BG Reads + Podcast | News You Need to Know (November 5, 2018)



Episode 22: Talking Proposition A - The Affordable Housing Bond

Today's BG Podcast features a conversation John Lawler, a volunteer with Keep Austin Affordable, a coalition of local nonprofits and community leaders who believe addressing the housing crisis is a high priority for the City and requires investment in programs that help people stay in their homes or find affordable housing options all over the City.

The City of Austin has called a bond election for Tuesday, November 6, 2018. At $250 million Proposition A, if passed, would be the largest bond focused on affordable housing in the city's history

This discussion was recorded on October 31, 2018.

Link to Episode 22


2018 City of Austin Bond Propositions

Keep Austin Affordable

John Lawler


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Williamson, Travis, Hays lead in Texas early voting turnout, data shows (Austin American-Statesman)

Of the 30 Texas counties with the highest voter registration, Travis, Williamson and Hays counties are leaders with some of the highest percentages of early voting turnout based on total registered voters. About 43.82 percent of registered voters — or 145,475 people — in Williamson County have cast a ballot during early voting, including in person and by mail, according to state data. The county follows only Comal (43.94 percent) and Collin (43.86 percent) counties.

The latest numbers from the Texas secretary of state show that 4.3 million Texans had participated in early voting as of close-of-business Thursday night. That’s substantially more than the 1.7 million Texans who voted early in the 2014 midterm election and the 3.4 million who voted early in the 2012 presidential election. The turnout in Williamson has exceeded that of the 2014 midterm — which had 59,042 early voters — by more than double and is within striking distance of the 2016 record of 162,558. “It’s just always been two different animals up to now,” Elections Administrator Chris Davis said about midterm versus presidential elections. “And now it looks like they’re similar.” Travis County is not far behind Williamson with 42 percent early voting turnout and a total of 326,927 people who have made it to the polls, nor is Hays County at 40.8 percent, or 54,942 early voters. “We’re all having trouble sleeping because we’re just so excited,” Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said. “It is thrilling to wake up in the morning and watch all of those voters coming in to vote.” Though the first few days of the second week of early voting gave way to a small dip in turnout, DeBeauvoir said the county on Friday saw almost 4,000 people voting every hour. As of about 6 p.m. Friday, more than 360,000 people had voted, according to the clerk’s office. DeBeauvoir said the county could set a record of more than 58 percent turnout this year. One early indicator of the high turnout was the hundreds of new voter registrations documented throughout the state. A record number of Texans — more than 15.7 million, including 787,660 in Travis County — are registered to vote this year. The increase in new voters can make it more difficult for analysts like Republican political consultant Derek Ryan to pick out trends. While in 2014 only about 27 percent of early voters had no primary voting history, this year that number is about 42 percent, according to data Ryan compiled as of Thursday night…

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Former Atlanta fire chief named Austin's new top firefighter (CBS Austin)

Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk has selected Joel Baker to be the next Fire Chief for the Austin Fire Department.

Baker was most recently the Fire Chief for the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department.

“I’m excited to announce Joel Baker as my selection to be the new fire chief and I look forward to welcoming him to the City of Austin,” said Cronk. “Chief Baker’s dedication to public service, vast experience, and demonstrated leadership in Atlanta are all reasons I am proud to have him lead our fire department to keep our residents and community safe. I am grateful to the stakeholders and the community for their contributions to the hiring process.”

Baker has more than 30 years of experience as a firefighter in the Atlanta area, and served as a Marine before beginning his firefighting career…

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Big Texas donors still prefer GOP (Austin American-Statesman)

Even in an election when Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke has turned Texas political fundraising on its head, raking in more than $70 million — far more than U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas — the big money donors in Texas politics continue to prefer Republicans and conservative causes.

Among the top 10 Texas donors to federal political campaigns this election cycle, eight gave exclusively to Republican candidates and conservative groups, according to a review of Federal Election Commission data compiled for the American-Statesman by the website, run by the nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. Dallas billionaire Andy Beal gave the most, with more than $5 million in contributions to the GOP between Jan. 1, 2017, and Sept. 30. Beal, founder and chairman of Beal Bank and affiliated companies, is a math whiz and numbers theorist who Forbes magazine lists as being worth $9.2 billion. He is a well-known card player and, in 2004, at the Las Vegas Bellagio, won $11.7 million in a record-breaking poker hand. Beal, 65, gave $2 million to America First Action, a super PAC that supports Trump’s policy agenda, and $500,000 to a political action committee supporting conservative Republican Kelli Ward for an Arizona Senate seat. He also donated $500,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC that is trying to preserve the GOP majority in the U.S. House. Beal also gave nearly $400,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee. He declined to comment on his contributions…

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Battles between firefighters and mayors among several down-ballot issues in Texas cities (Texas Tribune)

A long-running dispute between Houston firefighters and City Hall over first responders’ pay is among several down-ballot issues and races voters in Texas cities will decide Tuesday – once they get past a bevy of high-profile national and statewide races that lured massive amounts of voters to the polls during early voting.

Houston’s so-called “parity” proposition aims to align firefighters’ pay with what police officers earn. The highly contentious matter, opposed by Mayor Sylvester Turner, is the latest salvo in a series of legal and political battles between firefighters and city officials.

Firefighters say they’re paid far less than Houston police officers and firefighters in other cities. After contract negotiations between the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association and City Hall broke down last year, the firefighters union filed a lawsuit that sought to settle the impasse.

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Dallas among small handful of communities' in late-stage talks for Amazon HQ2 (Wall Street Journal)

Amazon has progressed to late-stage talks on its planned second headquarters with a small handful of communities including northern Virginia’s Crystal City, Dallas and New York City, people familiar with the matter said, as it nears a final decision that could reshape both the tech giant and the location it chooses.

Negotiations with the top candidates are likely in slightly different phases, according to the knowledgeable people. In Northern Virginia, Amazon is negotiating with government officials on incentives, while it’s also talking with JBG Smith Properties , a publicly traded real-estate investment trust, about the Crystal City real estate it owns, according to people familiar with the matter. Part of the negotiations involve nailing down the investment targets Amazon would have to meet to qualify for incentives, one of the people said. New York is still actively talking with Amazon, although it’s unclear how far along they are in the process. Together, the developments are intensifying anticipation that the list of likely choices is dwindling—even as several of the knowledgeable people cautioned that Amazon hasn’t made a final decision. Some also believe Amazon may announce plans to place smaller operations in runner-up locations…

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Gov. Abbott pours $350,000 into Attorney General Ken Paxton’s campaign (Houston Chronicle)

Gov. Greg Abbott is paying for $282,000 worth of political internet ads to benefit Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has found himself in a closer-than-expected race against Democratic newcomer Justin Nelson.

Abbott reported the contribution to Paxton’s campaign on Wednesday, less than a week before Election Day, in a late move to help the Republican incumbent fend off Nelson, an Austin attorney making his first bid for public office. Both Paxton and Nelson have accepted thousands of dollars in donations and in-kind contributions in the past few days as voter turnout has skyrocketed across the state, particularly in urban areas. Both candidates are running statewide television ads, although the two campaigns are accusing the opposition of running attack ads with distortions and inaccuracies in them. Abbott’s contribution makes Paxton the No. 1 recipient of the governor’s funds this election season. Abbott began with donations to vulnerable Republicans in the Texas House. But his contribution to Paxton is much bigger, signaling an alarm in a race in which polls found Paxton to be a shoo-in two months ago. Abbott covered $70,000 worth of Paxton’s campaign research in late October, bringing the governor’s total investment in the attorney general to more than $350,000…

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Texas' border lawmakers say they're in the dark on troop deployment (Texas Tribune)

Ask a border lawmaker from Texas how much President Donald Trump’s decision to send the military to the U.S.-Mexico border will cost taxpayers, and the response could be a shrug of the shoulders. Same thing goes if they’re asked how long the deployment will last or if it will disrupt cross-border trade and travel.

A day after federal officials announced that active-duty military will descend on the border to thwart the caravan of Central American asylum-seekers slowly approaching the United States, border lawmakers said they’ve been left in the dark about any further details surrounding the estimated 5,200-troop deployment.

“It’s ridiculous, we’re not getting any actual information,” said a staff member with U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela’s office. Vela represents the Brownsville area of the Rio Grande Valle and has been an outspoken critic of the deployment and other immigration-enforcement initiatives…

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US militia groups head to border, stirred by Trump’s call to arms (Washington Post)

Gun-carrying civilian groups and border vigilantes have heard a call to arms in President Trump’s warnings about threats to American security posed by caravans of Central American migrants moving through Mexico. They’re packing coolers and tents, oiling rifles and tuning up aerial drones, with plans to form caravans of their own and trail American troops to the border.

We’ll observe and report, and offer aid in any way we can,” said Shannon McGauley, a bail bondsman in the Dallas suburbs who is president of the Texas Minutemen. McGauley said he was preparing to head for the Rio Grande in coming days. “We’ve proved ourselves before, and we’ll prove ourselves again,” he said. McGauley and others have been roused by the president’s call to restore order and defend the country against what Trump has called “an invasion,” as thousands of Central American migrants advance slowly through southern Mexico toward the U.S. border. Trump has insisted that “unknown Middle Easterners,” “very tough fighters,” and large numbers of violent criminals are traveling among the women, children and families heading north on foot. The Texas Minutemen, according to McGauley, have 100 volunteers en route to the Rio Grande who want to help stop the migrants, with more likely on the way. “I can’t put a number on it,” McGauley said. “My phone’s been ringing nonstop for the last seven days. You got other militias, and husbands and wives, people coming from Oregon, Indiana. We’ve even got two from Canada.” Asked whether his group planned to deploy with weapons, McGauley laughed. “This is Texas, man,” he said. And yet, the prospect of armed vigilantes showing up beside thousands of U.S. troops — along with Border Patrol agents, police officers and migrants — is considered serious enough that military planners have issued warnings to Army commanders…

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FDA approves powerful opioid despite fears of more overdose deaths (Washington Post)

The Food and Drug Administration approved a powerful opioid Friday for use in health-care settings, rejecting criticism from some of its advisers that the drug would inevitably be diverted to illicit use and cause more overdose deaths.

The opioid is five to 10 times more potent than pharmaceutical fentanyl. A tiny pill that is just three millimeters in diameter, it is likely to worsen the nation’s drug crisis, according to critics and the head of the FDA’s advisory committee on painkillers. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued an unusual statement saying he would seek more authority for the agency to consider whether there are too many similar drugs on the market, which might allow the agency to turn down future applications for new opioid approvals. “We need to address the question that I believe underlies the criticism raised in advance of this approval,” Gottlieb wrote. “To what extent should we evaluate each opioid solely on its own merits, and to what extent should we also consider .?.?. the epidemic of opioid misuse and abuse that’s gripping our nation?” As the worst drug crisis in U.S. history has accelerated, agency critics and some public officials have clamored for a holistic approach to narcotic painkillers, instead of the FDA’s practice of evaluating each opioid application on its own. Gottlieb has pledged the FDA would do more to balance efforts to curb the epidemic — which killed a record 49,000 users in 2017, according to preliminary data — with the needs of people who need strong pain relief. But Friday’s statement is the first detailed indication of how the FDA might use its drug-review process to tackle the problem. Gottlieb said he would bring a plan to the FDA’s Opioid Policy Steering Committee and perhaps Congress. The guidelines would allow the agency to consider a narcotic’s benefit to public health, its risk of being diverted for inappropriate use or abuse and its unique benefits to groups of people in pain before deciding to approve an opioid…

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