Butthurt Jayme Mathias Doesn’t Like How Democracy Works

It is a noted axiom of political theory that elites prefer the type of democracy that benefits them and their cronies. The role of the electorate is to choose from a pre-screened and selected slate of issues and candidates whose role, if they do their job well, is to appear to be fighting the man, when in fact they serve the system. The rule applies broadly and at multiple levels of democratic government, often simultaneously. So in the Middle East, Palestinians must be punished for voting the wrong way, and back closer to home, so do Venezuelans.

The principle applies in Austin as well. On April 18, 2019 the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Contact Team conducted an election to designate the community representative on the city’s Community Development Commission. The incumbent is current commission Vice Chair Bertha Delgado. Her opponent in the race, and the preferred candidate of District 2 Austin school boardmember Mathias (and of District 3 Austin city councillor Sabino “Pio” Renteria) was Jose Velasquez. Delgado won the election handily, and was re-elected. Renteria and especially Mathias were perturbed. This led Mathias to author the following letter, on official school district letterhead, not only questioning the eligibility of Delgado to serve on the Community Development Commission, but in which he engages in all manner of ad hominem attacks on the integrity and character of Ms. Delgado.

Attacks of this nature aren’t new—I certainly can attest to that. Anyone who dares question the city staff or the policy objectives of the city council can expect similar treatment, for it is also axiomatic that neoliberal governance while preaching “diversity” is actually grounded in groupthink, particularly on questions of class politics. And the explicit role of a community development commissioner is to represent the interests of the poor. It does not require high level powers of deductive reasoning to conclude that for folks like Mathias and Renteria, only tokens and puppets on this commission will do. Someone who understands the program and will not rock the boat.

Truth be told, it infuriates city officials in the first place that poor people actually still get to elect their own representatives, at least insofar as certain federal programs go. For another axiom of neoliberal governance is this: the skillful deployment of charity and identity politics to deflect from slimy influence peddling, in which special interests, certain real estate developers and their lawyers in particular, walk around the fourth floor of city hall like Nosferatu, sucking the lifeblood out of our local democracy in the name of the almighty dollar.

Identity politics, as folks like Adolph Reed and Amber A’Lee Frost have perceptively noted, isn’t a departure from orthodoxy, it is a form of class politics, the left wing of neoliberalism. Once you understand that, gentrification and inequality in Austin begin to make much more sense. The belated Austin focus on “equity and inclusion” is best understood as a project of neoliberal incorporation, not as a fundamental challenge to the power relations governing the status quo.

Supercilious neoliberal divas like Mathias (folks like Austin city councillors Jimmy Flannigan, Delia Garza, or presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg also come to mind), are a dime a dozen in Austin these days. Overeducated, yet short on wisdom and life experience, they display a tendency to engage in hypothetical argumentation and top down decision making, grounded in a firm commitment to trickle down public policy that destroys poor people and their communities. For their own good, of course. Resistance, we are told, is futile, for there is no alternative.

As for accountability, that benchmark requirement for modern democracy as the noted German sociologist Max Weber once noted? Nobody serving the power structure ever gets fired, reprimanded, or imprisoned. Stuff like that is for the little people, or for renegades who need to be reminded of their proper place in the social order.

Never shy about voicing the racial righteousness of their urbanist religious beliefs (no matter what the majority of People of Color themselves might say), they like the attention, hate the attention and love hating the attention. And they love roasting folks that disagree with them on social media; in Mathias’s case, even tweeting during schoolboard meetings that are too boring for his big brain.

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On the Substance

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you are already aware that I am the one mostly responsible for forcing the city’s hand when it came to the structure and selection procedure for members of the Community Development Commission. It was I who pointed out that the 2014 change of the commission to a 16-member body, with half of the members appointed exclusively by the mayor, was a violation of the CSBG (Community Service Block Grant) Act. Predictably, the city and its lawyers fought me every single step of the way. I eventually involved the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (the state administrator for CSBG), CAPLAW, as well as the federal department of Health and Human Services. Eventually the smoke cleared, and by late summer of 2018, a more compliant (but still not fully optimal) process was put into place.

Here’s the deal: the federal CSBG act does require that geographic representatives live in the areas they represent; Mathias isn’t wrong about that. But the true cornerstone of this provision of the law lies in the fact that these representatives are democratically selected officials. In other words, it is the poor communities themselves who get to choose who they wish to represent them. And Bertha Delgado and her family are as East Austin as it gets.

Bottom line: Jayme Mathias and his parishioner Pio Renteria believe it is they who represent East Austin, and they interpreted Delgado’s re-election to the commission as a repudiation. The narcissistic sense of hurt and vituperation evident in Mathias’s letter make this plain.

But the law also permits local governments to modify the procedure, with state government approval. As a result, in its ordinance the city chose not to require the residency requirement. So even if it were shown to be the case that Ms. Delgado does not reside in East Austin, she would still be eligible to serve — because she was lawfully elected in compliance with the city’s process. The city’s public health department, which oversees these community elections, largely appears to agree.

I should note that the reason the city chose not to include the residency requirement is because city officials wanted the freedom to “elect” outsiders to the Community Development Commission. For instance this has long been the case in Montopolis, whose geographic seat was perpetually vacant for much of the early to mid 2000’s during Pio Renteria’s lickspittle tenure as commission chair, or was occupied by outsiders like Oktomy Kusuma, whom nobody in the Montopolis community knew.

My prediction is that the city council will not over-ride this democratic result and will eventually re-appoint Delgado back to the Community Development Commission. She is so obviously active in East Austin affairs, and represents one of the community’s most noted and longstanding Hispanic families, that it would be unjust and troubling for the city council to do otherwise.

For Trustee Mathias, his grassroots standing in the community already did not have much further to fall. Runoffs and schoolboard elections are notoriously low turnout affairs. It is indeed a positive sign for 2020 that rank and file members of the East Austin electorate now also consider him to be the self-serving opportunist and hack I always thought he was. His next election will surely prove interesting watching.

As for Renteria, last December’s runoff election result versus his sister Susana Almanza convinced him and his supporters that they now have a mandate to double down on the gentrifying and urbanist policies they have been pushing. Conveniently overlooked was the fact that turnout in that runoff election hovered at around two percent. Only a fool or a zealot would believe that an election result with only two percent turnout constitutes a mandate for the radical political surgery Renteria and his colleagues Jimmy Flannigan, Greg Casar, Natasha Harper-Madison and Delia Garza have been pushing. Expect Renteria to continue to do his puppet master Steve Adler’s bidding, but the hard working and long suffering citizens of District 3 are under no obligation to co-sign his self-described “progressive” agenda. If Renteria was smart, he would interpret the re-election of Bertha Delgado to the CDC as a sign to at least slow down his support for displacement-inducing policies.