Will Charter Amendment Battle Scar San Antonio's Politics?
With talk of a "blue wave" and partisan mud-slinging, the midterm elections would have been divisive and tribalistic enough, but for San Antonio voters there’s additional fear at the polls.
Known as Propositions A, B, and C, these ballot items have been especially combustible in local politics.
It’s the last hours on the last day of early voting Friday and at Lions Field the line to cast a ballot snakes way down the sidewalk.
It’s an estimated hour-and-a-half wait to get to the front. Many are using that time to study the yellow paper sample ballots or are using their smartphones in a final attempt to untangle the candidates and their issues.
Near the end of the line, Jillian Howl said she’s already done her homework, particularly about Props A, B, and C.
“Because, at first, I didn’t know anything and I was like – 'What is this?' And I Googled it," she said.
Props A, B, and C — which were put on the ballot by San Antonio's fire fighter’s union — seeks to lower the barrier to have city public referendums, cap the pay and tenure of the city manager and force the city into binding arbitration with the fire fighters contract, respectively.
Howl said figuring out her position on the three props was a tough puzzle to crack because of the heated rhetoric coming from both sides.
“I feel that each side is saying that the other side has a lot of disinformation — is what I kinda noticed," she said. "I have found that it seems kind of hard for someone to say, 'Oh, this is the cold hard facts about it,' with no agenda.”
It’s easy to see why Howl got that impression from the ads from the firefighter union’ Vote Yes campaign.
“How can San Antonio afford to pay the city manager more than the president and the governor combined? They raised your taxes the last six years in a row,” is the first line from a Vote Yes campaign political ad.
But San Antonio has not raised tax rates in over 25 years. While many have seen their property tax bill increase, that's due to an increase in appraisal values in San Antonio. Since these are two very different things and the ad is wrong, said District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse on TPR’s "The Source." Brockhouse is also a leader in the Vote Yes campaign.
“The bottom line, at the end of the day, I’ve never voted on the council for a tax increase period. And I’m not going to so I’m not in the business of taking more money from taxpayers and the political ad — you can go check the record it’s as plain as day — there’s never been a tax increase,” he said.
Brockhouse accuses the Vote No campaign of also muddying the waters and trying to scare voters into voting against the props with talk about downgrading the city’s bond rating if Prop A passes.
“It’s a bold-face lie and it’s an attempt to scare the heck out of (you). … If you listen to the Go Vote No side, they’re going to say senior centers are going to shut down — police officers are going to disappear. Think for a second, do you really think that this kind of chaos is going to occur because citizens have a greater input into their electoral process. My belief is no,” Brockhouse said.
But Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who has been pushing the Vote No campaign, said it’s Brockhouse who is lying.
“His response that there has not been any warning from the rating agencies – that is a flat out lie. We have been warned explicitly on letterhead from the rating agencies themselves; we will suffer negative consequences; our ratings will be downgraded and our interest rates will go up,” Nirenberg said.
With a mayor and a councilmember calling each other liars in this campaign, it’s little wonder that many see this charter vote as divisive and counter-productive for local politics.
However, both Brockhouse and Nirenberg say they are each looking forward to Nov. 7 and putting the bitterness behind them.
“Let the vote stand where it may," Brockhouse said. "If you lose, you lose and if you win, you win. San Antonio survives on Nov. 6. Don’t forget that on Nov. 7, we’re waking up. This isn’t doom and gloom and I’ll honor the vote no matter what it is and get back to work on Nov. 7."
Nirenberg echoed those sentiments: “Win, lose or split, this community will come together and unite behind a vision for progress that will ensure that we have a San Antonio that works for every person.”