My 1 on 1 interview with Mayor Adler of Austin TX. A Mayor with a Vision

I’ve seen Austin Mayor Steve Adler on all the local news channels here in Austin since he was sworn in as mayor. He is constantly at events and fund raisers that all have one thing in common, building a better future for the city of Austin. From healthcare clinics, building a shelter for the homeless, new affordable housing for low income citizens, fighting discrimination, assisting the elderly during the summers when they can’t afford air conditioning, while still working on  improving our highway system and metro transit system, having the best public school system and helping build businesses from local entrepreneurs all the way to innovation and tech industries.

I’ve been to several LGBTQ Equality events during the last legislative session and have seen Mayor Adler speaking out in support of our LGBTQ community but also about the safety of transgender youth in our schools. He is the first one to stand up and speak out at every event to help fight against SB 4, the “Sanctuary City-Show Me Your Papers” law, which makes racial profiling and discrimination legal and also punishes city officials, police, sheriffs employees and more if they were not to follow Abbott’s law to the nth degree.

In my interview with Mayor Adler this week I was able to ask him about these situations and more that have a major impact on Austin right now.

  1. Q: With Hate crimes on the rise in the Transgender Community we have already seen the murder of 16 trans women in 2017 and had 27 murders in 2016. Are you concerned that if a “Bathroom Bill” is passed in the special session it will lead to more bullying and teen suicides in the state of Texas? Mayor Adler’s Response: “Absolutely, I mean this whole Senate Bill addressing this bathroom bill is a horrible solution to a non existent problem that puts some of our most vulnerable at greater risks. It’s hard for me to understand how this can move anywhere, this would be such a self inflicted wound on the state, not only is it morally wrong on so many levels, but the business community is so aligned with this being a bad idea that I just hope some of the comments coming from the state leadership to indicate that this might not happen is what so many of us hold on to at this point.
  2. Q: As the fight with the State of Texas continues over discriminatory SB 4 do you feel a decision will be reached before it goes into effect September 1st and should it be upheld, will it be appealed to the Supreme Court? Mayor Adler’s response “The judge doesn’t tell us when he’s going to rule but he knows the law becomes effective September 1st and the issue in front of the judge in San Antonio now is whether or not to enjoin the effective date of that bill before the 1st so I think we’re fairly well assured that he’s going to rule sometime before September 1st. I know that he’s picking up some of the redistricting trial work here in July which is one of the reasons he pushed that first hearing to happen so quickly as he did so he could get all that done. I would imagine that we would hear from him, my guess would be sometime in early August, but that is purely a guess. If the ruling goes against us I would anticipate that we would appeal.”
  3. Q: Although the SB 4 “Sanctuary City” law and SB 3859 “Religious Refusal” laws which allow discrimination/racial profiling and religious refusal discrimination in adoption/child protective services and foster care do not go into effect until September 1st we are already seeing cancelling of conventions and some loss of economy in Texas. Aren’t you concerned that if either of these laws are allowed to stand they will cause major damage to the economy and bringing new jobs, not only to Austin but the state of Texas? Mayor Adler’s Response:  Yes, We’ve seen, with respect to the adoption bill, California Attorney General ruled that no state employees could travel to Texas now and I am concerned about that. These bills seem to be self inflicted wounds. Our convention center indicated that if the bathroom bill went through that we would lose, it was almost up to almost 30 conventions, and that was in the middle of the session that he said that. We’ve seen what happened in California. It’s like we’re not learning from the lessons of Arizona and North Carolina, putting aside for just a second that morally those are just the wrong thing to do. Economically, I am concerned about that and you know if that happens I was going to visit the California Attorney General and see if there was a way to create a “safe city” zone. When W. Berlin got surrounded the answer wasn’t to write them off but to send in air drops . I think that a city like Austin that is fighting these battles could use the support of folks like California and send people to Texas but only to Austin or other cities that were standing up for the rights of its citizens.
  4. Q: If SB 4 goes  into effect how does this conflict with Sheriff Hernandez current policies? Mayor Adler’s Response :If the state law passes we would then, if the sheriff continues her present practices and the state law passes, we would now be violating state law, we wouldn’t be violating federal law because we aren’t violating federal law and it hasn’t changed. There are people that are now urging, and there was a bill filed in congress to make federal law conform to the state law, so that it would become a violation of federal law. But its interesting, you know when this debate started back in January, when the sheriff did what she did, It was being positioned as the sheriff violating federal law in an effort to let criminals loose on our streets. It was clear that she wasn’t actually letting criminals loose on the streets and that the crime rate among immigrant population and undocumented immigrant population in particular is lower than it is in the general population. Putting that aside, It became apparent that what we were saying was true, that she wasn’t violating any type of federal law, well, that was how the state started that debate in Texas. So then it became really important for the state to actually pass a law that she would be violating so as to make the facts on the ground conform to the rhetoric that people were hearing and it’s just really unfortunate.
  5. Q: I then asked Mayor Adler if he did not feel that this was retribution by Governor Abbott against Austin, Travis County and Sheriff Hernandez for her policy. As I wrote in a recent article it seems Gov. Abbott has disdain for the city of Austin. When he recently spoke at a GOP dinner in Belton, Abbott made the following statement: “As I was coming up here from Austin, Texas, tonight, I got to tell you, it’s great to be out of the People’s Republic of Austin. As you leave Austin and start heading north, you start feeling different. Once you cross the Travis County line, it starts smelling different. And you know what that fragrance is? Freedom. It’s the smell of freedom that does not exist in Austin, Texas. That said, with your senators and legislators, I can tell you that today, Austin is more free than it was before the legislative session began because the state of Texas passed laws that overrode the liberal agenda of Austin, Texas, that is trying to send Texas down the pathway of California. As your governor, I will not allow Austin, Texas, to Californiaize the Lone Star State.” Governor Abbott also referred to Austin, and Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, as the “seedbed of sanctuary city policies” that will be blocked under a new law that was among his priority items, SB4 the “Sanctuary City-Show Me Your Papers” law. Abbott continued “We worked on ensuring that we kept every person in the state safe, every man, woman and child, and that meant we had to confront a problem that began festering in Austin, Texas, and began to spread across the state. It meant that we had to pass a ban on sanctuary city policies. This will stop officials like Sanctuary Sally in Travis County, Texas, who was releasing dangerous criminals out of jail, back out on the street….my view is if you don’t want to enforce the law, you shouldn’t be involved in law enforcement.” However Mayor Adler’s response added a new perspective to how he saw Gov. Abbott’s actions. Mayor Adler’s response:  I think its against cities, you know that’s whats different about this session than other sessions. It used to be legislature would come pointing at Austin, but now if feels like an attack on cities. Cities are where innovation happens, cities are the economic engines for the state, You know my sense is that the economic well being of this state will require an ever increasing outward spreading from cities innovation and jobs and opportunities, cities are where people are looking forward and not backward. Austin’s unemployment rate is a point lower than the state, our crime rate is lowest of any major city in TX over a population of 280,000. We get a disproportionate share of venture capital and patents and all of these things, you would think that. I love my city, I’m proud to be a Texan, and I want cities are doing right to be able to be shared with other cities or other parts of the state. The concept that all parts of the state have to look the same and be the same is really short sited and doesn’t serve even the economic interest of the state. Cities’ economies move cyclically and when Houston’s energy economy might be down they’re going to want to have Austin’s tech economy up and when Dallas’s finance economies down and San Antonio’s tourist economies down they’re going to want to have Austin having a differentiated economy and the reason why a lot of those people are in Austin, the reason why Apple’s here and Facebook’s here not to mention the smaller companies and the entrepreneurs. The reason they’re here is because the people they want to have work for them want to live in Austin. And they want to live in Austin because of who we are culturally and who we are as a city and if you take that away then those people will go to Nashville or to Santa Fe or Portland or to somewhere else.
  6. Q:But if SB 4 and HB 3859 are allowed to go into effect on September 1st with Austin now  being the #1 Tech City in the world don’t you think these two new laws would effect bringing people and jobs to Austin because of discrimination against LGBTQ, Hispanics, Muslim and other religions and groups? Mayor Adler’s Response: “They are here because the people that work for them want to live here. So one of the state’s goals should be helping the cities attract those people that want to live here. Help them maintain that quality of life. Cities are not bubbles in which to preserve the past, they are the incubators of innovation. And there is so much that cities can do to help the state and right now the leadership seems to be a bit out of line”.
  7. Q: With Republican Speaker of the House Joe Straus against a “Bathroom Bill” recently quoted in an interview with Lawrence Wright, a long time writer for “The New Yorker”, Speaker Straus said “I’m not a lawyer, but I am a Texan. I’m disgusted by all this. Tell the Lieutenant Governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.” With a “bathroom style” law increasing transgender teen suicide and so many Texans seeing this as a non-issue do you have faith that this type of bill will be kept from passing in the upcoming special session?  Mayor Adler’s Response: I hope not. The indications the speaker has given is that he’s going to try and avoid that if it’s within his power to do so and I’m encouraged by that. The legislature is coming back into session, more than anything else what people want them to do is to help them with property tax relief. 75% of the property tax increase that people are feeling here in Austin is the result of the legislatures failure to fix the school finance system. Purely. That’s 75% of the increases people are feeling. If the legislature really wanted to do something that would address what people want them to do, and only they can do. They would spend their entire time working on the school finance system. And the governor has not asked the legislature to do that. He’s forming a committee on the school finance system, which I guess is better than nothing. But what the people really want the legislature to do is fix that system. The city of Austin will send over a billion dollars to the state over the next two years on this broken school finance system. I’m in favor of the equity element of Robin Hood. Somebody that goes to school anywhere in this state should receive a quality education regardless of where they are, so I don’t have a problem with the state collecting money and equitably distributing it. But when they equitably distribute it they’re supposed to take into account the cost of education. And those districts that have a lot of children in poverty, they’re more expensive to educate. Children that speak English as a second language at home are more expensive to educate. When I was a staffer working up at the state legislature in the late 90’s, I worked on trying to modernize and update the weights that the state used in sending money back to the districts to take into account the additional cost to educate those kids because the formulas were old. They had been approved back in 1983. And by the late 90’s they were way out of date and didn’t reflect actual cost. You know what weights they’re using today? The one’s that were adopted in 1983. They’re still using the ones that I was trying to change back in the late 90’s because they were wrong then and they’re even more wrong now.”
  8. Q: Lastly, As Mayor I see you constantly at Public Events to promote help in the Homeless Community, LGBTQ, Safety for Undocumented Immigrants, Low Income Housing etc. You are a Mayor that works for every citizen of Austin. What drives/inspires you as mayor? Mayor Adler’s Response: The ability to have impact on peoples’ lives, to actually affect change. Diane and I did a lot of things in the community, on boards and commissions, with non-profits. There was always a limit to the scale and scope and I would run into walls that I couldn’t get past. This job gives me, there’s really two powers with this job and only two. One is the ability to convene people, when I set a meeting now and ask people to come, usually people will come and I can fill a room with people that ought to be talking to each other. and sometimes putting them in a room when they’ve never been in a room with each other and to get them together and see what happens in that environment is very validating. The other is the bully pulpit, you know I can stand up now and suggest to the community we ought to be focusing on this issue and the people now listen where as 10 years ago with my non-profit I would stand up and do that and I would be one of many voices in the forest for the people to hear. Diane and I were really fortunate, you know. I came here because it was the cheapest law school in the country at the end of a scholarship. Without both of those I don’t know that I would have been able to go to law school. With no intention of staying but you know, this is a magical place and then we’ve done really well. So the ability to be able to give back to a community that, I know it sounds trite but its also true, to be back with the kids that I grew up with in high school, and where they are, I’m just really lucky and this cities a big part of that. So being able to give back’s a real part. So we were in a position to be able to do this. So you’re right, this is a calling as you give up a lot to be able to have this opportunity, it’s a gift, but you give up a lot to be able to do it. It’s the ability to help effect change. Because we need change and most people support change until things start changing and as soon as things start changing people say  (then with a chuckle Mayor Adler added) “Wait a second, I didn’t actually mean really change.” 

    Like I said at the beginning of my article, Mayor Adler is a visionary that is looking forward to the future for Austin while still trying to maintain the heritage of what keeps the past of Austin alive. Mayor Adler is not only the type of person you’d want as your mayor but also as a friend, confidant, someone you can trust with your deepest concerns and know that he is looking out for you.

    As we watch legal battles going forward on SB 4 and HB 3859 we will continue to rally, protest and fight along with Mayor Adler, the city of Austin, Travis County and organizations like ACLU, MALDEF, Human Rights Campaign, Equality Texas and so many more. We will be at the capitol and in the courtrooms. But what gives me hope and faith for the city of Austin is that we have Mayor Adler leading the fight to protect all the residents of Austin against what is blatantly discriminatory legislation!