To her colleagues, she’s undermining city policies. To her supporters, she’s the last voice they have left.
Austin City Council Member Ellen Troxclair moved through a crowd of revelers at a Circle C Community Center Family Fun Night on a recent spring evening, shaking hands and making introductions, then went inside to take questions about an upcoming transportation bond.
Jim Schaffrath, a 20-year resident of the area, raised his hand. What could the people of southwestern Austin do to push back against its liberal city leadership, spending money worse than drunken sailors, he said, on everything except highway expansion?
“You’re Joan of Arc against these idiots,” he told Troxclair.
Troxclair’s red role in blue Austin’s council discussions once seemed like a softer, kinder backup act to the caustic Don Zimmerman. Now, with Zimmerman and fiscally conservative Sheri Gallo both ousted from the City Council in favor of progressives in November, the trio is down to one.
And Troxclair is embracing her role as Austin’s Last Conservative Standing.
She’s speaking up more often, driven at least partially by a sense of responsibility to voice the viewpoint of the right, she said. Meanwhile, tensions between Troxclair and her colleagues have never been higher. As Austin pushes back against threats from the Legislature and the Trump administration, some council members see her as a sort of double agent working against them.
“Erosion of a relationship”
Troxclair, a Realtor and former aide to state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, won election with the narrowest margin of the 2014 council races. Though the council is nonpartisan, the body’s first district-based races allowed more geographic, ideological and racial diversity on the council. Troxclair, 32, is the second-youngest council member and had her first child, daughter Juliette, last year.
In some ways, this year positioned Troxclair to make progress on conservative causes with a different approach than the controversial, antagonistic Zimmerman. An “affordability action plan” she championed drew four co-sponsors, including Mayor Steve Adler — greater than the support some of its individual provisions received in past years.
The measure ultimately failed by one vote. Meanwhile, her relationship with other council members is getting chillier.
“The tone on council has changed since the national election, and that’s made it, personally, more difficult for me,” she said. “I valued and enjoyed the personal relationships I was able to build with other council members during my first two years in office, and I’d like to continue to maintain them, but it’s been more challenging.”
Other council members and their staffs privately acknowledged increasing tensions with Troxclair, but pointed to state, not national, politics as the reason. Troxclair recently testified in favor of measures in the Legislature to cap city property tax increases and to overturn Austin policies on ride-hailing services and short-term rentals.
“What really has caused any erosion of a relationship was her going to the Legislature and basically speaking to undermine city policies,” veteran political consultant David Butts said. “There has been a decline in appreciation of Ms. Troxclair amongst her council colleagues.”
Council Members Kathie Tovo, Ann Kitchen and Leslie Pool all publicly criticized Troxclair during a council workshop this month.
“I have been on the end of some losing votes on some issues I really cared about,” Tovo said. “And I responded to those by sometimes reintroducing the discussion. … What I didn’t do at any point is go down to the Legislature and ask another governing body to undo the work that we, the duly elected leaders of this community, have done.”
Troxclair defended her advocacy, then and more recently, as representing her constituents and her values.
“Local control is only valuable as a tool when it’s protecting individual liberty,” she said last week.
There’s much speculation about whether Troxclair will run for higher office, but she hasn’t publicly said whether she aspires to a statewide role. Her council seat will come up for another election next year and, in the meantime, her fundraising is ongoing and news releases frequent.
Not the “silent no vote”
Troxclair often pushes back against her colleagues’ use of generalizations like “the spirit of Austin” or “Austin values” with arguments that Austin is more ideologically diverse than it often seems at City Hall.
“I feel sometimes that maybe the other council members don’t believe that there are real people giving me this feedback,” she told Schaffrath, the angry constituent at the transportation bond discussion.
In February, she clashed in a high-profile exchange with Council Member Greg Casar over giving city funds to aid immigrants. Troxclair said people concerned about immigration feel like their quality of life is threatened, drawing a fiery defense from Casar that left Troxclair in tears on the dais.
Troxclair spent the rest of the day retweeting encouragement from her supporters and, the next day, tweeted a link to her fundraising website. Now, she’s tired of talking about it.
“It’s not productive,” she said. “The reason I spoke up about it was because there was a constituent who emailed me and said, ‘I don’t want you to be a silent no vote.’”
That role extends even to seemingly nonpartisan issues. At Thursday’s council meeting, she pulled an item designating a children’s lemonade sale day from the noncontroversial consent agenda in order to discuss it.
“I hope that we will have many young entrepreneurs setting up lemonade stands on Lemonade Day, but I couldn’t let the opportunity go by without pointing out how silly it is that we have to have one specific day when kids are allowed to have a lemonade stand — and the reason for that is we have so many requirements and fees,” she said, listing some of them.
“It’s good to hear you’re supportive of this,” the mayor responded wryly. “I thought somebody was about to turn lemonade into lemons.”