NOTE: This page highlights information for last year’s election cycle, but it’s still important to read and understand because the forces that worked against equity and inclusion in May 2021 are still at play this year and they’re backing candidates in both Leander and Cedar Park. Once you read through, please head over to our new May 2022 Voter Guides and vote on Saturday, May 7.
There are many reasons we prioritized the IDEAL candidate endorsements we did for the 2021 elections in Leander and Cedar Park. Yes, it’s about infrastructure, water, taxes, parks, avoiding special interests, listening to voters, and many other factors. But, one thing that’s uniquely important to us, and — we hope — to you, too, is that our leaders represent all constituents, not just a small, special group, and that they stand up to hate.
We believe that you are either for or against civil rights.
You either stand up for protecting all citizens or you stand by and allow them to be marginalized, harassed, and targeted for who they are, where they’re from, what they believe, who they love, or how they identify.
In this election, there is a very clear choice.
If your choice is to support other candidates, you should know when you are supporting bigotry and racism.
Here’s some of what you need to know before you go to early voting this week. (Content warning: racism, bigotry, threats of violence.)
Threats of Violence
First, in the last few years, Leander, Cedar Park, Austin, and other areas of Texas have been the battleground between hate and equality.
In May 2019, staff at the Leander Library planned to host a Drag Queen Story Time, featuring local performers reading inclusive stories. When news spread and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric began, the event was suddenly cancelled. A local church stepped in and rented the annex at the library to continue the event, later announcing that it was no longer Drag Queen Story Time, and instead a family Pride festival.
Article: Washington Post
A Houston-based anti-LGBTQ hate group recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center planned a protest, along with various local residents who embraced their rhetoric. This spurred a protest to the protest.
Beyond bigoted rhetoric, there were also credible threats of violence. Some threatened to bring guns, and at least one suggested that citizens who might choose to attend could be harmed or even killed.
Article: Hill Country News
Article: Hill Country News
In the end, Leander had three moms peacefully reading books with inclusive families to a room full of inclusive families. While the day was mostly uneventful, it was notable how forcefully anti-LGBTQ forces seemed to mobilize. Protesters included City Council members from neighboring Cedar Park, including Dorian Chavez (later voted out of office, but now running for Cedar Park Place 1), along with the hate group.
Author Cancellation & Removal of Services
While some may have hoped this was an unfortunate mistake and not about local leaders being anti-LGBTQ, a well-known author’s event was cancelled shortly thereafter with no explanation, just hours after Leander City Council members were told she was a transgender woman.
At the next meeting, City Council received a summary of police costs associated with the Pride event, considered changes to library rules, and heard public comment about the author’s cancellation. Someone at City Hall — it was never clear who — made the decision to stop allowing library room rentals at the library. And while there was no City Council vote to close the rooms, no one at the city was willing to reopen them without a vote. The city recommended a new policy that would require a renter to explain the event they wanted to hold, so an unspecified fee could be assessed for security if the event was deemed “controversial.”
If you’re thinking, “That sounds discriminatory,” you’re right. The Council postponed their vote on the new policy when the ACLU, American Library Association, and Texas Library Association all chimed in about the discriminatory approach.
When Council brought it back for a vote, the Austin-based anti-LGBTQ lobbying organization Texas Values showed up to disparage the American Library Association and the LBGTQ community. And the vast majority of City Council voted to stop room rentals altogether rather than allowing content they didn’t agree with.
That would seem like the end; but it’s not. Leander residents started speaking up at council meetings about how they felt marginalized and unwelcome. A few weeks later, Council voted to remove public comments about items that aren’t on the agenda.
Throughout this process, residents wanted answers, so the city received a host of open records requests. They’re required by law to fulfill those requests, but they voted to charge a fee, making them less accessible.
And after some of the controversy had died down, Leander’s long-time library director, who did nothing wrong, was forced out.
So, in response to anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from certain residents and outside hate groups and lobbyist firms about content they disagreed with, our leaders — including Leander Mayor Troy Hill, who is now running for re-election to his current office — cancelled events and eliminated citizens’ rights to rent space our taxes pay for, speak to them on topics we care about, and request records that legally belong to us, unless we pay for them. Read more about the series of events here.
Point of View on Inclusion & Diversity
It doesn’t end there. In 2020, a separate group of residents seeking to inform and educate the City of Leander and the public and make our community more inclusive brought forth a proposal to launch a Diversity & Inclusion council, only to face a targeted fearmongering campaign.
Some of the same hateful residents and special interest groups from before showed up to speak out against the proposal, and even as local incidents of racism were reported the same week, a majority of council members rejected the proposal by a vote of 6 to 1. Leander council member and candidate for mayor Christine Sederquist was the one supporting vote.
See how 2022 candidates Kathryn Pantalion-Parker and Chris Czernek responded during this 2020 meeting and to the 2022 Leander Pride Proclamation.
2021 Candidate for Leander Place 2, Mike Sanders, was not on council at the time, but spoke during the same meeting, and has repeated his point of view.
As everyone announced their candidacies for this election, we wanted to hear from them directly, and we reached out to all candidates to ask for their views on inclusion and diversity in their own words. Some of them — including Mayor and candidate Troy Hill, Council Member and candidate for Place 6 Marci Cannon, and candidate for Place 2 Mike Sanders — didn’t care enough to respond. Watch our Leander Candidate Videos to see who did.
Financial Support from Hatemongers
While all of this was happening, vitriol and hate continued to spread online, under the guise of “uncensored” conversation in Leander and Cedar Park. It festered and fostered even more racist and bigoted content, supported by individuals who not only provide a space for it but also contribute to and advance the conversations.
We’re disgusted. And appalled.
And astonished that as these conversations continued to grow worse over time, we hoped to see candidates distance themselves from individuals engaged in the discussions.
We were wrong.
In the financial reports each Leander candidate filed in April, reports show that the Leander Mayor and 4 Leander City Council candidates (Hill, Sanders, Sponseller, Mahan, and Cannon), as well as 2 City Council candidates in Cedar Park (Chavez and Chavez) have accepted funding in the current race from the person spreading this cancerous hate.
Source: Financial records for Hill
Source: Financial records Sanders
Source: Financial records for Sponseller
Source: Financial records for Mahan
Source: Financial records for Cannon
In case that’s unclear, someone who has hosted and contributed to conversations about running over protesters, hunting people, and white people being enslaved has $15,000 in the Leander and Cedar Park races. Right now.
Update: Pitts increases funding
Third financial reports are out and show that Pitts donated an additional $5,000 to Mike Sanders in the runoff election.
Source: Third report for Mike Sanders
See what financial support 2022 candidate David McDonald has received from Pitts.
All of those candidates accepted his funding in this campaign. So, when you see their signs around town, remember who helped pay for them. When you hear them talk about representing all residents, consider what they might think about some residents.
If any candidate wants to come forward today and claim ignorance of this hatred after everything we’ve seen in the last 2 years, we’d like to see them return the funds they received in this campaign, publicly apologize to residents, and commit to not accepting funding from or associating with individuals who advance racist or bigoted speech, actions, or behaviors.
That would be the decent, human thing to do. But we still don’t think they deserve your vote.
Anti-Inclusion & Diversity PAC Endorsement
Everything comes full circle. The Austin-based lobbyist firm and Political Action Committee Texas Values inserted themselves in Leander issues way back at the Library. And they continue to fight inclusion efforts across the entire state of Texas, from Austin and Leander to Mansfield and Carroll ISD.
While they claim to protect freedom, they instead advocate for specific religious beliefs and education standards “free of LGBTQ ideology,” pushing hateful rhetoric in an ongoing effort to direct state funds away from public schools.
They use these anti-LGBTQ actions to fundraise, and invest in fighting additional battles against inclusion and diversity and the elimination of bigotry and racism.
Source: NBC News
Source: Texas Values
The same organization is here in Leander and Cedar Park, speaking out against inclusion efforts at our City Council and School Board meetings.
Current candidates, including Leander Mayor and Cedar Park Council Place 1 and 3 candidates Dorian and Claudia Chavez, are celebrating their endorsements.
Others who continue to support and engage with them will be running for office in 2022. Please consider this when you vote, and choose wisely.
These are a few of the reasons we prioritized the IDEAL candidate endorsements we did for the May 2021 elections.
We hope you support IDEAL candidates, too.
After losing his election, former Leander Mayor Troy Hill spent the last few minutes of his term talking about how he “hates partisan politics,” people “shouldn’t say the stuff that gets said during campaigns” and people should “be neighborly” and not be an “a-hole.”
His grandstanding was short-lived, because he later published a post that included a a rumor and racist dog whistles questioning the patriotism and commitment of the women running for Place 2 and Place 4 in the Leander runoff election. While his digs attacked both women, they were particularly focused on Nacole Thompson. As illustrated above, both the former mayor and the other candidates for Place 2 and 4 received funding from an individual spreading hate and racism in our community.
Update: We removed the mayor and successfully elected Nacole Thompson and Esmeralda Traube as our next council members! THANK YOU to everyone who helped spread the word about their campaigns and let your Leander friends know how much their vote matters, and thank you all for getting out to the polls to VOTE!
NOTE: This page highlights information for last year’s election cycle, but it’s still important to read and understand because the forces that worked against equity and inclusion in May 2021 are still at play this year and they’re backing candidates in Leander and Cedar Park. Once you’ve read through, please head over to our new May 2022 Voter Guides and vote on Saturday, May 7.