Video: Laine challenges incumbent Kelly for District 6

HomeCity of AustinCity CouncilVideo: Laine challenges incumbent Kelly for District 6

Krista Laine, a Democrat, on May 19th kicked off her campaign to unseat District 6 Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, a Republican. Bulldog videographer Erik Mauck was there to record the event.

While council elections are technically nonpartisan, party politics are important in this election, as they have been in council elections for the several decades that I’ve been covering them. The partisan divide is all the more apparent because the chair of the Travis County Democratic Party spoke at Laine’s kickoff. The chair of the Travis County Republican Party is Kelly’s campaign consultant.

Republicans rarely if ever won seats on the Austin City Council until after voters approved a City Charter change in 2012. That set the stage for the 2014 election to implement geographic council districts. Republicans won in Districts 6, 8, and 10 that year. District 6 has since swung back and forth, with Democrat Jimmy Flannigan winning in 2016 and Republican Kelly capturing the seat in 2020. Now Kelly’s the only Republican on the council.

Matt Mackowiak

Redistricting after the 2020 census has changed the political landscape. Republican Party Chair Matt Mackowiak is Kelly’s campaign consultant. He told the Bulldog some Republican precincts were taken out and as a result District 6 has “become more of a mainstream district than it was conservative before.”

The City of Austin’s Demographic Profile for District 6 shows that it has a population of more than 95,000 people who occupy nearly 40,000 households. Median household income is almost $94,000 but 6 percent of residents live in poverty and 8 percent have no health insurance. Ninety-six percent have high school diplomas or an equivalent, while 62 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Forty-eight percent are renters. 

Laine’s politics began with school board

Laine’s primary base of support are fans of the work she did in starting Access Education RRISD and serving as its president. That organization rallied support to defeat a slate of the five candidates fielded by the conservative One Family Round Rock PAC, who ran for the Round Rock ISD board of trustees November 8, 2022.

On November 10, 2022, Laine issued a press release, stating, “The electoral sweep culminates 15 months of engaging and mobilizing the community around its broad support for high-quality, equitable, and inclusive public education.”

Laine said in the release, “The election results are a testament to our community coming together to fight outside money and interests, successfully.”

One of those five defeated school board candidates was Don Zimmerman, who was elected to represent City Council District 6 in 2014, then lost his 2016 reelection bid. That’s important because it’s Zimmerman that Laine took aim at in her kickoff speech.

Laine told the crowd of supporters, which she estimated numbered 150 people, that she was a graduate of Columbia University and had been a commercial real estate appraiser for a decade, specializing in the Austin housing market. She later told the Bulldog that she resigned in 2015 from CBRE, a commercial real estate company that has offices in more than 100 countries, according to its website

She told supporters that after leaving the workforce she started watching Round Rock ISD school board meetings and was alarmed when some trustees said they would “declare war” if the district imposed Covid safety restrictions.

In the video, Laine tells the crowd that when she was redistricted to be in Kelly’s District 6, she didn’t know much about her. “But I saw exactly one thing: she’s connected with Don Zimmerman, who ran on the slate that I knew from school board. He is funded by voucher money and he has now made strong connections with the White Christian Nationalists who live in West Texas, East Texas.”

“That can’t be…I need someone to run who can beat her. I met other people thinking about running, and I didn’t see anyone who I thought could win. We need someone who’s going to look and see and work. And that’s what I’m gonna do. That’s why I’m running.”

Laine said nothing about what she wanted to accomplish for the people who live in District 6. She spent her entire two-minute stump speech talking about the Round Rock school district and linking her opponent to Don Zimmerman.

In a follow-up telephone interview with the Bulldog May 21st, Laine said her proof that Zimmerman was connected with White Christian Nationalists was: “He ran on a slate that was supported by them and funded by them for RRISD trustee.”

Via text the Bulldog requested a response from Zimmerman regarding Laine’s claim that he’s connected to White Christian Nationalists. He declined to provide a concise answer. One sentence of our lengthy text exchange was, “White Christian nationalist is a racist, religiously bigoted cultural Marxist meme,” after which he went on to talk about God and Jesus. 

This was supposed to be an article about Laine versus Kelly and what the two candidates would do as council members. Instead, given Laine’s line of attack, it became an article about whether Laine’s claims about her opponent are accurate. It is true that at one time Kelly was strongly connected to Zimmerman. That no longer appears to be the case. (More about that later.)

Democrats want to recapture District 6

The Bulldog video shows that Laine has strong support from fellow Democrats. The event included speeches by State Representative John Bucy III (D-Austin), whose legislative district, he said, includes 65,000 Austin residents who live in District 6. 

Also speaking on Laine’s behalf were Travis County Democratic Chair Pooja Sethi, who ran for and placed third in the District 10 Austin council election of 2020; student organizer Ayaan Moledina; and Round Rock ISD Trustee Tiffanie Harrison, who got 62 percent of the votes to defeat Don Zimmerman, her 2022 challenger. 

Laine said she had lived in District 6 for a decade. Online records published by the Travis Central Appraisal District show that she and husband Timothy Laine have owned a Travis County homestead in the Toro Creek subdivision since August 2012. Her voting history record shows that she first voted in Travis County in 2002 and cast ballots in six primary elections, all of which were conducted by the Democratic Party.

Zimmerman’s conduct fair game for Democrats

For Laine’s campaign, attacking Zimmerman capitalizes on Access Education RRISD’s smackdown victory over One Family candidates. If she can prove he’s close to Kelly, that makes her a less desirable candidate in the minds of many.

Zimmerman, after all, has made himself the target of wide criticism by his actions over the years.

Zimmerman sues every chance he gets: He sued the Bulldog in 2014 and lost, then in 2022 threatened to sue again when running for RRISD trustee. In 2015 he sued the City of Austin—while sitting on the council—in a partially successful effort to overturn the campaign finance restrictions under which he was elected.

For some time now Zimmerman appears to have been more focused on railing against heathens than building political support. 

A short TikTok video posted a few days before the 2022 RRISD election of trustees shows him campaigning on the street near a polling place. In the video he states, “Every person is religious. The difference is what religion are you going to have in school? You have an anti-Christ religion in school and it’s illegal to establish that. The Roman state and the Jewish church murdered the world’s greatest teacher.”

Even after all five candidates on that 2022 slate were soundly defeated he hasn’t gone away. In 2023 he regularly picketed near Round Rock schools, holding signs that show his opposition to the rights of LGBTQIA+ students.

Don Zimmerman expresses his views on a street corner near a Round Rock middle school.

A two-minute video shows Zimmerman standing on a street corner holding a sign that says, “God made students male + female, anti-Christ adults made them LBGTQIA+.” The video states he had been seen recently at four Round Rock ISD middle schools.

The video is not dated but the incident caused Canyon Vista faculty members to email parents and students May 16, 2023, stating, “On behalf of the staff, we want to take this time to let our students know that we love you, we care for you, and we support you. We are here for all of our students, each and every individual one of you, and all of you as our Mustang student body. As always, if you need anything, please come see us….”

Kelly gave Zimmerman two thumbs up

That same video’s narrator states that, “Counter to her official and private statements, (Kelly) initiated the interaction with her window rolled down, gave him a double thumbs up, and drove away.”

Kelly gave the Bulldog her version of what happened.

Council Member Mackenzie Kelly gave two thumbs up to former Council Member Don Zimmerman, who was expressing his views on a street corner near a Round Rock middle school.

“I had my windows down, I came up to corner to turn left. I said hello because he had made eye contact. He said, ‘I’m outnumbered here.’ I gave him a thumbs up and tried to get out of there as fast as possible. I emailed the principal.”

Kelly told the Bulldog that she had gone there to pick up her daughter from tutoring. Before the interaction shown on the video, she said, “I saw (Zimmerman) and called Sergeant Milton Pope of the Round Rock Police Department, who said he had it under control.” 

Asked to confirm Kelly’s call, Sgt. Pope told the Bulldog that the department’s policy prohibits officers from talking to the press. 

In a text message, Kelly said that after the interaction with Zimmerman she notified the Anti-Defamation League Austin and provided a text she got in response, which states, “We’ll be connecting with the school to offer our resources and support…Thank you for flagging this!”

The video also notes that in 2015 Zimmerman appointed Kelly to a city commission. Kelly confirmed he had appointed her to the City’s Commission for Women, an advisory body that advocates for women’s quality of life. 

The video goes on to state that “…Kelly repeatedly gets ‘caught’ for her relationships with extremists including local and national Proud Boys….” and displays a photo of a pro-law enforcement event in which she is standing among a group of roughly 40 people that includes six uniformed police officers. Over on one side there are several men who were later identified as members of the Proud Boys.

As the Bulldog reported in December 2020, that photo was taken November 1st of that year: “Kelly repudiated the Proud Boys’ views, saying, ‘Unfortunately my opponent (then incumbent Council Member Jimmy Flannigan) has been gaslighting and telling the community that I refuse to denounce these groups when I have in fact done so publicly. I do not stand with White Nationalists, I do not support racism, and the circumstances involving the photo that he’s speaking about were such that I did not know that those people were present.’ ”

Kelly also disavowed any ties with Proud Boys in an Austin Monitor article published January 6, 2021. 

Kelly and Zimmerman no longer connected

Mackenzie was linked to Zimmerman when she ran for the District 6 seat in 2020. That’s when she unseated incumbent Jimmy Flannigan, who had knocked off Zimmerman when he ran for reelection in 2016. 

Campaign finance reports show that Zimmerman bundled $2,300 in contributions for her that year and donated $400 to her campaign as well. She paid him $875 for his work as a consultant. 

Since then Kelly and Zimmerman have had a falling out. That came to a head when in 2022 he was running for the Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees. 

Leading up to that November election, Zimmerman texted Kelly to note the number of Republican organizations that had endorsed what he called the “Fab5 slate for RRISD.”

“I’m going to call soon and ask for your endorsement of our RRISD slate,” he said in a text message that Kelly provided to the Bulldog. “This is important enough for me to decide what I’m going to do regarding District 6 in 2024,” he wrote September 26, 2022. 

Kelly says she did not respond to that message, and provided another Zimmerman text message dated October 7, 2022, in which he wrote, “There are always hard, unpleasant binary choices that sometimes must be made. If you choose Amy Weir, of course I respect that, and you will likewise have to respect my choice concerning your political future….”

“I never replied to or spoke with him about this,” Kelly told the Bulldog. “I also did not endorse him.”

In an article published in the Austin American-Statesman in January, Kelly said, “If Don Zimmerman reached out to me today and wanted to help me with my campaign, I would politely decline because the brand of council member that he was, was not something that I believe should continue.”

“I do not at all talk to Don Zimmerman,” she told the Bulldog. “He does not represent the people I want to associate with. I want to help make the community a better place and not harass those who live here. “

Erik Mauck
Ken Martin

Trust indicators: Ken Martin’s first article about an Austin election was published by Third Coast magazine in January 1982. His cover story in that publication about mayoral candidate Ron Mullen was published in March 1983. This was videographer Erik Mauck’s second assignment for the Bulldog.

Related Bulldog election coverage

They’re off and running for council, January 19, 2024

District 10 council candidates jump in early, December 14, 2023

Siegel running for City Council District 7, October 31, 2023

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