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When John Courage ran for City Council in 2017, he promised to represent his North Side district not as an ideologue, but as someone committed to serving the needs of his constituents.Courage kept his promise, which might explain how this lifelong Democrat defied political gravity and won a second term in San Antonio’s most conservative council district, the only one Donald Trump carried in November’s presidential election.
“It is a conservative district, no doubt about it,” Courage told me four years ago, when he was one of 10 candidates for an open seat in District 9. “But when it comes to city politics, I don’t think the nature of the conservatism is the same.
“Is there a Republican or Democratic way of filling in a pothole?”
Of course, the answer to that question is no. As Courage reaches the final lap of his bid for a third council term, however, his most formidable opponent is recycling the old District 9 playbook against Courage: branding him as a leftist radical out of step with his district.
The campaign of Patrick Von Dohlen, a financial planner and devout culture war conservative, has been circulating a particularly virulent anti-Courage door hanger in neighborhoods across the district.
In large type, the ad proclaims, “John Courage: Your socialist neighbor in District 9.”
Putting aside the fact that Courage has never defined himself as a socialist and has never advocated government control of our economy’s means of production, Von Dohlen’s case is remarkably weak.
For example, Von Dohlen cites Courage’s vote in favor of the council’s move to “equity budgeting” for fiscal year 2018.
Keep in mind that every single member of the council voted in favor of that budget, including Greg Brockhouse, the leading municipal voice for San Antonio conservatives in recent years.
That budget was a thoroughly logical acknowledgment of the fact that when it came to infrastructure, pockets of this community had been shortchanged for decades.
The 2018 budget did not take a dime of street maintenance money away from any districts. It simply added $35 million in leftover funds from previous bond projects and divided that money among five districts — 1, 2, 3, 5 and 10 — with the worst roads.
A Von Dohlen campaign representative I spoke with Friday derided the equity budgeting move as “reallocation” and said reallocation is synonymous with socialism.
For one thing, you can’t “reallocate” funds you never had before. For another, when Ronald Reagan reallocated funds from domestic programs to the military budget, did that make him a socialist?
The Von Dohlen door hanger also looks for proof of Courage’s socialist leanings in his willingness to raise a fist last June during a council moment of silence for local African Americans killed in police shootings.
Every single member of the council, with the exception of Clayton Perry, either silently raised a fist or took a knee in that moment. To Von Dohlen, however, Courage’s participation meant the endorsement of a “radical Marxist group seeking to defund SAPD.”
When I talked to Courage on Friday, he said this: “I believe Black lives matter. I believed that long before I was a councilman, I believe it now, and I’m going to believe it in the future. And that’s why I raised my fist. It wasn’t to show that I was committed to the ideal of any organization that’s out there.”
Courage called the socialist label “just a red herring, just something that somebody throws out there.”
Von Dohlen also makes a big deal of the fact that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, endorsed Courage’s candidacy in 2017.
Courage didn’t seek out the Sanders’ endorsement. And getting endorsed by someone doesn’t mean you agree with them on everything.
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke endorsed Donald Trump for president in 2016 and 2020. Would Von Dohlen therefore define Trump as a KKK sympathizer?
Courage’s two terms in office have been marked by a willingness to communicate with neighborhood groups and address their concerns.
His big causes — such as his recent persistent push to establish a one-stop portal for scheduling COVID-19 vaccinations — largely have been about solving problems, not scoring ideological points.
If there is an extremist in the District 9 race, it is Von Dohlen, not Courage.
Von Dohlen and his San Antonio Family Association have championed gay conversion therapy and a failed 2017 Texas bathroom bill targeting transgender individuals. They have described the city’s participation in a federally funded, voluntary teen contraception program as “chemical abortion.”
“Von Dohlen is really, really conservative and focuses on those culture war issues so much,” Courage said. “I think he’d create more problems on the council than the city deserves.”
He’s already creating enough problems as a candidate.
[email protected] | Twitter: @gilgamesh470
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