Meet Elliott McFadden: Transportation Advocate. Future Congressman?

Elliott McFadden

*Please note – this interview is part of a series, during which the Austin EcoNetwork will be interviewing and profiling several Austinites considering a run for elected office at the state and federal levels. If you’re a candidate thinking about tossing your hat into the rink and would like to be profiled, please send an email to*

Meet Elliott McFadden – Alternative transportation advocate. Former executive director of the Travis County Democratic Party. Future congressman?

McFadden is one of several Austinites who has officially announced their candidacy against one of the most vocal climate change deniers in Congress.

McFadden is vying to run against US Representative Lamar Smith for Texas’ 21st US Congressional District seat in Congress (McFadden will have to win the Democratic primary first). The district includes downtown and south Austin, as well as large swaths of the Hill Country and parts of San Antonio. For over 30 years, this district has been represented by Lamar Smith. McFadden is trying to change that. (You can figure out which US Congressional District you live in here).

21st Congressional District
Texas’ 21st US Congressional District, photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The Austin EcoNetwork’s Editor-In-Chief, Amy Stansbury, sat down with McFadden earlier this month to talk about his decision to run for Congress and his plans for fighting climate change if he gets there.


You can watch the entire video interview above. But for those who don’t have time to watch the entire clip, we’ve put together a brief summary below:

Who is Elliott McFadden?

  • Currently works as the Executive Director of Austin B-cycle, Austin’s bike-sharing program
  • Former Executive Director of the Travis County Democratic Party
  • Worked for Foundation Communities and led the campaign to get a $65 million affordable housing bond approved by voters in Austin in 2013
  • Managed the effort to create the Travis County Healthcare District
  • Founder of the first car-sharing service in Texas
  • Lives in South Austin with his wife and two children

So why is he running?

“When the election happened last year, with the election of Donald Trump, really caused some soul-searching for me,” McFadden said during his AEN interview. “And what I really saw in the last few months is the work that I’ve been doing is threatened by what’s happening in Washington.”


“I say it’s a big, hairy gerrymandered district…,” McFadden said in reference to Texas’ 21st US Congressional District. “This is one of those districts the Republicans drew to select voters, instead of letting the voters select their congressman.”

However, McFadden believes that a Democrat can win in this district, especially in light of national events.

“Folks are really sick and tired of politics as usual. They’re sick of Smith and a lot of of his anti-environmentalism that’s really driven by hundreds of thousands of dollars he gets from oil and gas, and not driven by good policy. And what we’re seeing is folks are sick and tired of that. They’re tired of the corporations deciding policy rather than the people.” – Elliott McFadden, during his AEN interview


“I think we really need to look at a true infrastructure program for the whole country, and it shouldn’t be just about roads and bridges,” McFadden said during his AEN interview.

Instead, McFadden said, the federal government needs to be a major part of funding large-scale alternative transportation projects (like trains). He advocated for transportation options, saying that Austin will never be able to build enough road capacity, nor should it want to “from a quality-of-life perspective.”

But is this even possible? Is there the appetite in Washington to spend large amounts of money of rail?

McFadden thinks there could be, under the right leadership.

“Lamar Smith isn’t leading on this, and so I think one area that I could step up as our congressman, if I’m elected, is to really provide that leadership and bring all those different entities together,” McFadden said.

On this point, McFadden mentioned his experience leading the efforts to establish the Travis County Healthcare District and to get a $65 million affordable housing bond passed in Austin. He explained that in both of these instances, he was able to bring together a diverse group of people in order to get something done and “address a common problem in the community.”


Car-Sharing and Austin B-cycle

McFadden also has a lot of experience in creating transportation alternatives for Austin, both as the founder of the first car-sharing service in Texas and as the executive director of Austin B-cycle (a local bike-sharing service).

On both of these projects, McFadden focused on how to make these new transportation options appealing to people, so that Austinites would actually use them.

“I think that’s a really important thing when we talk about the environmental movement  – is if we can’t agree on the words and the terms, let’s talk about the benefits. The benefits are money in your pocket, a healthier body, a healthier commute.” – Elliott McFadden, during his AEN interview


Paris Climate Agreement

In response to President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, McFadden said that he was disappointed, but still had some hope that things could be turned around.

“I think one positive thing about the Paris Accord is it’s not something you can snap your fingers and step out of,” McFadden said. “It’s actually a four-year process to exit that accord, so we have an opportunity in about a year-and-a-half and in about three-and-a-half years to make some changes at the ballot box that could reverse that.”


Climate Change

McFadden also mentioned that he would like to see some major work put into modernizing our nation’s electric grid as part of a larger infrastructure spending program. He pointed to the CREZ transmission lines that were built in Texas a few years ago, which helped to enable Texas to produce more wind power than any other state in the country. (The transmission lines are what allow wind power produced in west Texas to reach the big cities in central and east Texas).

McFadden also said that the federal government can invest in improvements to the grid to make it “smarter” and more compatible with renewable energy, as well as invest in research to improve our nation’s renewable energy infrastructure.

In order to make a real change, McFadden said, we need a congressman that, “isn’t focused on 19th century solutions, but 21st century solutions.”

McFadden also talked about a need to make businesses pay for their impact on the climate and the environment. Along those lines, McFadden suggested some sort of carbon tax or Carbon Fee and Dividend program.

“We have to look at starting to incorporate what is the impact businesses are having on our communities, on health, air, water, and climate change. And make that part of the cost of doing business, so that we’re incentivizing more investment and change,” McFadden said. “And then, wherever the federal government can make investments in infrastructure programs, I think we should be doing that as well.”

McFadden referred to this as a “carrot and stick approach.”


Building a Green Economy

Throughout his AEN interview, McFadden emphasized the positive opportunities that can come out of taking strong action on climate change (like job growth in new industries) and stressed that these opportunities must be equally distributed amongst everyone in this country.

He brought up his history working with Foundation Communities (a local affordable housing provider) and explained that Foundation Communities is not only able to provide affordable housing, but is able to do so while maintaining maximum environmental standards.

“I actually think in the near term, our biggest threat as a country is the great wealth inequity that we’re seeing.” – Elliott McFadden, during his AEN interview

As McFadden sees it, some of the biggest drivers of inequality are the high cost of education and healthcare. This needs to change, McFadden said during his AEN interview. On the education front, he said that schooling needs to be cheaper and more accessible so that people can be trained in the skills needed to be competitive in a 21st century economy. And as far as health care goes, he stressed his belief that “health care is a right” and that this country should have a Medicare For All program.

And lastly, he said that there is a need for some major changes to this country’s tax policies, with a shift toward higher taxes on the rich.


What’s Next?

Primaries for Texas’ 21st US Congressional District are in March of 2018 and the election will be in November of that year… but that doesn’t mean that work isn’t already being done. If you would like to learn more about how to participate in Crowe’s campaign, you can check out his website here>>

McFadden isn’t the only Democrat considering a run against Smith. Several others have also expressed an interest, including Joseph Kopser (a veteran and local entrepreneur), Derrick Crowe (a local progressive organizer and former Congressional staffer), Ryan Allen (an emergency physician). The Race To Replace Lamar Smith has put together a list of Democrats considering a run for Texas’ 21st US Congressional seat, which you can check out here. (As the name implies, the Race to Replace Lamar Smith is a group of Democrat organizers working to oust Smith from office). Stay tuned for additional profiles and interviews with some of the other Central Texans considering a run against Smith.

*It is the Austin EcoNetwork’s policy never to endorse candidates running for political office. All articles written about candidates are designed to simply educate and inform the public and should not be perceived as an endorsement.*


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