Meet Nnamdi

ENTREPRENEURIAL LEADERSHIP.

A native of Brooklyn, I arrived in Austin 6 1/2 years ago to join Dell Inc as Chief of Staff to Chairman & CEO Michael Dell.  My passion for technology and business, and the opportunity to work for an entrepreneurial icon, made moving to Austin an easy decision.  I decided to stay, launch my own tech startup, and lay down roots in East Austin.

I chose to live in East Austin because it feels like home. I was raised Catholic, the child of working class immigrants, in Spike Lee’s Brooklyn.  As a young child, there was no diversity in my neighborhood.  Mostly everyone was black, and either working class or poor. People from Brooklyn were hard working and proud of the borough’s history and music and culture, even as the world viewed Brooklyn as a very scary and dangerous place. Over the last decade or so, Brooklyn has become cool. My parents have owned the same home in Brooklyn for almost 50 years as Brooklyn gentrified around them. The parallels to East Austin are remarkable.  I am proud to call East Austin my home.

My parents placed a heavy emphasis on education as the path to success. They were fierce advocates in making sure I had access to academic opportunities kids from my neighborhood didn’t typically have.  Money was tight but they sacrificed to send me to the neighborhood Catholic elementary school, rather than my underfunded public school. For middle school, my father moved me to a public school in a better-off neighborhood.  A teacher there saw something in me, and recommended me for a non-profit program that facilitates scholarships and preparatory classes for students of color to attend New York City’s best private high schools.  My mother rode with me on the subway twice a week after work to Manhattan–still in her nursing uniform–to get me to these classes. This was the first time I had ever been to Manhattan.

It all worked out for me. I graduated from Harvard University with a major in Government and from Wharton with an MBA in Finance. However, not every inner-city kid will have the parental support, luck, non-profit programs, scholarship funding and passionate teachers I needed to overcome underfunded public schools. I will fight to properly fund and fix Texas’ public schools, particularly the ones in poorer school districts. I care deeply about education. My daughter attends Austin ISD schools in East Austin (Kealing & LASA @ LBJ).

Over a twenty-year business career, I have worked at senior levels at some of the largest, most complex technology companies in the world.  My focus has always been to ignite entrepreneurial change within large, traditional tech companies.  In this pursuit, I have lived and worked in the US, Europe and Africa. I have learned the best way to implement change from within is to understand an organization’s priorities and closely examine its budget. I know how to navigate my way around big, zero-sum, complex budgets.  I will work to ensure that the priorities of District 46 are better reflected in the State budget.  Better funding for education, better funding for healthcare, better human services and programs to support small businesses.

Technology firms, and specifically technology startups, are critical to Austin’s future.  I started my technology firm in Austin because this city has the right skills, the right infrastructure and right policies for technology firms to thrive.  I can help represent Austin’s technology interests in the State Legislature. Today, there is no single Committee in the Texas House or Senate dedicated to technology.  This must change. Technology is critical to Texas’ economic growth and every facet of the legislature’s work is heavily influenced by trends in technology. I also want to ensure that more people from District 46 participate in Austin’s technology fueled economic growth.

I am a father of 2 children, ages 19 and 14.  I like to run, bike, play golf, watch football and binge-watch almost anything on HBO. I don’t go to church as often as I should but when I do I go to Our Lady of Guadalupe on 9th. I love learning new languages. I am learning Spanish at Austin Community College.

15,000 Jobs

15,000 Jobs

I have made “15,000 jobs” one of the central platforms for my campaign because broad economic participation of HD46 in Austin’s economic boom is the fastest and most impactful way to address many of the issues HD46 faces. Gentrification, criminal justice reform, education, transportation, healthcare – – to varying degrees HD46 would be better off on all these issues if historic residents were employed, in better paying jobs, with better benefits, and in careers with greater growth potential.

HD46 needs new, good wage jobs in East Austin that historic residents are either skilled to do or can be quickly trained to do. These new jobs in HD46 will do four important things: 1) it will generate significant new household income in the community, 2) this increase in income can be used to pay real estate taxes and other financial burdens that have in the past caused historic residents to sell their homes to speculators/developers, 3) the power imbalance between historic residents and developers will level off, putting residents in a better position to fight for their homes, and 4) East Austin will become more attractive to young professionals of color and their families that move to Austin.

Why 15,000?

I believe about 15,000 new jobs for historic HD46 residents, in a district of ~180,000 people, would align HD46’s economic participation roughly with the rest of the city.

Using food stamps as a proxy for poverty, 21% of HD46 households receive food stamps, 30.3% of HD46 Black households receive food stamps and 30.2% of HD46 Hispanic households receive food stamps. All this compares to 10.3% for Austin households overall (source). We can fix this.

How will you accomplish this?

  • Recruit employers (both small businesses and big corporations) to East Austin: Negotiate terms that demand community investment in youth, transportation, jobs for those in need etc
  • Affordable housing: The people who work in those 15,000 jobs need to be able to stay in their community
  • Business apprenticeships / Corporate mentorships for members of the community
  • Community engagement & governance in all levels of the process
Independent

Independent?

Please read my press release below describing why, as a lifelong Democrat, I choose to run in this HD46 race as an Independent Candidate.

Policy

Policy.

When considering policy, I think of Texas as one big family where we care about and look out for one another. While not a perfect analogy, this framework provides a starting point for thinking about policy that is grounded in core family values–kindness, compassion, and protecting one another. No matter your political affiliation, I believe these are values all Texans share.

It is fair to say that, as Texans, we are a very wealthy family.  Our 2015 GDP was $1.6T and our “rainy day” fund has $10B (after Fall 2016 transfer). By these two measures, an argument can be made we are the richest state in America. Amazingly, we amassed this wealth without collecting a state income tax and while rejecting federal Medicaid expansion funding that would have brought Texas ~$100B over the next ten years.  Using the family analogy, our parents make a ton of money every year (GDP), have a boatload saved up in the bank (“rainy day”), turn away money when they don’t like the politics of the giver (Medicaid expansion) and for the most part, don’t always have their hands in our pockets (no state income taxes). Mom and Dad are really rich.

For such a wealthy state,  Texas spends significantly less than other states on education. We rank 43rd among all states on education spending per student. We can do better.

Texas’ children deserve a real shot at competing for the spoils of an increasingly global marketplace for talent.   Advances in technology and automation are accelerating.  Across all industries, there will almost certainly be fewer well-paying jobs in the future that will require knowledge workers with more technical skills. In my travels to India, China and Eastern Europe, I observed young, hungry, technical PhD students who have learned English for the primary purpose of doing highly technical work for western companies at a fraction of the US worker rate. They are only an internet connection away.

Surely, companies would still come to Texas with fewer corporate tax incentives. A smaller “rainy day” fund of $8B or $7B would still provide an ample security blanket. Let’s take a small fraction of our states’ wealth and improve the public education of our children. We must also fund Texas higher education, both research and financial aid, in support of our community colleges and universities.

The story is very similar for Healthcare and Child Protective Services.  Texas spends less than half the national average per child on children’s protection and foster care. Foster children are going without critical services. The problems plaguing Child Protective Services have been well-documented in the media.  Additionally, 23% of Texans aged 18-64 have no health insurance.  By some estimates, there are 4.6m uninsured Texans.

I’m all for our government spending less money–if it’s getting the job done.  That is just good fiscal discipline. But when the job is not getting done, as is the case with Healthcare and CPS, we have to fix it.  A big part of the answer is more funding. With regard to healthcare, let us expand Medicaid, accept federal funds and provide health insurance for the neediest among us. 1m uninsured Texans would benefit from Medicaid expansion. I am also currently researching the “Medicaid for All” bill which was passed in the Nevada legislature and whether a strategy like this can help Texans.

The attack on women’s rights has to stop. Just this past week Texas has said they plan to remove Planned Parenthood from the state’s Medicaid program in 30 days. Planned Parenthood clinics provide services to more than 11,000 low-income Texan women each year through the state’s Medicaid program.  This has a very tangible, direct and negative impact on many women right here in District 46 where the poverty rate is 26%.  In both East Austin and North Austin, District 46 relies on Planned Parenthood clinics.  These kinds of policies create real anxiety and fear among women and families that need our help the most.  The maternal mortality rate has doubled in Texas from 2010 to 2014. No other state saw a comparable increase.

I am pro-choice. However, no matter your stance on abortion, it makes no sense whatsoever that low-income women’s access to Planned Parenthood services are in any way different from a middle-income or high-income woman’s access.  This inequality is unacceptable. Professional politicians, both men and women, with excellent private health insurance plans cannot use low-income women as a political football to be kicked around in the Texas abortion debate.

My hope is to bring our collective core values of kindness, caring for one another and protecting one another in alignment with how we spend our great state’s ample resources and how we draft our social policies.

Source / Credit: comptroller.texas.gov; Dallas Morning News 11/26/16; NPR 5/15; The Guardian 12/16

Leadership

Leadership.

To say the least, many of us who live in District 46 are disappointed by our lack of representation in the Texas Legislature these last two sessions.  Our Representative’s dereliction of duty–including not voting or even showing up a large percentage of the time–has been an embarrassment and the very definition of a disservice to us all. Forget gerrymandering or voter suppression laws….as an HD46 community of largely Democrats, we managed to disenfranchise ourselves through a disturbing chain of events and collective failure of leadership.

We collectively failed ourselves. The Travis County Democratic Party’s inability to nurture a viable primary field in 2016 after our State Rep had missed 84% of the votes during the 2015 session was a failure of leadership. So, too, was it a failure of leadership that our district’s best Democrat politicians–many of whom aspired to run in the HD46 primary in March 2016–did not stand up to party protocol and precedent and run against a powerful (but poor- performing) Democratic incumbent. This deference to the incumbent left the voters of HD46 with an uncontested Democratic primary. Democratic Primary voters literally had no ability to vote out an incumbent who had just missed 84% of the votes in the 2015 session. There is no scenario in which our party and our best Democratic politicians should have left the HD46 electorate without a Democratic primary challenger in 2016. Lastly, it was a failure of leadership for the Travis County Democratic Party Chair, when recently questioned, to invoke race as a reason not to encourage our current State Rep to resign.     

All of this leads me to conclude we need more choices and new voices of leadership in the Democratic race for HD46 State Representative. As President Obama famously said,  “If you’re disappointed by your elected officials……run for office yourself.” That is what I am doing. I am one such new choice and new voice. Party precedents and politics as usual are not working for us. We need to be willing to try something else, something new. I have never run for or held any type of political office so I have a lot to learn. That said, I assure you I will show up, I will vote, I will listen and most importantly I will lead.

Gentrification

Gentrification.

The displacement of low-income residents from their neighborhoods as a result of economic development is a problem in our district (particularly in East Austin). It’s more commonly referred to as “gentrification,” and it is an issue I care a lot about. Economic development is critical to the future of our city, but when unchecked it can have negative unintended consequences on the environment and on long-time, often low-income residents.

From an environmental perspective, as Austinites, we are comfortable requiring developers to protect “heritage trees” by city ordinance. The sight of the makeshift fences that developers put around the perimeter of heritage trees before starting construction is fairly common. As a city, we insist upon this protection for heritage trees because we like them, they add to the beauty of our community, and we respect the fact that the trees have been there for decades. We want economic development, but not at the expense of our trees. Much as we ensure that economic development does not damage heritage trees, we must at least do the same for long-time residents and families of HD46. Through policy, we need to put a “protective fence” around long-time residents of gentrifying neighborhoods. I will do everything I can to make this happen.

While Austin’s mayor and City Council are at the forefront of addressing gentrification, I am running for State Representative because this issue–in today’s political climate–requires state-level support. State Representatives who represent districts with gentrifying neighborhoods must partner closely with local Austin leaders.

Two good examples of such partnership on gentrification was HB3281 in 2017, authored by Eddie Rodriguez (AustinHD51), and HB525 in 2005, authored by Eddie Rodriguez (AustinHD51) and joint authored by our current HD46 rep Dawnna Dukes.

  • Back in 2005, HB525 created a state law that allowed the City of Austin to establish “homestead preservation districts” in gentrifying neighborhoods and generate tax dollars to build affordable housing in that same district.  While I have been critical of Rep. Dukes recent performance, she must be commended for her 2005 support of HB525 and Rep. Rodriguez. To date, Austin City Council has only created one such “homestead preservation district” (in East Austin). This is where I live. I am the only candidate for HD46 that lives in the homestead preservation district. As a relative newcomer to East Austin, I am happy that a portion of my tax dollars are going towards affordable housing in my neighborhood. All of my neighbors that I have spoken to, both newcomers and long-time residents, agree.
  • In 2017, HB3281 would have given the City of Austin the ability to create three new “homestead preservation districts”. While this bill was passed by the legislature but ultimately vetoed by the Governor, I wholeheartedly support the effort, ideas and commitment to address gentrification that led to its filing. Our City Council and so many local community leaders are working hard to improve our neighborhoods. Rep. Rodriguez and Sen. Watson (who sponsored the bill in the Senate) were critical in giving the City of Austin space within state law to do their good work.  Given that the only homestead preservation district in Austin is in HD46, it is disappointing and surprising that our HD46 state rep did not author, joint author or otherwise vocally support or oppose HB3281. Whoever we elect next in HD46 needs to be working hand-in-hand with Rep. Rodriguez and Sen. Watson on bills like HB3281. If elected, I assure you I will.

As an aside, much of the public discourse around why affordable housing is so difficult to accomplish centers around the conflict of interest when elected officials accept campaign contributions from developers. I pledge to not take any campaign funds from developers. I challenge the other candidates in HD46 to do the same.

From an accountability standpoint, please click here to review the campaign finance report for me and the other HD46 candidates.

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