How quickly times change.
A little over a year ago, Austin, TX was at the forefront of a group of liberal American cities that wanted to defund their police departments. As the story went in places like the Texas capital, criminals weren’t the problem, the police were.
After more than a year of watching violent crime rates go up, the voters of Austin will soon have a chance to re-fund the very police that they took money away from last year
It was a decision made in the dead of the night: on June 20, 2019, at 2 A.M., Austin’s city council legalized homeless camps and panhandling. A year later, in August 2020, the council voted to defund the city’s police budget by more than a third. These decisions sparked immediate consequences for public order—and eventually a fierce backlash from a not-so-silent majority that rejected the council’s progressive agenda on homelessness (though the effects of these policies linger in parts of the city).
This November, Austin voters will have another chance to vote in favor of restoring order. Pending the outcome of Proposition A, Austin could become one of the first major American cities to have its citizens vote to “refund” and restaff the police.
The cities that threw law enforcement under the bus last year may not find it so easy to bring those cops back. Seattle is finding that out right now. Police officers who felt abandoned by those in charge aren’t eager to rush back in and find themselves in similar situations again.
Despite having their failure laid bare in front of them, Austin’s mayor and city council still seem to be almost completely out of touch with the residents of their city.
More from City Journal:
It was in these circumstances that Proposition B, a grassroots referendum to reinstate the city’s camping ban, made it on the ballot. Thanks to the efforts of Save Austin Now—a bipartisan coalition spearheaded by Republican consultant and county party chair Matt Mackowiak and Democratic activist Cleo Petricek—the proposal made its way through the legislative process, shepherded along by leaders with bulldog organizational instincts. “We didn’t agree on national politics,” Mackowiak acknowledged, describing his relationship with Petricek, “but we had to turn our city around.” The pair put aside their differences to give residents a say on public disorder, even if the increasingly progressive city council didn’t want to listen.
To get Prop. B on the ballot, the group conducted foot campaigns during the height of the Covid-19 lockdowns to collect the necessary tens of thousands of signatures; it faced early rejections of original petitions, battles for city council seats, and even a 1 A.M. argument between Mackowiak and avowed Communist councilmember Greg Casar over the amount of human waste a typical homeless person produces.
Austin mayor Steve Adler predicted the vote would be “very close.” It wasn’t: Prop. B won a decisive 58–42 percent victory this May. The camping ban, despite opposition from the mayor and nine out of ten council members in Austin, garnered more than 40 percent support from Democratic voters, 88 percent from independents, and 92 percent from Republicans. Prop. B won in nearly every neighborhood, too.
That’s quite a disconnect. This may not be a national issue, but we could very well see numbers like that play out across party lines as Democrats lurch further leftward in deep blue areas on a variety of other issues.
Obviously, the real test will come when the people running these predominantly Democrat cities are up for re-election. If they aren’t voted out, or if they’re merely replaced with different versions of themselves, this will all be for naught. As I’ve been writing for a very long time, be careful what you wish for when it comes to replacing Democrats. There’s almost always a worse one waiting in the wings.
Changes in policy won’t mean much if those in charge aren’t dealt with. We’ve learned a lot in the last year-and-a-half about how truly unremarkable so many people we’ve elected to power at all levels in this country are. This is the perfect time for a reckoning. A reckoning that sees us perhaps looking for more quality candidates.
I’m not going to hold my breath though.