| One of the more interesting exchanges I've heard on the campaign trail occurred at the RECA forum, during which candidates each ask one opponent a question. It's usually a potential "Gotcha!" question, with the hopes of tricking an opponent into saying something game-changing. For instance, this year Mayor Leffingwell asked Brigid Shea about her city contracts, which in turn resulted in this fine piece of "journalism" and became a major story in local print and TV news.
However, to my mind, the most interesting question was the one posed by Tina Cannon to Bill Spelman.
Cannon asked if the incumbent was being a good steward of the City's money since he'd embroiled our municipality in three unnecessary, avoidable, and expensive lawsuits during his term. In her question, she cited the Open Meetings Act email-gate, the Crisis Pregnancy Center ordinance, and the Payday Lending ordinance.
Now, first off, the Open Meetings issue is vastly different from the two ordinances, which are being challenged over their progressive political results. In reference to those ordinances, Spelman responded that they are in keeping with our community values -- this is liberal / progressive Austin, so yes, that's true -- and that "the right thing to do is always the right thing to do."
The payday lending ordinance relies on various land use requirements to prevent the unscrupulous lenders from setting up shop in most of East Austin and around the UT area. It goes further than the laws passed by the Legislature, to further reign in the predatory lending practices most establishments use. These businesses prey on the poor and desperate, charging steep interest rates and trapping low-income Austinites further in an endless cycle of debt. The CPC ordinance requires signage notifying women that there are no licensed medical professionals on premises, and hopefully make women recognize that the centers are not really healthcare operations so much as agents of ideological intimidation. Should Austin's ordinance stand up in Federal Court -- it was deliberately crafted to do so -- we will provide a model for other progressive cities to do the same. Plus, the attorneys defending the City in the CPC lawsuit are doing so pro bono, and should the City prevail in the payday lending ordinance, I believe "Loser Pays" would force the trade association that represents these establishments to pay us.
It was curious to see Cannon, the lone female in the race, essentially attacking Spelman for the CPC ordinance, which enjoys broad support from Austin's pro-choice community. It's also something I hadn't seen discussed in much depth elsewhere. While I can see how a question about "unnecessary lawsuits" might go over well with the pro-business crowd at RECA, Spelman's strong and emphatic response ended up drawing applause. I'm inclined to think that most of the voters here in Austin would agree with him as well -- our city council has the right to pass progressive ordinances reflecting our values, and if that makes some conservative special interests unhappy, then indeed, let them sue us.