Former state representative packs the house at the iconic Broken Spoke
Updated Friday, June 20, 2014 12:09pm (to add other District 5 candidates)
The dance floor was far too crowded for boot scooting at the legendary South Austin honky-tonk as City Council Candidate Ann Elizabeth Kitchen stepped to the mic for a speech Tuesday night, June 17.
“In the 20-plus years that I’ve lived in South Austin, I have dedicated my life to taking an active role in improving our community,” Kitchen said. “As a former state legislator and as an advocate I’ve represented much of District 5 in the past. I do know how to effectively work with, listen to, and advocate, fight for the people of South Austin.”
She said she moved to Austin in 1973 to attend the University of Texas. “After graduating I worked with special needs kids and their parents. That was important to me. It taught me a very important lesson. That lesson was that if we’re going to make real progress sometimes we have to roll up our sleeves and change the system.
“That’s one reason I went back to school to study law at UT. I wanted to use my energy to help reform government, to find some real solutions for tough issues and work towards giving people the chance to create a better life for themselves. I’ve been trying to do that for the past 20 years,” Kitchen said.
She worked for seven years in the Texas Attorney General’s Office, and was assistant chief in the Charitable Trust Section of the Consumer Protection Division before a sudden shakeup by Attorney General Dan Morales, according to an article in the Austin American-Statesman of February 3, 1994. During that time she played a role in key accomplishments.
“We successfully sued a very wealthy hospital that was using their charitable tax-exempt status to avoid paying millions of dollars in state and local taxes and at the same time they were denying care for low-income, uninsured people,” Kitchen said. “So, we held them accountable and then we helped pass a law to hold all nonprofit hospitals accountable to the public for their tax-exempt status.”
In a follow-up interview Kitchen clarified her role, saying she was the lead attorney in the investigation of the nonprofit hospital—not in the litigation—and was the lead attorney and testified regarding the legislation, but did not write it.
Since then, Kitchen said she helped create TexHealth Central Texas to provide affordable health coverage for small businesses; co-founded Annie’s List (which recruits, trains, and helps elect women candidates); and served as a founding member of the Save Our Springs Coalition (which worked to enact the SOS Ordinance and later became the SOS Alliance). She also served on the Mayor’s Task Force on Aging.
“For me, it’s all about working with people to solve a problem, to change the system when necessary to get results for people,” she said.
Kitchen said she would work to make the city “affordable to everyone—not just a few—a city where we invest in people … neighborhoods … that protects our water, our parks, and our treasures like Barton Springs.”
She noted that the Broken Spoke is a “South Austin landmark that represents what’s old and what’s real and what we love about the city. It’s now surrounded by what is new and changing on a street, South Lamar, that is in transition. … So I think it’s appropriate because our city is in transition.”
“I see that we have an opportunity with our new form of government and a climate of change to bring together all parts of Austin, all South Austin and all the other parts of Austin that feel like they haven’t been part of the discussion.”
Everyone who attended this rush-hour event was aware of the acute traffic problems she addressed.
“We need lower cost, short-term congestion relief right now. Like redesigning intersections, new bus routes, sidewalks, bike lanes, flexible work hours. I mean not instead of, but while we take on, longer-term solutions.”
She promised to tackle tough issues including the cost of living and property taxes. “The system is broken and we’ve got to look at restoring fairness. … We need fair tax appraisals, we need tax relief for homeowners and for renters, and we need fair payment from large commercial properties.”
Kitchen also addressed the problems of growth.
“I think that our challenge is to manage growth for the good of the people that live here before we lose what we love about Austin. We’ve got to do a better job of making growth pay for itself and we’ve got to stop giveaways. We’ve got to stop using public incentives to subsidize development without receiving some kind of really extraordinary community benefit in return.”
She vowed to address the need to be smarter about how water is used and how it’s paid for. She advocated keeping Austin Energy as a public trust and continuing its role as a national leader in renewable energy.
“I pledge to you, I promise to you that I will listen and I will advocate for the people of South Austin and for our community, our entire community, to help us all work together to make a better Austin for the future.”
Kitchen’s warm-up speakers
Heather Way is on the faculty of the University of Texas School of Law, director of the Community Development Clinic, and an advocate for affordable housing. She praised Kitchen for work on the Mayor’s Task Force on Aging and for co-founding Liveable City (“a network of individuals working together to create a community consensus to promote policies that address the long-term social, environmental and economic needs of the City of Austin,” according to the organization’s website).
“When Ann called me to tell me that she was going to run for city council I was ecstatic,” Way said. She went on to praise Kitchen for her experience and commitment to public service, for the trust she has earned, and for her support of quality of life issues, including affordability.
She said that Kitchen would work hard on solving transportation problems and lauded her commitment to protecting the environment.
Tom Nuckols is president of the Barton Hills Neighborhood Association. Kitchen and husband Mark Yznaga, a former political consultant, bought a home in the neighborhood in 1999.
Nuckols said he met Kitchen in 2000 when he lived in Oak Hill and she was running for state representative, and then walked door to door to campaign with her.
“If you are a neighborhood advocate I can tell you that if you know me on neighborhood issues, then you know Ann Kitchen on neighborhood issues. She will be a friend to the neighborhoods,” Nuckols said.
“I’m elated that I’m going to get to vote for her a second time,” he said.
Jim Rodriguez is president and chief executive officer of TexHealth Central Texas, the organization that Kitchen recently chaired until stepping down to run for City Council.
“The number one thing is I want to say (is) a CEO can steer the ship but it takes a leader to chart the course. That’s what we had with Ann. She was the one that chartered the course for TexHealth Central Texas in the past five years that we’ve been together.”
“….only secure leaders give power to others. Ann would come to me if we had a really big decision and she would say, ‘Jim, this is your decision but here’s what I think.’ Sometimes that was great. I felt relaxed that she would say that. Other times it was sheer panic. Oh my God, I’ve got to make this decision,” he said. “She was able to empower me to do my job and I thought that was very important.”
“I think anybody who knows Ann knows that she’s a fighter that never gives up. We hit a rough spot with TexHealth in 2013,” Rodriguez said, alluding to the fact that when state funding dried up the organization had to scramble to find money elsewhere, and did. “Ann was in there slugging it out. She instilled a lot of respect with the people she was fighting against and she instilled a lot of respect with us who were fighting right next to her.”
Sampling of supporters attending
Nan Clayton, who served on the board of trustees for the Austin Independent School District for 14 years, and for whom Clayton Elementary School is named, worked with Kitchen on healthcare issues when they served together on a statewide committee of health professionals. “She made a definite impression,” Clayton said of Kitchen. “She’s very easy to work with and very knowledgeable.
“When she was in the Legislature, Ann was respected by both sides of the aisle,” Clayton said. “We need people (on the City Council) who have skills and know how to get things done.”
Mary Ann Neely, a longtime environmentalist, said that Kitchen “has a really good progressive record,” noting that Kitchen lives close to Barton Springs, is familiar with environmental issues, and is a member of Austin Environmental Democrats.
Leslie Pool, who has served on the City of Austin’s Arts Commission, Telecommunications Commission, and Water and Wastewater Commission, said she has known Kitchen for 20 years. “She listens. She knows the issues inside and out. She’s a good analyst and cares about our town. She’s always been into public policy and she built her career around it.”
“We’re lucky she’s willing to do this,” Pool said. “With the new 10-1 City Council,” she added, “it’s important to have people who understand city issues and can go into office knowing what questions to ask and will work really hard to solve them.”
Bill Oakey, a retired accountant who drafted two proposals for property tax reform that were enacted into law, according to his blog, Austin Affordability, said he supports Kitchen “because of her intellect and ability to dig into financial issues.
“She’s got the experience and I’m excited about her candidacy,” said Oakey, a former member of the City of Austin’s Electric Utility Commission.
Heidi Gibbons has known Kitchen since they went through training together to be volunteers at the Rape Crisis Center in the 1970s. “Knowing her values and her beliefs, I think she’s great,” Gibbons said.
Perry Lorenz, who has developed numerous real estate projects in or near downtown Austin over the last several decades, said of Kitchen, “I think Ann is smart, connected, experienced, and deals in good faith.
“She is so qualified compared to everyone else,” Lorenz said.
Kitchen’s other experience
Kitchen won a seat in the Texas House of Representatives in 2000. In the Democratic Primary she beat Mandy Dealey (who today is a candidate for District 10 on the City Council). She bested Republican Jill Warren in the November general election.
Kitchen lost her reelection bid to Republican Todd Baxter in 2002 after a brutal redistricting session and what turned out to be illegal use of corporate money in funding her opponent and other GOP candidates that unseated Democratic incumbents. She fought back in court and won a belated settlement, while today the prosecution is still struggling to uphold the conviction of former U.S. Representative Tom DeLay, who orchestrated that funding arrangement.
Before being ousted from the Legislature Kitchen won kudos for fighting the Longhorn Pipeline (acquired by Magellan Midstream Partners LP in July 2009) that pumps petroleum products from Houston to El Paso, creating programs to train teachers on how to use computers in the classroom, and pushing a groundbreaking law that required people indicted on sex-crime charges to give DNA samples. She won praise from the Texas League of Conservation Voters for a perfect voting record.
Before helping to create TexHealth Central Texas, Kitchen served for about five years as executive director of the Integrated Care Collaboration, a regional nonprofit alliance of healthcare providers in Central Texas.
As a consultant Kitchen was hired by the City of Austin in 2001 to coordinate the public comment process when Seton Healthcare, operator of Brackenridge Hospital, said that Catholic Church doctrine would prevent the hospital from offering sterilizations and contraceptive services. This controversial issue was resolved when women’s reproductive healthcare services were continued as a hospital within the hospital.
In 1994 Kitchen was active in the Mainstream Austin Coalition that attempted to defeat efforts to roll back insurance benefits for the unmarried partners of city employees. The City Council had authorized those benefits, spawning a backlash and petition drive that got Proposition 22 on the ballot May 7, 1994. The rollback won by a lopsided margin of 62-38 percent. (Later, these benefits were reinstated.)
Kitchen served as vice chair the City of Austin’s 2012 Charter Revision Committee that spent six months working on research, formulating recommendations, and holding public hearings. The Committee made important recommendations to reform campaign finance rules for city elections, including limiting the amount of money that lobbyists could bundle during an election cycle, and expanding the reporting required for bundled contributions. In addition, the jurisdiction of the City’s Ethics Review Commission was expanded to give it jurisdiction over campaign finance violations.
Among other recommendations made by the Committee that got adopted by the City Council, or were placed on the ballot and approved by voters, were moving City Council elections from May to November, changing the length of terms from three years to four years, and reducing the number of terms that could be served from three to two.
A narrow majority of the Committee recommended the 10-1 plan that ultimately got on the ballot through a petition drive led by Austinites for Geographic Representation. During the election campaign Kitchen strongly advocated for passage of the alternative 8-2-1 hybrid plan that the City Council also placed on the ballot. But Kitchen did not contribute funds to the group that campaigned to pass 8-2-1, Austin Community for Change, according to the group’s campaign finance reports filed with the City Clerk.
“I supported single-member districts,” Kitchen said in a June 19 interview. “I supported the 8-2-1 version at that time and I’m very happy with what we have now. Voters preferred 10-1 and I’m pleased with that.”
Other District 5 candidates
Four other candidates, all men, have appointed treasurers for their campaigns for District 5. They are:
Daniel Lawrence “Dan” Buda, a former aide to State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth). His treasurer is Mike Hirsch.
Jason R. Denny, whose treasurer is Stephanie C. Denny,
William David “Dave” Floyd, whose treasurer is Nicholas P. Laurent, and
Luis Miguel “Mike” Rodriguez, whose treasurer is C. Dean Goodnight.
Kitchen’s campaign treasurer is Ken Craig.
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