Victoria Defrancesco Soto

University faculty and staff have contributed less than $8,000 to major candidates in the Austin mayor’s race this year, significantly less than the total amount of contributions to the state race for governor.

Texas Ethics Commission data on UT employee contributors to political campaigns shows more than 120 individuals who have contributed a total of more than $20,000 to primarily support state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and the Travis County Democratic Party in the governor’s race. Meanwhile, information filed with the Austin Office of the City Clerk shows more than 25 University faculty or staff who have contributed a total of around $7,750 to major mayoral candidates Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and City Council member Mike Martinez. 

People who make gubernatorial campaign contributions are required to disclose their employer, but those who donate to mayoral campaigns are not. It is possible that the number of donations is underestimated because of the different filing practices by the city and state.

Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, visiting scholar at the University who researches political behavior, said voters tend to follow and support candidates competing in statewide and national elections even though citizens have a greater likelihood of being able to influence local politics. 

“Our attention is always drawn to the top-of-the-ticket folks — in the midterm, to the gubernatorial candidates [and] maybe the senate races,” DeFrancesco Soto said. “It’s this disconnect between the realities of politics and how it affects us and how we perceive politics. Local news will cover what’s going on here in Austin, but it’s not as sexy and glamorous.”

DeFrancesco Soto also said gubernatorial candidates tend to be affiliated with a political party and have developed sophisticated systems for asking for donations — two attributes typically not found at the local level.

Among disclosed faculty and staff campaign donations to the three major mayoral candidates, Adler has received the most with $4,550. Cole and Martinez have both received more than $1,500.  

Adler’s campaign manager Jim Wick said their campaign has currently raised $566,000 from about 2,500 donors since Adler first began campaigning for mayor in January. Wick said this amount beats the record of about 1,500 donors who supported Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s campaign in 2009.

The City of Austin allows individuals to donate a maximum of $350 to a mayoral candidate’s campaign, while individuals donating to a gubernatorial candidate can give up to $2,600.

Matt Parkerson, campaign manager for Martinez, said the campaign has risen more than $200,000.

“We knock on doors seven days a week,” Parkerson said. 

Both Wick and Parkerson said their respective campaigns do not do anything to specifically gain support from UT faculty and staff, but both campaigns have coalitions on campus to get students involved in the mayoral election.

David Sullivan, a research associate for the University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Resources, said he and his wife contributed money to both Cole’s and Martinez’s campaigns, along with the campaigns of several other City Council members.

“Aside from my day job here at the University, I’m also at the city office,” Sullivan said. “My wife and I donated basically out of loyalty and trust. I believe the city is in an excellent position to elect a good mayor.” 

Engineering professor Philip Varghese financially contributed to the Adler campaign, but said it is important for voters to participate in both mayoral and gubernatorial elections.

“However, the sums of money being spent on the governor’s race are so large that I don’t think any contribution I can afford to make will materially impact it,” Varghese said in an email. “I suppose one could argue that’s true of a single vote as well, but I think voting is a responsibility. Donating money is optional.”

Republicans lost because they went too far to the right, disenfranchising Hispanics, youth voters, women and moderates, according to LBJ panelists in Bass Lecture Hall on Thursday.

Wayne Slater, a columnist for the Dallas Morning news; Sherri Greenberg, director of the Center for Politics and Governance; Victoria Defrancesco Soto, a fellow for the Center; and Evan Smith, CEO and editor-in-chief of the Texas Tribune, broadly agreed that if the Republican party did not endorse a platform more moderate than the platform this year, the 2012 election would mark the beginning of a long-term decline.

“You know your party is in trouble when someone says, ‘What about the rape guy?’ and you say ‘Which one?’” Slater said in reference to women’s votes for Obama, which CNN national exit polls put at 55 percent.

DeFrancesco Soto said she saw an opportunity for Republicans to win over women, but they would have to give up some of their views on institutions such as Planned Parenthood.

“They fiscally are Republican, but they want a Planned Parenthood,” DeFrancesco Soto said. “They want to be sure Planned Parenthood rights are secured not just for themselves but for their daughters.”

DeFrancesco Soto also said voting laws were intended to repress the Democratic vote, but they actually had the opposite effect.

“I think it had a mobilizing effect,” she said. “I think young folks, black folks and brown folks said, ‘People are taking our vote away. We don’t really like this.’”

Panelists said they thought if Romney campaigned on his record as a moderate from Massachusetts, he would have had a chance at the election and that with the Republican party of today, he couldn’t have made it that far.

“If he had run as the Mitt Romney who governed Massachusetts, that Mitt Romney might have survived the election,” Smith said. “But he wouldn’t have survived the primary.”

Danny Zeng, College Republicans spokesperson, said he disagreed with the premise of the panel that Republicans are extreme.

“I think the Romney campaign didn’t define itself very well,” Zeng said. “The Democrats in this election have used a strategy where they talk to each party and tell them the Republicans are extreme.”

Zeng said he believed true Republican positions on issues like immigration shouldn’t turn off immigrants, because they support a pathway to citizenship, even though they don’t support amnesty.

At the end of the panel, Slater said no matter who takes part in the 2016 election, he wants to see more centered rhetoric.

“I think it’s imperative we have a presidential debate where the adults are in the room but not the children,” Slater said.

Printed on Friday, November 9, 2012 as: Columnists, experts credit 2012 outcome to red rhetoric