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Jonathan Auping
By Jonathan Auping |

A reality show called The Glass House debuted on ABC in June 2012. Contestants lived together in a house while an online audience manufactured drama by voting on which activities would occupy their time for a given episode. One of those contestants was Alex Stein, a twentysomething Dallas native. In the first 20 seconds of the show’s first episode, Stein looked into the camera and said, “America, should I turn into the most epic villain in the history of reality TV?” He later shared his strategy: “Nobody in this house is going to do what I do. Because I got no shame.” 

Stein was the first contestant voted off the show, which was canceled after one season, and he went on to appear in two more reality shows. Now 36 years old but with the same preppy, boyish appearance—brown hair swooped to the side, he could pass as a younger brother to Tucker Carlson—Stein has found a new way to get attention. He has become a conspiracy-spouting QAnon stunt troll.  

You probably saw the viral video of him at an open microphone portion of a Dallas City Council meeting in February, wearing scrubs and rapping about the COVID-19 vaccine. “All day long, I want to vaccinate your mom. I want to stick it deep in your arm,” Stein rapped to the baffled council members. Dallas Morning News City Hall reporter Everton Bailey Jr. first elevated the video to social media (as of early April, it had racked up 3.6 million views in Bailey’s tweet), and from there it spread to such news outlets as the Daily Mail and Newsweek

This one will take some time. Don’t think you’re going to read it on your phone while you’re waiting for the light to turn green. A couple of days ago, ProPublica and FRONTLINE dropped a joint operation titled “Building the ‘Big Lie’: Inside the Creation of Trump’s Stolen Election Myth.” It runs about 7,000 words. And it starts in Dallas in 2020, in the office of Lewis Sessions, a lawyer and the brother of Rep. Pete Sessions. Lewis’ guest is a man from Venezuela, the former chief of security for Hugo Chávez. The man says he knows how the Democrats used voting machines with corrupted software to steal the presidential election.

No matter that this bogus claim was easily disprovable and that Republican operatives did, indeed, disprove it (before touting it as true). That misinformation became the foundation for the lie that two-thirds of Republicans still to this day believe.

Find the time. Read the whole story.

The pugnacious former Dallas city councilman got a little less than 18 percent of the votes in his bid for Precinct 2 of the Dallas County Commissioners Court. The full results: Andrew Sommerman got 10,021 votes; Michelle Ocker got 10,929; Kingston got 5,245; and Tom Ervin got 3,081.

Sorry. Just wanted to beef up our election coverage.

Sandra Crenshaw and FrontBurner go way back. In 2008, she was serving as a precinct chair in a presidential election. Some stuff went down. We wrote about it. Crenshaw jumped into the comments and wrote a 3,000-word account of her actions that involved a reference to Mountain Dew as “cactus juice,” which got its own entry on Urban Dictionary. Then, in 2014, after the Morning News endorsed Crenshaw in her bid for House District 110, we reported that an affidavit for an arrest warrant two years earlier had described how Crenshaw had rented a Nissan Versa from a Budget car rental near Love Field and refused to return it for three months. Her nephew said she was living in it. When the case was dismissed in 2013, court documents indicated Crenshaw was “mentally ill.”

You know what Crenshaw did when we reported all that? She wrote us a long note admitting that she’d had mental health issues. “There is a joke among genealogists that the easiest way to get research for your family tree is to run for office,” she wrote. “I believe and know now that the greatest way to bring exposure of the plight and discrimination against the mentally ill is for the mentally ill to run for office.” You can read the rest of her letter here.

So yeah. Sandra Crenshaw. I thought she was brave to publicly confront what she was dealing with. That was the last exchange I had with her, eight years ago.

Then this morning I saw that she’d gotten more votes than any of her three opponents in House District 100, the sprawling, gerrymandered district that Mayor Eric Johnson once represented. (The previous representative, Jasmine Crockett, is headed to a runoff for Eddie Bernice Johnson’s longtime congressional seat, in U.S. District 30.) Of the 8,428 ballots cast, Crenshaw got 2,883 or 34.2 percent. She’s now in a runoff with Venton Jones, a real estate agent endorsed by the News who got 728 fewer votes than Crenshaw.

That this is the first story specifically about what happened yesterday in the District 100 race (as far as I can tell) is a depressing reflection of the current state of local news media. I mean, according to her latest campaign filings, Crenshaw, who is her own treasurer and has no campaign website, accomplished this upset with just $500. By contrast, Jones spent about $20,000. This is awesome. Jones spent something on the order of $9.30 for every vote he got; Crenshaw spent 17 cents.

I gave her a call to ask how she did it.

Mayor Eric Johnson will today appoint Lynn McBee as the city’s workforce development czar, a topic that was foundational to his 2019 campaign.

McBee is the CEO of a statewide network of STEAM schools for girls, a board member for the Bridge homeless shelter, a philanthropist, until recently co-CEO of EarthX, and third-place finisher in the 2019 mayor’s race. During his campaign, Johnson called workforce development his “number one priority.” But the pandemic derailed efforts on that front. Only recently has his strategy come into focus, and McBee will be charged with pulling it off.

“I know there is a huge need in construction trades and warehousing and healthcare. Now, how do we let people know about these opportunities?” McBee says. “I’ve heard too many people say we can’t find nurses, we don’t have people that are technically trained enough. … Those jobs are there.”

Johnson commissioned a report in April about the city’s workforce. It was released in November and puts numbers to what was largely anecdotal: majority White, college-educated Dallasites hold the jobs that pay the most, while Black and Latino residents are disproportionately likely to earn $32,000 or less each year.

The mayor is nervous that automation might wipe those jobs out in the coming years, but the report signals something deeper. The city and its partners haven’t done enough to recognize the disparity in its workforce. These entities have failed to organize resources to provide education that could help elevate families out of poverty.  

According to the report, just 40 percent of all jobs in Dallas pay more than $32,000 while also offering “positive or stable future growth.” The report defines a “family-sustaining wage” as $42,000 or more annually. White workers hold 54 percent of these jobs, a little less than double the total share held by Latino (16 percent) and Black (15 percent) workers. According to U.S. Census data, the median income for a family of four in Dallas is $86,200.

“We got here because of decisions that were made 10, 20, 30 years ago,” McBee says. “This is how it plays out, right? If you don’t give people access to opportunities, if you don’t give them the resources, then guess what happens. This is what happens.”

Local Government

Philip Kingston Files to Run for County Commissioner

Matt Goodman
By |
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Philip Kingston. Yes, he’s running.

Former Dallas City Councilman Philip Kingston is running for county commissioner. This has been an open secret since late last month, but it seemed to become less hush-hush this week; it has bookended more than a few conversations I have had since Monday. Kingston made it official today and filed the paperwork with WFAA’s Jason Whitely in tow.

Kingston, an attorney by trade, lost his District 14 council seat in 2019, felled by a banker and a father and a former SMU football player named David Blewett, whose platform was basically that he was not Philip Kingston. He sat out the next cycle, and Paul Ridley, Kingston’s former plan commissioner, beat Blewett to win the seat in May.

Kingston says he didn’t have any plans to run for anything until he got wind of how the county commissioner’s court was redrawing its districts. Each of the options showed that Kingston’s Belmont Addition home in East Dallas would no longer be in District 1, which was represented by the Democrat Theresa Daniel. He would now be in District 2, the sole seat on the Commissioners Court held by a Republican—J.J. Koch.

“I can’t be represented by somebody like that,” Kingston told me Thursday afternoon. “It’s not OK. … There hasn’t been any particular showing of competence on just basic policy accomplishments for the betterment of the people of Dallas.”

There he is.

New to North Texas

Red State of Mind

Peter Simek
By |
paul and brenda chabot
The Daytrippers: Inspired by a layover in McKinney, Paul Chabot and his wife, Brenda, decided to move from California to North Texas. Now they help others do the same. Photographed in their home office called the War Room.

Here’s the story that Democrats like to tell each other in Texas: according to the 2020 Census, over the past decade the state grew by roughly 4 million new residents. North Texas added 1.2 million. Much of this increase has been driven by people moving here, with about 687,000 of these new Texans—17 percent of the state’s total population increase—coming from California. These liberal transplants are helping to turn Texas blue.

Not so fast.

Good Public Transit

Have We Reached Peak Return on Highway Infrastructure Investment?

Peter Simek
By |
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The Texas Department of Transportation wants to bury this highway to allow for improved neighborhood connections.

There is one aspect of the infrastructure spending bill that is being batted around in Washington that both political parties appear to agree on: spending billions on America’s roads will boost the economy. Of the $579 billion in proposed new spending, roughly 19 percent is earmarked for roads, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required). That same report points out both Republicans and Democrats are bullish on the impact that plowing that kind of dough into the country’s roads will have:

President Biden last week touted the agreement as delivering “higher productivity and higher growth for our economy over the long run.”

Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who helped craft the deal, said last moth that the plan would “increase our productivity as a country.”

The problem is much of the research around the impact of highway infrastructure spending shows that it doesn’t produce much long-term economic productivity. In fact, as careful observers of the history of North Texas’ development might know, spending money on roads promotes some short-term economic gains, though over time it tends to merely redistribute growth with no real net increase in GDP.

Politics

Poll: Should We Raise City Council Salaries?

Peter Simek
By |
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iStock/Liia Galimzianova

On Tuesday, I argued that it was past time we gave the city council a raise. Better pay equals better candidates. It means people can run for office that can’t run for office today because they have jobs and families and lives. It means that we can better avoid things like over representation by millionaires, mayors who need second jobs, and bribery scandals. It doesn’t cost that much, and it would make our government run better. So why not?

In the comments to that post, former council member Philip Kingston gave some context to the debates that swirled around the horseshoe the last lime council got raise:

. . .my first motion was to go to $100K for council and $200K for mayor with an automatic increase indexed to inflation. Rawlings wouldn’t back anything higher than $80K for mayor and asked me why it should be higher to which I said so not every mayor looked like him. The council members terming out would support ANY raise that took effect immediately, and Carolyn Davis even mentioned making it retroactive. The north Dallas reps wouldn’t support any increase that took effect immediately, but would support even $100K if it went into effect after everyone who voted on it was off of council, which is another of the 300 motions I made that day. End of the day we wound up with $60K not indexed. . .

But what do you think? Should Dallas elected officials receive a raise, and if so, how much? Vote after the jump.

Over the weekend, as results of the Dallas City Council election runoffs rolled in, I couldn’t shake a cynical reaction to the end of what felt like a very prolonged campaign season: why would anyone want a job as a city council member?

Being a member of the Dallas City Council is a thankless position. It is more than a fulltime job; requires tangling with both local politics and the impossible bureaucracy of Dallas City Hall; and even the most unflappable, talented, and idealistic city council members find it difficult to enact real and meaningful change. For their services, city council members receive a salary of $60,000, which, while substantially higher than the city’s median salary, is either a big pay cut or a bonus token to most who run for office. The $80,000 mayoral salary was such an afterthought to Mayor Mike Rawlings that he donated it to charity. The salary wasn’t enough to keep Mayor Eric Johnson from accepting a gig as a partner with a large law firm not long after taking office rather than making being mayor his only job.

And yet, this election cycle saw many Dallas residents working hard – and spending tons of campaign dollars – to try to get into office. As I reported in my (admittedly incomplete) analysis of some of this cycle’s campaign spending, some candidates for council spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their campaigns, with district 13 candidate Leland Burk outspending all others. Burk came up short in his runoff, which, regardless of how you felt about Burk as a candidate, at least shows that council seats can’t be bought outright. There’s still a neighbor-to-neighbor scale to local politics that candidates must respect. But then again, not all neighbors can afford to run for city council.

Local News

A Dallasite’s Guide to the Fort Worth Mayoral, City Council Runoffs

james russell
By james russell |
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Sundance Square in Fort Worth.

The same week Fort Worth voters will decide who succeeds Mayor Betsy Price and a handful of other runoff races, the city received some news. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, Fort Worth surpassed Jacksonville, Florida to become the 12th largest city in the country. The city grew by 2.1 percent from 2019 to 2020, the most of any of Texas’ largest cities. By comparison, Dallas added just 74 total people—a minuscule percentage increase that Fort Worth and the surrounding suburbs easily trounced.

In fact, Fort Worth’s population has grown by 24 percent since 2010, one year before Price took office. Only Phoenix and San Antonio grew faster. Whoever succeeds her will have to direct policy to accommodate such growth.

Neither Mattie Parker nor Deborah Peoples, each of whom bested more than a dozen candidates in May to make the runoff, have chimed in on the news. But city officials and civic boosters were jubilant. On Twitter, a stock photo circulated of the city’s downtown emblazoned with “12th largest city in the country.” (To me, a photo of the city’s mascot Molly the Longhorn emblazoned with an outline of a longhorn cheering “We’re No. 12!” would have sufficed. That’s the sort of hokey civic boosterism I’ve come to expect from Cowtown.)

Parker is Price’s former chief of staff. Peoples is the former Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair. Both have taken heat for being stridently partisan. Peoples is clearly a Democrat, backed most notably by former Congressman Beto O’Rourke as well as U.S. Reps. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas. Parker is a Republican who has Price’s backing and, as of this week, the support of Gov. Greg Abbott.

They have similar goals: diversifying the city’s tax base, which relies too much on residential property taxes; providing more affordable housing; expanding the city’s paltry and underfunded public transit system; and policing reform.

They differ in approaches to achieving these goals, however.

Politics

It Is Time for Dallas to Adopt Ranked-Choice Voting

Peter Simek
By |
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Lines were short or nonexistent on Election Day. Here, Mark Twain Leadership Vanguard, in Oak Cliff.

Amid all the postgame analysis that has been flying about in the aftermath of last Saturday’s municipal elections, one simple and striking fact bears mentioning: up until a few election cycles ago, sitting council members were rarely challenged. That has changed – big time. Last Saturday’s elections saw competitive races in nearly every district, and three incumbents—David Blewett, Adam Bazaldua, and Carolyn King Arnold—have been forced into runoffs. In general, that’s a good thing. More candidates mean more ideas are brought to the table, more citizens are engaged in the electoral process, and council members are more responsive to the constituents who put them in office.

But this new era of Dallas politics has also created a situation in which runoff elections are almost inevitable, particularly in crowded races where there is no incumbent. This means the city’s general election basically functions like a primary. We saw this in the 2019 mayoral election and in the 2017 mayoral election. When 9 or 10 candidates are running for a single office there is virtually no way one of those candidates is going to secure 50.01 percent of the votes. The first election narrows down the field; the real decision is made in the runoff. That’s a problem. Municipal voter turnout is already very low, and it is even lower in the runoffs. They’re also expensive. But there’s a simple solution: ranked-choice voting.

Ranked choice voting — which we’ve mentioned before — is an electoral process that is gaining popularity throughout the country, particularly in local elections, precisely because it remedies some of these problems. According to FairVote.org, 22 municipalities and states have adopted ranked-choice voting, including some large cities like New York, Oakland, and San Francisco. Ten additional cities and states, including Alaska, are considering or have adopted ranked-choice voting for future use. Austin just adopted it over the weekend.

So, what is ranked-choice voting and how does it work?