When Austin welcomed its first district-based city council in 2015, it was one of the most diverse councils in the city’s history: majority female, its first-ever Latina council member, plus three fiscal and, at times, social conservatives.
“If you look at districts, there are varying degrees of liberalism and conservatism in the districts and the idea behind 10-1, in large part I think, was to create more variation in opinion among the council members so they’d have a better discussion,” says Bill Spelman, who served nine years as a member of the Austin City Council.
But, since now-former council members Don Zimmerman and Sheri Gallo lost their re-election bids, that conservative minority has been reduced to one: Council Member Ellen Troxclair. She says, while district-wide representation has succeeded in generating both diversity of class, race and gender on the dais, something may have been lost since 2015.
“There are plenty of things that don’t necessarily go down Republican or Democrat lines, yet we seem to have a lot of votes that I think in the past have been 9-2, or 8-3, and in the future might be more often 10-1,” says Troxclair. “I do think that that should maybe raise some red flags that one side is underrepresented when it comes to diversity of thought.”
In the shift from a small group of fiscal conservatives to a lone one, says Spelman, Austin is returning to the usual makeup of local leaders. He says, while he and a few colleagues identified as a fiscal conservative during his time on council, it’s a spectrum.
“If you believe that fiscal conservative is, like Ronald Reagan, believing that government is too big, needs to be cut back, we always need to be cutting taxes, you wouldn’t find one [in past councils]," Spelman says.
He says the return to an almost entirely liberal council may not have been by voter design. He does not think residents voted against fiscal conservatives in November, but instead were divided over development issues like the Grove in District 10.
Regardless, Troxclair says being the lone wolf will have little effect on her priorities or the votes she takes – even if it’s the singular vote against an item.
“I was in the minority to begin with, as far as when it comes to advocating for responsible spending,” says Troxclair. “Just because there may be a couple less members now, I don’t think that that necessarily is going to make me less effective or change my role.”
And with city staff warning of a less financially secure future this past budget season, her voice may be naturally amplified.