On Wednesday the National League of Cities converged on the City of Austin for the first time in its 90 year history. This year’s conference theme was the “Future of Cities.” A spokesperson said Austin was America’s “It City” and was chosen as the location because it is “forward-thinking.”
Conference-goers mulled best practices and innovative solutions to pressing issues facing cities across the nation including: housing, energy, climate change, transportation infrastructure, and emergency and natural disaster preparation.
It turns out that cities like Austin may also be the future of the Texas Democratic Party and the implementation of progressive policies. Breitbart recently published an article claiming that “Democrats are abandoning state politics and retreating to cities.” As evidence they point to State Representative Mike Villarreal and Senator Leticia Van de Putte leaving state office to seek the mayoral gig in San Antonio, as well as rumors of State Representative Sylvester Turner making the same move in Houston.
The lack of clout at the state level may be one reason Democrats are considering the municipal government, but far from retreating, in each case if successful these elected officials would be gaining many more constituents and doing much more governing. What is ironic given that Texas has a GOP dominated state government, is that its largest cities are run by Democrats and lead the nation in population and job growth.
This is good news for Democrats, because it will allow them to build a deeper bench of policy experts and seasoned campaigners. Case in point, Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro who was on hand for the conference in Austin in his official capacity as Housing and Urban Development Secretary, is also seen as a leading national political figure.
Castro was in attendance to sign a partnership with the National League of Cities to help end Veteran Homelessness. “Today’s partnership sends a loud message that ending homelessness is not a dream,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro. “It’s a goal within reach for veterans, for youth, for families and for individuals. It’s up to us to make it a reality. Working together we can get it done and give every family a home of dignity.”
Our cities are our nation’s hub of innovation and the engines of our economy. In the long run the future of Texas and its enormous budget could very well be in the capable hands of former city officials like Castro and Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who hasn’t been coy about her interest in statewide office for Comptroller, after having served in that role for the City of Houston.
Local officials do not have the luxury of continually punting issues down the road to the next legislative session and are in the position of making tough decisions that many times much more directly affect the lives of their residents. Still, they will have to find ways to engage more citizens to participate in their local democracy in order for these experiences to become opportunities at higher offices. And who knows, maybe soon our state leaders can do for Texas what NLC says Austin has does as a city, and become “ambitious and inventive as its population.”
Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.