Laura Pressley’s Campaign Kicks Off

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Laura Pressley
Laura Pressley

Candidate Drew Big and Loud Crowd in Announcing Run for Austin City Council

Updated 10:10am Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Laura Pressley
Laura Pressley

A newcomer to Austin politics got off to a noisy start at the venerable Scholz Garten on Saturday, drawing about 125 people to hear her announce her candidacy.

Laura Pressley previously gained local media exposure by crusading against the addition of fluoride in Austin’s drinking water and talking about the health dangers she says are posed by the airport security scanners. She said she is qualified to address the scientific issues involved, based on her PhD in chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. Her pleas to the Austin City Council regarding these issues went unheeded, triggering her decision to run.

Pressley won’t say which council seat she will seek. Three incumbents, in addition to Mayor Lee Leffingwell, are running for reelection: Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Council Members Mike Martinez and Bill Spelman.

“I’m leaving open which seat I will run for,” she told the crowd. But she vowed not to let the so-called “gentlemen’s agreement,” which sets aside seats for an African American and Latino, stand in her way. “I don’t have any trouble going into that sandbox,” she said. “I have no fear of going against that—no fear at all.”

She said she is taking feedback and will probably decide which seat to run for in late January. Candidates cannot file for a place on the ballot before February 6. The deadline to file is March 6.

Pressley said she wants to run ads on TV and do radio interviews and is a “big fan of alternative media.”

“I’ve spent hour after hour watching the council ignore people, not only us but their own commissioners,” Pressley said, referring to a recommendation by the Airport Advisory Commission not to install the scanners now in use at the airport.

Focusing on health

“I want to focus on the health of Austin—environmental, individual, and economic—and how to keep jobs in Austin.”

Regarding economic health, Pressley cited examples of money spent on contracts for out-of-state companies, such as a $4 million contract she says was awarded to a Minnesota company to pick up large items for Austin Energy. She said software contracts have been awarded to California companies. “Why doesn’t the council buy local?”

On the topic of environmental health, Pressley said the Fayette Power Plant located in La Grange, east of Austin, is spewing sulfur dioxide and mercury that’s killing trees. “That plant needs to go,” she said. “We need clean energy programs—and no rate increases for us.”

Noting that the city gets a lot of its energy from the South Texas Project, a nuclear plant, Pressley said the possibility of an accident means questions need to be asked to make sure the plant is safe.

Individual health could be improved by creating more organic gardens and improving water quality. “Water is the most important thing we put in our bodies. Where’s our organic water? It’s not coming out of our taps,” she said, and claimed that chemicals in Austin’s tap water exceeds standards.

Pressley’s concern for clean water is not only personal but professional. In 2007 she co-founded Pure Rain LLC, an Austin-based company that sells bottled rain water. She travels extensively to market the water, which is sold locally at Whole Foods and Central Market, according to the Pure Rain website.

Another individual health issue is the airport scanners that she said operate on a microwave frequency. She recommends that passengers opt for a pat down inspection and not go through the scanners.

Pressley said no one on the current city council has a technological background, and water quality, energy, and pollution issues are technical. “We don’t have anybody on the council to ask hard questions,” she said. “That’s what I’ll do.”

Enthusiastic supporters

Several people warmed up the crowd before Pressley took the stage, including Neil Carman, longtime director of the state Sierra Club’s clean air program. Carman, who like Pressley holds a PhD in chemistry, said , “In the elections next spring we need to un-elect some of the people on the council,” drawing hoots and applause. “I can’t think of a better person I know to run.”

Harlan Deitrich, owner of Brave New Books, gave an energetic pitch, saying Pressley was incredibly intelligent, incredibly honest, and a very strong woman. “She has a fire in her belly and a passion for this,” he said. “She’s doing this to win.”

John Maltabes, a visiting scholar at Hewlett Packard Laboratories, and a top fundraiser for SafePlace for many years, said he had known Pressley for 15 years. Of the campaign to come, he said, “We will go door-to-door and knock on every door in Austin.”

On a personal note, Pressley is married to Leif D. Allred, an engineering manager at Applied Materials. The couple owns a home at 2210 White Horse Trail, just a few doors down from Lamar Middle School in the Allandale neighborhood. Pressley said she has one daughter, 26, who lives in Seattle.

She told a compelling personal history as a survivor of domestic and sexual violence who came to Austin as a poor, single woman to pursue a graduate education at the University of Texas. She told a similarly moving story about the generations of women in her family who had suffered from abuse in a 2001 press conference video at the State Capitol that focused on funding for family violence services in Texas.

Pressley is a current steering committee member for Texans for Accountable Government, an Austin-based nonpartisan political action committee that focuses on safeguarding individual liberty, protecting personal privacy and property rights, election integrity, safe water, and electing representatives to office, according to its website.

She is also on the steering committee for Fluoride Free Austin and has served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, including SafePlace, which operates a 24-hour hotline and an emergency shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence; Women’s Advocacy Project, which gives legal advice to victims of domestic violence; and served as volunteer Development and Fundraising Chair of the (updated 10:10am December 14, 2011) DiscoverHope Fund, which creates opportunities for women in poverty through microcredit, entrepreneurship and training.

Pressley’s campaign treasurer is Jason Wahoski, a product marketing manager at Applied Materials.

This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to provide investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help to sustain The Austin Bulldog’s reporting by making a tax-deductible contribution.