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February 13th, 2008
Commissioners reach compromise on road funding

Senior Correspondent

An extraordinary Tuesday morning at the Hays County commissioners court bled into afternoon before reaching agreement on road funding that half-satisfied the commissioners and didn’t at all satisfy the county judge.

In other words, a compromise.

Commissioners voted, 4-1, to issue $19.5 million in revenue bonds and keep state road projects on track while working for a countywide bond election in November. The dollar amount for revenue bonds resulted from negotiations on the fly between the court’s swing vote, Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe, a San Marcos Democrat, and the legislation’s sponsor, Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton, a Kyle Democrat.

All four commissioners voted in favor, with only Sumter, a Wimberley Democrat, voting in opposition. On a day of court discussion winding through tension and resolution, even the vote contained a stunning anti-climax.

As the clerk called roll, Ingalsbe and Barton, in their turns, voted in favor, then Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley, a San Marcos Republican, cast his vote in favor, thereby clinching the measure. Next up was Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford, a Dripping Springs Democrat, who mostly argued against the motion. Ford thought for a moment, realizing the game was up for now, then voted in favor. Sumter followed by voting against, but a crowd on the edge of its seat all day just hoping for a 3-2 vote burst into applause over 4-1.

If Barton didn’t get everything he wanted, the vote buttressed his confidence that the county will maintain its pass-through financing arrangement with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which wants to award key contracts in May and prefers that money 60 days in advance.

Barton went to Tuesday’s meeting wanting to issue $47 million in revenue bonds, which don’t require voter approval, but offered a single motion asking for $31 million and a November bond election with hopes that the lower figure could deliver a court majority. Barton feared not only that a May election for general obligation bonds would create unacceptable delays for TxDOT, but that the county couldn’t possibly put together a solid May bond election in less than four weeks before the March 10 deadline for calling that vote.

The day’s proceedings drew nearly an overflow crowd to the courtroom, where citizens lined the walls surrounding the chamber’s pew seating. The court spent nearly four hours on the issue, with 21 citizens, consisting mostly of government officials from Buda, Kyle and San Marcos, offering comments for more than an hour. Of the speakers, 19 spoke in favor of going ahead with revenue bonds and two spoke against the proposal.

At times, the crowd turned raucous, as such proceedings go, and Sumter twice banged the gavel to restore order. Most of the citizens’ comments drew robust applause from an audience clearly favoring the revenue bond issue.

However, the day’s events turned on a groan.

Entering Tuesday’s meeting, road advocates supporting Barton’s position figured they could count on Barton and Conley, while those in opposition to revenue bonds figured they could count on Sumter and Ford.

The decision was going to be made by Ingalsbe, who has voted both ways on the pass-through agreement. Furthermore, Ingalsbe suddenly faces a tougher March 4 primary due to anticipated heavy turnout because the Democratic presidential nomination still is undecided as it heads to Texas.

Ingalsbe is opposed by an elderly Celestino Mendez, former president of the San Marcos school board. Kyle’s old-time Democratic operation supports Mendez, remembering that he held together a coalition to integrate local schools five decades ago. Mendez also has support from a muscular cell of Texas State Democrats that helped put Chris Jones on the San Marcos City Council two years ago and almost duplicated the feat with Jude Prather last November.

So, the spotlight, and the pressure, blared on Ingalsbe as the audience hung on her every word. At first, Ingalsbe described the need for road improvements in the county and suggested that the county put its $2 million of interest earnings from the 2001 road bond into keeping work alive on FM 1626.

Then came this from Ingalsbe: “If we move forward with 1626, then there’s no need to have revenue bonds before an election in May.”

The crowd exhaled its disappointment, groaning and murmuring in sufficient volume for Sumter to gavel for order. On those heels, Fords remarks in favor of a May bond election without revenue bonds did little to calm the audience or restore the color to Barton’s face.

Conley then spoke for several minutes, saying he didn’t buy the concept of a May election, especially not after the court’s conduct in a failed bond election for pass-through financing in May 2007. Though Ford and Sumter both protested that they would vigorously support a May election because the present road package is significantly different than the package considered a year ago, Conley was unconvinced.

“We’re putting all the cards on the table,” Conley said. “Do you think it’s wise to cram all (the road issues) in within a couple weeks … If this fails in May, it’s over. You will drive the highways you drive today for a very long time.”

When Barton took his turn, he mentioned that he’d hoped to apply the $2 million of interest earnings from the 2001 bond to SH 21, which was addressed as a side-agreement with TxDOT on the failed 2007 bond and remains an important road for Ingalsbe. Liking that idea, Ingalsbe soon brought revenue bonds back to life when she asked Barton for the absolute minimum figure in revenue bonds he would accept in a friendly amendment to his motion.

Barton had cooked up numerous scenarios, with the low point showing $14.5 million. Sumter tried calling for a vote during the ensuing exchange, but Barton, Ingalsbe and Conley prevailed on her for a short break so they could quickly discuss interim funding options with city officials.

As court returned to session, Ingalsbe proposed an amendment for $19.5 million in revenue bonds. The new arrangement called for $4 million on US 290 (down from $8 million in Barton’s original motion), $1 million for the FM 2001 overpass near Cabela’s (same as the original), $8.5 million for right-of-way acquisition and other preliminary work on Interstate-35 (same as the original), no money for I-35 construction (down from $10 million, though the difference could be covered by Kyle’s pledge to kick in $11 million), $4 million for FM 1626 (same as the original) and a $2 million cushion for contingencies.

Barton considered asking for the vote on $31 million, anyway, but never received a resounding assurance from Ingalsbe that she would follow a failed vote with a motion for $19.5 million, so he accepted the friendly amendment.

“My dear, departed grandmother told me that half a loaf is sometimes better than a full loaf,” Barton said.

Said Ingalsbe, “It’s actually more than half a loaf.”

Sumter said she disliked the provision for $4 million on US 290, saying it would result in half of a road if a bond election fails. Barton drew laughs with his response to Sumter: “If you’ll be my third vote, I’ll go back up to $31 million.”

However, Ford suddenly faced a vote in which she would either take or leave a minimal commitment to US 290 in her precinct and said, “I don’t think TxDOT will leave us with half a road and I will vote accordingly.”

Additionally, Sumter argued that a $19.5 million issue in revenue bonds would boost the property-tax rate by two-thirds of a cent, but Conley countered that the county could just as easily make budget cuts to cover the difference. Barton had argued that every month of delay on the road projects raises their costs 1.5 percent, or $85,000, which is enough to carry the note on a 30-year bond.

With all the haggling over the revenue bond amount, the motion’s provision for a November election sailed through almost as an afterthought. Sumter and Ford brought up the election date, but the other three feigned no interest in discussing it and the votes, by then, were lined up.

In the end, Barton wound up with a little less than half the revenue bonds he wanted and a little more than half of what he asked for. But the larger development, perhaps, was the establishment of a bond election in November instead of May. As the issue came to a close, Sumter appealed for the court to work for a bond victory in November.

“We need time to prepare for the largest bond election in this county’s history,” Conley said.

By the time commissioners account for the pass-through roads and other state roads in the county, it could come to $200 million or more. But now the court has breathing room for that decision.

BILL PETERSON is editor of where this story was originally published. It is published here through a news partnership with

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0 thoughts on “Commissioners reach compromise on road funding

  1. How is that a compromise?

    The only thing compromised is the will of the people who already stated in the last election that they did NOT want road bonds, which would initiate a barrage of property tax increases throughout the county.

    What the 4 commissioners did is close to illegal!

    Why hold county elections at all if how the people vote means NOTHING to commissioners.

    Jeff Barton is an outrage! He performed an “end around” what was voted on and then bullied Commissioners Ingalsbe and Ford into submission.

    Many taxpayers in Barton’s district are happy because roads will get built; however, few of them really comprehend the enormous taxes they will be paying and how much will be added every year or two for these projects to continue until completed.

    All I can say is that it’s a damn shame.

    I congratulate Judge Sumter on her resolve to do the right thing for the Hays County community instead of for Barton and Conley and their wealthy special interests, who now will become more wealthy.

    Voters would be smart to get rid of the “Fabulous Four” in the next several elections. Conley and Ingalsbe are up for reelection this November.

    Barton and Ford will be in the following year, 2009.

  2. Pete, the people rejected a specific package under specific circumstances. It’s silly for you to read into that a popular mandate not to do anything. (And Ford, Barton and Sumter aren’t up for re-election until 2010, not 2009).

  3. Silly?

    So Barton, Conley and Rep. Rose did NOT get THAT package they worked so hard for.

    Brad, what is silly is for commissioners to continue to push road bond packages for special interests that will cost taxpayers more and more in property taxes.

    When does it stop?

    Barton just wanted the bonds and kept at it until he got what he needed and wanted.

    Now the people will pay ongoing taxation for the type of roads we don’t really need.

    Plus, do you believe we should continue to make deals with the TxDOT “devil”?

    Even the legislature does NOT trust TxDOT, so why should we?

  4. We are already falling behind when it comes to modernizing our roads.

    The cost of poor/inadequate road systems is already being borne by the county. Improving the road system is an investment and necessary for safety and the economy.

    I am a volunteer firefighter/EMT. When RR12 was widened the number of wrecks were reduced dramatically. Let’s get on with this road work which will do more to decrease automobile accidents and fatalities than Peter Stern can imagine.

    Another thing – these unsubstantiated accusations of impropriety are getting tiresome. Thank goodness some commissioners are moving forward on road initiatives. And lastly, people arguing against improving the road system are idiots.

  5. Mike, I’ll be professional by NOT calling you an idiot also. In addition, I respect that you are a volunteer firefighter.

    But you and many others just don’t hear the real message I am stating. You pick out what you hear or think I am saying, but that’s just NOT the case.

    If you reread what I have written many times, I do NOT dispute the fact that we need to build and/or widen and maintain our county roadways.

    THAT is an obvious fact!

    What I do dispute is the endless profiteering by wealthy special interests whereby the county is supposed to approve road bond packages at a huge cost, mostly as additional taxation on homeowners. Homeowners have been heavily burdened with taxes for years!

    I am TOTALLY AGAINST that methodology for “improving” our roadways.

    My own property taxes have risen more than 500 percent in the last 10 years. How much more should I have to pay, even in the name of progress and improvements? I am a Disabled Vietnam War Veteran on fixed income. If the county keeps on taxing me it will be unaffordable and I will lose my home. That’s why I continue to fight the endless stream of property taxation.

    I also am tired of certain people like you who may see the need for new and improved roadways, but take the easy way out and opt and agree to increase our taxes almost endlessly.

    I am NOT one of the people “arguing against improving the road system”.

    I AM arguing about the methods selected for financing it.

    Can you comprehend the difference in those 2 statements?

  6. My wife and I may not be able to afford to live in Texas at some point in the future if our property taxes continue to spiral out of control. And, we love Texas, we don’t want to move out of state, now or ever!

    In general, I wonder how our transportation infrastructure (construction and maintenance) should be funded? Are more toll roads a significant part of the answer?

  7. Mr. Stern, it is noble that you agree with the need for roads. The inevitable growth along the corridor makes mobility increasingly an increasingly important item on our agenda. Obviously, landowners along those roads are in line to profit. They have also been the individuals who put their capital at risk to invest in our community. I would not however, paint them all with the same brush. Some of those landowners are also families who have owned those properties for generations. Remember, rising tides raise all ships. You must admit that your property value has gone up over the last decade, probably disproportionately to your taxes. America is a capitalist, not a socialist system.

    I can understand and embrace your desires to have responsible government that is transparent. I believe Newstreamz is helping provide that illumination. Sunshine eliminates mold.

    Thanks for your input and I encourage you and others to continue make your views known.

  8. Steve, toll roads are NOT the solution. They merely add to the problems by enabling those managing and operating the toll roads and plaza to extract 80-percent off the top of toll income for operations and profit.

    Obviously, toll roads are NOT cost-effective as a long-term solution.

    Toll roads also create other issues and problems.

    All you have to do is to view the toll systems in other states, e.g., NY, FL, CA, to name a few. They have much the same problems as we do without toll roads, e.g., traffic, environmental pollution, noise pollution, traffic accidents, and the need for more road revenue.

  9. Nice try, Mr. Gregson, but we both know I’m NOT speaking about some “families” who are landowners or those business folks who are out there trying to make a profit on their investment.

    I’m not naive. I know this is American, the land of capitalism.

    I AM speaking of those reckless and ruthless wealthy special interests who opt to make HUGE profits at the expense of hardworking taxpayers.

    There is a big difference.

    By the way, how do you substantiate the increase in value of my property over ten years if I lose it all to foreclosure because I can’t afford the taxes?

    Let’s be reality-based when you discuss these issues.

  10. Perhaps it is best to set aside emotions and get some of the facts straight. First, these are not toll roads we are talking about funding in Hays County with the actions that were passed in Commissioners Court this week.

    Secondly, the road package that the Commissioners Court is presenting to the voters will be reimbursed to the County by TxDOT over a period of time based upon the number of cars that actually use the roadways. Unfortunately, they have chosen the term of “shadow tolling” to refer to this type of payback option which has obviously confused some members of the public. The actualy amount of money that the taxpayers will have to bear is the interest on this money, not the entire amount. It’s a good deal.

    In addition, other communities are throwing in some of their own money. The City of Kyle is giving either $10 or $11 million. And the City of Buda is also contributing. So is the City of San Marcos. This makes it an even better deal. Moreover, this money will not come out of Mr. Stern’s pocket since he doesn’t live there. It is at least my hope he doesn’t move to my community in the near future.

    Maybe TxDOT is the devil. I don’t know. I was taught not to make that kind of judgement. But God in Heaven will. I think we ought to leave it up to Him.

    I am certain that additional facts concerning this road package will be made available in the near future. Educating oneself is always a good thing.

    You might also want to keep in mind that you can accuse a public figure of just about any awful thing except a criminal act – unless you can back it up with evidence. So if you want to accuse either Commissioner Barton or Conley or any other member of the Court of a criminal act, please keep this in mind in the future. They are ALL our elected officials and when you treat them with such disrespect by impying some impropriety in their actions, you only invalidate your own opinions with many of us.

    Thank you,
    Lila Knight

  11. Ms. Knight, you can’t dismiss the truth that easily.

    First, my comments have nothing to do with emotions. I verbalized the truth.

    Secondly, Steve did NOT say these were going to be toll roads. He merely expressed an opinion or question as to whether toll roads weren’t the best idea to consider.

    By the way, revenue road bonds “reimbursed” via “shadow tolling” is NOT a good idea. The bonds are a long-term debt to the county and its homeowner taxpayers. You simply regurgitate the information provided to you by pro-bond sectors and commissioners. They are NOT cost-effective in the long haul.

    Thirdly, TxDOT reimbursing part of the money is a promise from a runaway agency that is known to make unfulfilled promises and lies about the amount of money it possesses and that is being investigated currently by our own legislature and it will be investigated further in 2009 by the Sunset Advisory Commission.

    Lastly, as previously mentioned, it is a matter of public record that Barton and Conley have accepted large campaign contributions/perks from wealthy developers and road company constituents. Why is it so hard to comprehend that these people want a return — profit — on their contributions?

    And where do you suppose TxDOT is going to get the money from when it “repays part of the bonds” and when it does repay the money will our county refund the taxes paid by homeowners for the bond packages charged to homeowners?

    TxDOT will get the money from Texas taxpayers and via income from various toll taxes. Hays County homeowners will never see a return of their property taxes spent for the bond packages.

    If you are a homeowner, Ms. Knight, and all other homeowners WILL pay ever-increasing property taxes directly due to those bonds.

    In addition, every few years the county will increase our taxes to continue issuing more bonds until the projects are completed — just as we have done in the past.

    Ms. Knight, you are welcome to your opinions; however, at least make the effort to dabble in the REAL facts and please don’t try to make this look some whim or emotional outburst from myself and other rightly concerned citizens.

    If you want to delude yourself, that’s your privilege but don’t try to make this an emotional issue by pushing aside real fears and facts by reiterating what the pro-bond sector including our commissioners spout to mislead the public.

    Property taxes will continue to rise, more people won’t be able to afford to keep their homes, more homes will go into foreclosure, more owners will have to try to sell their homes prematurely and at lower than real market prices so they sell more quickly.

    I won’t argue these issue any longer. You can all just wait and see what happens next. I wish you all luck in holding on to your homes.

  12. I’m so sorry I upset you Mr. Stern. I just thought I would explain the difference between toll roads and shadow tolling now before others obfuscate the difference between the two again.

    The revenue bonds will be paid with taxpayer money for just a few months before the issuance of the bonds after the November election. See, another reason to vote for the road bonds! It is less that 2/3 of a cent and can be accomodated in the budget without raising our taxes. Revenue bonds secured by a contract with the STATE OF TEXAS (TxDOT is a state agency, remember). It is a good deal. It’s a much better deal than securing the debt by the taxpapers. And by the way Mr. Stern, drive around the county. Taxes are not borne entirely on the homeowners shoulders alone. there are a great many commercial taxpapers now.

    I am no more regurgitating a party line than you are regurgitating the propoganda of the anti-road party. I do have the right to my opinion also.

    TxDOT has never failed to fulfill one of these contracts. Furthermore, it is NOT being investigated by our Legislature. It was being asked questions, just an many state agencies are before the beginning of a legislative session. Serious questions, it is true. And it is undergoing a state audit. But facts are facts. In addition, It is NOT true that they are being investigated by the Sunset Advisory Commission. They were SCHEDULED to undergo Sunset Review in 2009. Every state agency undergoes Sunset Review on a regular schedule. Get your facts straight and please do not over-react or over-state the facts.

    Why does no one ever list the large campaign contributions and perks received by Barton and Conley from these wealthy devlopers and road companies? (what exactly is a perk?) You sir, are simply regurgitating what you heard Charles O’Dell say at anti-road meetings last year. He, too, was never specific. To be fair, shall we also not take a close look at the campaign contributions to Judge Sumter, and Commissioners Ingalsbe and Ford? During the 2006 campaign, former Commissioner Carter sent out a campaign solicitation to “road companies” along with a notice of an upcoming RFP for engineering services. Would you consider this ethical? Or would you find some way to justify it?

    TxDOT’s revenue to reimburse the county comes from a variety of sources, but primarily from the state and federal taxes on gasoline you buy at the pump. I am surprised you weren’t aware of this.

    As for more homes going into foreclosure as a result of the road bonds….that really is a hysterical statement. I fear you are jumbling issues here. Perhaps you should be blaming the sub-prime mortgage issuers, the extension of too much readily available credit to consumers, the Bush Administration’s fiscal policy of financing a war on credit, and our own societal values. But don’t blame it on the Hays County Commissioners Court for raising taxes in the future – NOW. You don’t have that kind of a crystal ball Mr. Stern.

    Mr. Stern, I don’t understand why you have the need to talk down to everyone. Perhaps the Ph.D you pull out of your hat from time to time makes you feel superior to the rest of us. Or that beleaguered taxpayer persona you do. But absolutely everything I have see you write is negative. And you are always right, and the rest of the world is always wrong and against you. I am so grateful I do not live in your world.

  13. Okay, I’ve about had enough from all you people who appear to be “in bed” with the Barton newspaper family.

    So, Lila or Jeff or whoever your name REALLY is:

    “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but NOT all of the people ALL of the time.”

    —- Abraham Lincoln

    I really am impressed with the little world you all have created for yourselves and are trying to fool the public and readers.

    So, Lila Knight, Jeff Barton, Will Conley, Mike Cox, Scott Gregson (publisher) and Eric Heggie — you all are “birds of a feather” can NOT fool me nor can you fool the public any longer.

    You are using this paper, or should I say “rag”, to promote your own special interests and to discount the facts. I have to tell you all that you are NOT as slick as you think you are.

    I will continue to tell the truth here and all over Hays County.

    Recognize that I will fight you people as long as there is breath in my body. Hopefully, more people will catch-on to your tactics.

    Using this “paper” so dishonestly higlights the type of people you are and merely confirms what I do write.

    Be careful, folks, for “what goes around, comes around.”


  14. By the way, Jeff, I’m really impressed that you NEVER have the guts or integrity to respond to my letters / emails of concerns and/or questions.

    You have others address them or you write in pseudo-names.

    I’m on to you, buddy.

    Hopefully, more and more residents will see you for what you really are.

  15. No Peter, I will continue to tell the truth, backed by the facts, in a rational manner. You will continue your irrational rant. You care only about yourself, and not your community at large.

    I have as much right to espouse my opinion as you do. I am not “using the paper dishonestly” anymore than yourself. You are just not comfortable in having your viewpoints challenged with the facts. How sad.

    For your edification, I really am Lila Knight. And I am very proud to be Lila Knight. I am a long-time resident of the Kyle area. Except for a brief stint when I lived in Wimberley. I have never slept with any member of the Barton family. The Barton Family has lived in Hays County for seven, maybe even eight, generations. They are well-respected in the town of Kyle, even when people don’t agree with them, because they have made so many POSITIVE contributions to our community for so many years. Too many to list, so I won’t start now. But just consult some of the historical markers in the county for a beginning. Or read back over old newspapers beginning with the 1970s.

    Commissioner Barton probably has more important things to do than respond to each and every one of your ridiculous claims. I do not think that the taxpayers of this County would believe that would be a good use of his time.

    But trust me Peter, I am a very real person. And if you are going to threaten me, you better be willing to follow through…

    Lila Knight

  16. Blah, blah, blah.

    If you are Lila, your closeness and relations with Barton don’t intimidate me.

    You tell your story and I’ll tell mine. Let the people believe whoever they want.

  17. Oh yes, Lila, two other things.

    When I wrote “…in bed with the Bartons” it is in quotes, which means it is a figurative expression and NOT that people were actually “sleeping with the Bartons”.

    But then you had to defend yourself for some reason. I find that interesting.

    Also, you are probably correct in that here in Hays County my own family means very little compared to “all the Bartons have done” here.

    My family from New York I suppose can not quite compare.

    My great grandfather only did things like donate the Stern Business School to New York University and a few other things like that.

    No comparison, of course, to the Bartons.

  18. Peter Darling

    I was being sarcastic about being “in bed” with the Bartons. Sorry it was lost on you. I do know the Bartons. And I am proud to call many of them my friends.

    But why would you be intimidated them? They are genuinely nice people. Nothing intimidating about them. You should get to know them.

    I am truly impressed by your great grandfather’s contribution to NYU. And absolutely no sarcasm is implied here. That is truly a great accomplishment. But it does not diminish the contributions of the Bartons to our community. And we are, in fact, having a discussion concerning Hays County. Not New York. (which is a fabulous state nonetheless…). It is not a comparison with any relevance.

    Lila, who truly exists

  19. Wow Pete. I guess Lila Knight struck a VERY raw nerve. You evidently revert back to childhood when someone has the audacity to challenge your weird, but I suspect sincerely held, conspiratorial assertions.

    Seriously, “blah blah blah” and “my dad is better than your dad” style arguments are a very mature form of political dialogue. You say so much more about yourself than you do about those that you choose to malign when you lash out like a child.

    Throwing out the accusation that Lila Knight was really Jeff Barton was classic, too. That is some pretty paranoid stuff you were putting out there. When you say crazy things like that, you shouldn’t be be shocked when people respond by pointing out how nutty your statements are. Regardless, you definitely shouldn’t be so undignified in your rebuttle. Showing your a…. rear end to the whole world isn’t an effective way to win an argument.

    Keep it up. At the rate that you, Liz Sumter, Charles O’dell and the Hays CAN gang are going, public support for the road package is certain. And, we really do need the road improvements for the county to thrive.

    Oh, and before you go there, I’m not Jeff Barton, and unlike what you claim, my family has never given large sums of money to anyone. I am not the decendant of anyone that would likely meet the high philanthropic bar set by your family. Yet, none of that means anything in Hays County does it now?

  20. You mean nothing to me, Todd, so it does not matter who or what you are, or what you have to say. The people will decide who and what to believe. People like you continue to make this periodical lose any credibility that may remain.

  21. Peter, Saying you will not call somebody and idiot in your fashion, is in plain speaking calling someone an idiot without ammunition, forethought nor conscience. Showing how weak, overemotional and fragile you are to dissenting opinion vacuates your authenticity. Plain speaking, you can’t hold your mud without appealing to baser emotions. In this manner you reduce public discourse to the level of an ammonia soaked litter box. You must be partial to Charles O’Dell.

  22. Peter Stern, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right say it” (Voltaire). You freely choose to engage in political discourse and I would hope that you respect others that choose to engage in political discourse.

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