Saturday, November 15, 2014

Yard Sign Politics in Austin's District 8: An Interpretation of Aesthetics

I am fascinated by the District 8 candidates’ yard signs and what they say about the individuals running. Or at least how I interpret what the signs say about the two candidates.

Here, then, what District 8 constituents might expect from council members Ed Scruggs or Ellen Troxclair based on this (wholly unscientific) aesthetic interpretation of their yard signs.

Ed Scruggs District 8 Yard Sign

Scruggs’ yard sign plays up his environment activism with a vengeance. The green and white sign (or white and green in the reversed version) with its single tree leaves ample empty space — breathing room in an uncluttered countryside. The man’s a tree hugger and proud of it. The sign says, in calming color: Elect Scruggs to preserve the land and, by extension, some semblance of the Austin of yore that has attracted so many people from so many corners of the U.S. so recently. The campaign looks forward by looking back. Scruggs’ candidacy hearkens back to those halcyon days when the Save Our Springs Alliance battled Freeport McMoran, Boss Todd and the rabid desire for the unrestrained development of Austin, especially the Barton Creek aquifer. The fight was a sometimes successful, mostly quixotic effort to keep Austin undeveloped. In the new Austin the fight will be similar: Find solutions to traffic gridlock that are not solely reliant on new roads like the SH 45; continue to restrain unrestricted growth in SW Austin through thoughtful planning processes; think green in the city’s energy policy. Overall the sign is a call to defend the land to maintain this gateway to the Texas Hill Country for generations to come.

Ellen Troxclair District 8 Yard Sign

Troxclair’s sign offers a modern vision of a burgeoning downtown, full of buildings crowding each other — there’s not an open space, let alone a tree, in sight. Everything has been developed, all paved. Even the kerning of the characters in her name is, like her downtown high rises, massive and compressed tightly (versus Scruggs' looser character spacing that offers the breathability of a pair of broken-in mom jeans).  In terms of color, the sign echoes the blues, white and black of the S.O.S. Alliance logo — a cruel irony when there’s not an inch of the environment left undeveloped in her sign. Troxclair, a self-proclaimed business woman and, presumably, the voice of business, gives us a sign that touts the city’s growth and expansion. The silhouette in the sign is recognizably Austin because of the Capitol and the building at 111 Congress, but it is not a true silhouette. What would lead the candidate to accept a bastardized view of her hometown's downtown? Could it be that she cannot deal with reality if it doesn’t adhere to her desired worldview? If Austin’s skyline doesn’t suit the sign then change the skyline.


Scruggs sign appeals directly to his potential constituents by naming his district on his sign. Troxclair just wants to get onto the city council (and then into the legislature) so it doesn’t matter from where. People who want power just want power. In Troxclair's sign the salient silhouette is of a skinny Capitol building, where this pol works as chief of staff for one of the Texas House’s Tea Party darlings. Her focus then is on issues that aren’t necessarily the same as those of her potential constituents. She has the statehouse in her sights; District 8 is but a stepping stone on her march to the Texas legislature. How committed can Troxclair be to her constituents in her district when she has a yard sign with an image that has nothing to do with District 8? Or maybe Scruggs’ tree is just wishful thinking now that they’re tearing up the trees to pave HWY 290 around William Cannon and the Y in Oak Hill. Is that his fate, too? One more old, established neighborhood-friendly advocate to be chopped down to accelerate the paving of SW Austin.

Last: Both candidates’ names are printed in relation to a horizontal rule drawn on their respective yard signs. Scruggs’ name floats above the rule. Does that mean he’s above the fray? Is he willing to get down and dirty and campaign hard for this seat on city council? Ah, but wait: The tails of both “g”s in his name fall below the line. Just as the roots of a tree, Scruggs is connected to the earth even though most of his name floats above it. His feet are firmly on the ground. Even if his candidacy is pie-in-the-sky, he’s aware of the need to connect to the district he represents. Troxclair’s first name becomes the horizontal rule from which her fictitious downtown Austin skyline rises. She is the earth, the foundation of the city. Without her there would be nothing. Imagine that attitude on the dais at city council. Or maybe the rule, in aquamarine, represents Lady Bird Lake, on the banks of which stands the solid concrete jungle. In that interpretation her name, Ellen, is the source of the neat straight line: She would control the flow — control being her primary concern. Control the image of downtown, control the water that flows past it, control her constituents, and not necessarily with their best interests in mind. But that’s okay, because like the modern Texas conservative movement she's aligned with, and as her sign suggests, she knows best. 

Is Scruggs too earthy-crunchy for you? Ask yourself this: Did you move to Austin (or SW Austin, specifically) because you were attracted to the pavement and can’t wait for developers to churn more land into asphalt in your neighborhood? Or did you relocate to SW Austin because you are drawn to the open green spaces of this most beautiful part of our most beautiful city and would like your children to grow up with plentiful parks, preserves and unpolluted waterways in abundance?

If you're interested in learning more about the candidates, here are links to the Troxclair and Scruggs candidates' pages. Go learn! And go vote: Early voting starts December 1 and election day is Tuesday, December 16.