30, 2014, deadline to adopt a facilities master plan that will address underenrollment on some campuses. The board voted 8-1 to soften the deadline, and the chamber’s leaders announced they were withdrawing their support.
Word spread quickly, and less than two hours later, Trustee Lori Moya requested a reconsideration by the board. Three trustees — Cheryl Bradley, Gina Hinojosa and Robert Schneider — objected to calling the issue back for a new vote.
“Right now, I’m feeling strong-armed,” Bradley said. “I believe this city loves their children and will come out and vote for this bond. I don’t believe that we should let anyone, anyone, dictate how we do anything when it comes to this bond. So if they don’t want to participate, then don’t participate. But how dare you think that you can come up here and try to twist our arms with some nonsense? I just won’t stand for it.”
But in the end, the board unanimously adopted the hard deadline, a recognition that the district is relying, at least in part, on the chamber to get the bond package passed.
Rivas said the district avoided a land mine.
“To withdraw support right in the middle of the (meeting), I can’t tell you how dangerous that is for this bond election,” Rivas said. Rivas said that, while the chamber ultimately gave its support, its wavering plants seeds of doubt among some voters, who are just now forming opinions about the bond issue.
Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, the educators’ labor group that represents about 3,000 members, said he believes the community wants high-quality schools and would have voted to fund them “regardless of the chamber’s demands.”
Despite being tired of putting students into “the political crossfire of special interests,” Zarifis said the group’s members will move beyond Monday’s “misstep” by the chamber’s education committee.
“The goal is still the same: to get the bond to pass so we can improve our facilities and bring jobs to the community so our kids benefit in AISD,” he said. “We will continue as we always have, to put the kids of AISD ahead of politics and gamesmanship.”
Chamber President Michael Rollins had a slightly different read of the situation.
“It’s a working relationship,” he said. “There are times there will be disagreements expressed, but, at the end of the day, everyone is working toward the same goal. In this case, it’s working to improve the education of our young people.”
If you needed reminding why church and state are supposed to be separate, the latest round in the Austin ISD District 2 fight may help you. The Rev. Jayme Mathias, the challenger in the race, is asking the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin to take its fingers off the election scales.
Mathias was a lifelong member of the Roman Catholic Church, and he spent much of his career as a priest in East Austin. Then, in March, he informed the Austin Diocese that he was leaving to join the more progressive American Catholic Church as pastor at Holy Family in Northeast Austin. The diocese ran a standard notice in the April 29 church bulletins, noting that Mathias was no longer receiving communion within its church, and that was that – until Mathias decided to run for the school board against incumbent Sam Guzmán. Five months after that first notice, the diocese started running it again, in English and Spanish, right in the middle of the election. When asked about the notice, diocese spokesman Christian Gonzalez said the bishop was simply clarifying "a matter of confusion about the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church."
But the Mathias campaign is concerned that the diocese is trying to politicize his departure. Having trained and taught in Austin, Mathias was appointed by Austin Roman Catholic Bishop Gregory Michael Aymond – now archbishop of New Orleans – as pastor of Cristo Rey in April 2009, after the sitting pastor, the Rev. Jesse Euresti, was murdered in Mexico. During his tenure as pastor, Mathias doubled the size of the congregation. Yet like many Catholics, he found himself increasingly at odds with the church for its stance on key issues. He had begun his path to the priesthood with the Conventual Franciscan Friars, which he called "a very progressive, liberal group," but saw the papacy as failing to live up to the reforming promise of Vatican II. He explained he had specific issues with the diocese – such as when Aymond's replacement, Bishop Joe Vásquez, banned Illinois Rep. Luis Gutiérrez from speaking to Mathias' congregation on immigration, because he is "too liberal" on birth control (see "High School Stakes," Oct. 5). The final break came this year, after Mathias finished a sabbatical and was introduced to the American Catholic Church. After meeting with Archbishop Lawrence J. Harms, Mathias said he finally decided that "this is the place where I feel I can be at home."
The Mathias campaign has now sent two cease and desist letters to the diocese, asking them to refrain from running the notice again: First, on Oct. 28, from campaign manager Steve Rivas, and then on Oct. 3, from attorney Alex Ryer. Telling the diocese that its actions were being viewed through a political lens, Ryer wrote, the timing "makes it evident that the republication was designed to scare voters away from our client and create conflict within the electorate."
This is not the first time the diocese has found itself in this political fight. Earlier this month, eyebrows were raised over a photo of Vásquez, Guzmán, and Guzmán supporter Frank Fuentes on Fuentes' Facebook page. According to Gonzalez, the photo was taken on Oct. 2 at Nuevo León, at the church's monthly public Theology on Tap luncheon, at the request of Guzmán and Fuentes. Vásquez "actually told them, 'Do not publicize it, because it is campaign season, and I don't want this to appear that I am endorsing anyone,'" Gonzalez said. "It is not the policy of the Roman Catholic Church to endorse or approve any party."