Co-Founder of Local Org That Pushed for Cannabis Decriminalization Abruptly Replaced

Julie Oliver exits Ground Game, Catina Voellinger takes helm

Julie Oliver, co-founder of Ground Game Texas (Courtesy of Julie for Texas)

No one wants to say exactly what happened, but Julie Oliver, the co-founder and executive director of Ground Game Texas, is out of the organization that has used cannabis decriminalization to mobilize progressives in Texas counties.

Ground Game told the Chronicle its board of directors made the decision late last week to replace Oliver with Catina Voellinger, who came to the organization two years ago and has won her colleagues’ praise for her work in fundraising, campaign management, and communications. Voellinger declined to comment on how the board came to its decision. Oliver has also declined to comment publicly, except for a March 29 post on X, in which she said she had loved her time at Ground Game and concluded: “I’m signing off for a while now. Love to all.”

Ground Game Texas is an increasingly important player in the state’s progressive political scene. Oliver co-founded it in 2021 with Mike Siegel, currently running for Austin City Council, to advocate for cannabis decriminalization. The group partners with local and state allies to push ballot propositions, cultivating the support of new voters, especially young ones, through face-to-face organizing.

The group got its first major victory in the 2022 ballot proposition sponsored by then-City Council member Greg Casar to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Austin. The proposition was approved by over 80% of local voters. Later that year, Ground Game and its allies replicated the success in five smaller Texas cities, including San Marcos, where the increased voter turnout seemed to help to flip some county and city offices from red to blue.

Voellinger said Ground Game currently has 50 organizers working throughout Texas. The group is trying to get marijuana decriminalization on the ballot in Dallas and in Caldwell County, where it’s working with its social justice allies Mano Amiga. It’s also pushing proposals in McAllen to limit the amount of campaign donations private individuals can make to local candidates; in Edinburg to raise the pay of local workers to $15 an hour; and in El Paso to require city leaders to invest in safe water and solar power.

Voellinger told us she has worked for years to empower working class people and that the campaigns that Ground Game invests in are meant to lift up the working class, combatting discrimination. And she emphasized that the struggle is larger than any one person.

“We’ve built a very strong and mighty team that’s greater than the sum of its parts, right?” Voellinger said. “So the main message is that Ground Game is a force, and we’re not going anywhere. None of our programs have ceased. We’re not going to back out on any of the things we’ve committed to. And we’re excited about the future and growing this movement.”

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