During the 2023 legislative session, which begins in January, we’ll be taking a close look at the notable bills—as well as the silly ones—that come under the consideration of the august bodies that make up our state government to help you understand what your lawmakers are spending their time on. 

The bills: House Bill 714, House Joint Resolution 50

Filed by: Jared Patterson, Republican, District 106 (Frisco)

As a backbencher in the Legislature, you face some difficult choices about how to spend your time. You can accept your irrelevance and focus on the finer things that come with being a state legislator, such as enjoying a life of luxury paid for by your campaign accounts or getting folks to address you as “the Honorable.” Or you can put your head down and embrace the drudgery of lawmaking—committee work and hustling votes—and hope to eventually claw your way into power. Or, in this age of social media, you can try a shortcut: you can build a name for yourself by posting and trolling and desperately crying out for attention by any means necessary. If it worked for U.S. senator Ted Cruz and Congresswomen Marjorie Taylor Greene and Tulsi Gabbard, and for Jonathan Stickland in the Texas House, why can’t it work for Jared Patterson, a two-term self-described “full-spectrum conservative” best known for his campaign to remove books from school libraries in his district?

Patterson has already been featured in our Lege Watch series once, for legislation that would, presumably unintentionally, criminalize community theater. Now he’s back, with HB 714 and a related proposed constitutional amendment that would abolish the city of Austin and replace it with a “District of Austin.” Do the citizens of the nation’s eleventh-most populous city want taxation without local representation? Irrelevant! Patterson, who lives 220 miles away in the North Texas burbs, would let a majority of the state’s voters decide Austin’s fate. On November 7, 2023, voters across the state would decide whether the nearly one million residents of the capital city should be stripped of the right to elect their local officials. If the good folks of Muleshoe and White Settlement and Frisco agreed with Patterson, Austinites would then, as of January 1, 2024, be “governed by a governing officer or governing body as provided by the legislature.” 

The closest parallel to what Patterson’s proposing is probably Washington, D.C., which has an elected mayor and city council whose decisions Congress can overrule by authority of the U.S. Constitution. But given that the “governing officer or governing body” of Patterson’s People’s Republic of Austin would be appointed by the Legislature and subject to its oversight, perhaps the better analogue is a soviet—a USSR-style committee of appointed state apparatchiks.

This District of Austin soviet would not necessarily wield absolute authority over its subjects. Under the terms of Patterson’s legislation, the famously competent Lege would retain the power to repeal the governing officer’s policies and write its own local laws for the city. In other words, Patterson and his buddies in the Lege would turn Austin into a colony of the state, a democracy-free zone controlled by folks who don’t know the Hole in the Wall from holes in their heads and think the Chili’s at 45th and Lamar has the best food in town. Perhaps Patterson could become viceroy of the DoA. He could turn his hotel room at the DoubleTree, where he lived last session, into city hall, hearing zoning cases late into the night from the comfort of his bed. If he’s lucky, one of Austin’s innumerable gadflies—the lady who sings about her underwear, or the guy who says he lands his spaceship on the roof of city hall—will rap at him. 

The bill, of course, isn’t a serious proposal. But Austin-bashing at the Capitol is a time-worn tradition. Every other year, 181 legislators—mostly Republicans—descend on the capital city for five months or so. They enjoy Austin’s restaurants and bars, its vibrant nightlife, and it boomtown vibes. They spend freely from their campaign accounts, living out of hotels and condos, taking Ubers all over town, and sometimes getting into scandalous mischief away from the prying eyes of constituents and spouses. Then, some of these same politicians perform for their constituents back home by inveighing against their host city as a burned-out Gomorrah, a San Francisco on the Colorado that’s one liberal policy away from sinking into the pits of hell. Some go further. They file legislation attacking decisions they disagree with. Remember the great plastic-bag debate of 2017? Or the efforts last session to preempt the city council’s ability to set noise ordinances and to rename an Interstate 35 overpass the (Mayor) Steve Adler Public Restroom? But few lawmakers propose scrapping local democracy altogether just because they got aggressively panhandled on Congress Avenue.

Patterson’s troll is not an original one. Briscoe Cain, Patterson’s much campier counterpart from the Houston suburbs, filed the same legislation in 2021. The proposal never got a hearing, and Patterson’s version is unlikely to do so this year. Most Austinites are treating Patterson like they treat other Aggies obsessed with Austin: they’re ignoring him.