Elections 2022Local NewsPolice Unions Divide Republican Candidates in Hill Country District

Justin Berry has accused his opponent, Ellen Troxclair, of pining for the elimination of police unions due to a statement she made in a forum about all unions' influence over the state legislature.
February 22, 2022
Eight months ago, Justin Berry and Ellen Troxclair joined Save Austin Now at its press conference announcing a ballot initiative to set a minimum staffing level at the Austin Police Department (APD).

The pair stood next to one another voicing support for a police funding restoration effort, and were soon to be running as a kind of ticket, with Berry in House District (HD) 47 and Troxclair in Senate District 24. 

Now, they stand opposite in a heated political fight for HD 19 — after redistricting threw a wrench in their plans.

Berry, an Austin police officer, was among those officers indicted last week for aggravated assault charges by progressive Travis County District Attorney José Garza.

The indictments stem from “abuse of force” allegations for incidents that occurred during the May 2020 protests-turned-riots. Various individuals in the crowds were struck and injured by less-lethal bean bag rounds that defense attorneys say were defective — a fact they also say the department leadership knew about.

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Berry and the other officers were cleared of any wrongdoing by a department internal investigation, but now a year and a half later Garza has secured grand jury indictments.

The candidate released a statement late last week criticizing the indictment as Garza “keeping [his] deadly promise” to ramp up prosecutions on cops, a pact the district attorney made during his 2020 campaign.

But Berry followed up that rhetorical right hook with a punch aimed at his now-primary opponent, former Austin City Councilwoman Ellen Troxclair.

“My opponent called for the elimination of the police associations which help fund our defense against Garza and other Soros DA witch-hunts,” his statement reads. The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT) is financing part of Berry’s and the other indicted officers’ legal defense.

“My opponent and the Soros DA effectively work together: One frivolously indicts police and the other tries to strip away our ability to defend ourselves in court.”

On February 16, the Protect and Serve Texas (PST) PAC — a committee that’s filing says explicitly that it not only supports Berry but opposes Troxclair — released a statement titled “Joint Statement of First Responder Groups Condemning Ellen Troxclair’s Anti Public Safety Comments.”

The specific comment being criticized by the Berry camp was Troxclair’s answer at a Kendall County GOP Club debate to the question “What regulation or law will be your most important focus for removal in the future?”

“Unions — we think that we live in a world with unions here in Texas, but they’re called, codeword, ‘association’ — and so, every time somebody says ‘endorsed by an association,’ that’s actually a union,” Troxclair said, per video obtained by The Texan.

“Mandatory dues-paying — they have incredible control over our state legislature. Our teachers’ unions, our labor unions, they are holding back freedom.”

Texas is one of 28 “Right to Work” states in the U.S., meaning that employees cannot be required to join the corresponding union, paying its dues, as a prerequisite for employment. Troxclair then went on to call for the elimination of taxpayer-funded lobbying.

“Ellen Troxclair called for the abolition of all first responder associations,” a statement from the PST PAC reads. “This is just further proof of her disdain toward the first responder community. While on the Austin City Council, Mrs. Troxclair turned her back on Austin police.”

Various police associations signed onto the statement including the Austin Police Association PAC, the political action committee for its namesake association with which Berry is a member.

He has the backing of many law enforcement associations across the state as well as a Texas branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees by its council of correctional employees.

“I made no mention of ‘eliminating’ police associations,” Troxclair told The Texan. “What I stated in that debate was in-line with the Republican Party Platform.”

Troxclair then pointed to two planks within the Republican Party of Texas platform that read:

  • “Government Accountability: We call upon the Texas Legislature to eliminate all special collective bargaining statutes for public employees and to hold all public servants accountable to taxpayers through existing civil statutes. We oppose any distribution of taxpayer dollars to unions.”
  • “Unions: We support legislation requiring labor unions to obtain consent of the union member before that member’s dues can be used for political purposes. We oppose card check. Texas should prohibit governmental entities from collecting dues for labor unions through deductions from public employee paychecks. We also encourage the adoption of a National Right to Work Act.”

“I support the reforms outlined in the Republican Party platform regarding unions,” she added.

The criticism of Troxclair’s time on Austin City Council is, in part, a reference to her vote against the December 2017 version of the police labor agreement that included a 9.5 percent pay increase for officers. Months later, Troxclair voted for the final, and current, agreement that gave officers a 7 percent pay increase, still making Austin Police Department (APD) officers the highest paid in the state at the time, and minted the Office of Police Oversight

The Austin Police Association agreed to that plan after the first proposal folded under the weight of pressure from progressive activists who wanted stronger oversight of the department.

Police unions create a tricky balance for Republicans, weighing their often unyielding support for police against their traditional distrust of labor unions.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.