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Precinct 3 Race Likely a Rematch

The Precinct 3 primary looks to be a preview of a fall rematch

By Mike Kanin, Fri., Feb. 10, 2012

Huber
Huber
Photos by Jana Birchum

The latest battle in Texas' perennial war with itself over election districts has lent an air of intrigue to even the most mundane electoral contests. Here in Travis County, the race for the Precinct 3 seat on Commissioners Court gathered its own historical aura – once former commissioner Gerald Daugherty made his decision to challenge incumbent Dem­o­crat Karen Huber. Although both Daugh­er­ty and Huber face opponents in the primary (whenever that may happen), the smart money is already handicapping a rematch of the fall 2008 general election, when – thanks, Daugherty says, to a huge turnout of Barack Obama supporters – Huber ousted Daugherty, who'd spent six years as a commissioner. And he may have a point: Huber is a Democrat, Daugherty a Republican. Precinct 3, which holds much of the western portion of the region, tends – those district lines again – to go red in November.

Huber argues that her 2008 victory wasn't all about coattails. "Go look at the other down-ballot races," she says. "There were other crossover votes; it wasn't a straight-ticket thing. Was it close? Yes. It's a very close precinct."

As Katherine Gregor reported at the time in these pages (see "Precinct 3 Upset," Nov. 7, 2008), Huber also got crucial help from Libertarian candidate Wes Benedict. "[I]t's likely Daugherty could have retained his seat if not for ... Benedict, who nabbed 7,088 votes," Gregor wrote. (Huber won by 2 percentage points but didn't garner a majority; Benedict got 5% of the overall vote. This year's Lib­er­tarian candidate, if any, will be nominated at the party's June convention.)

But Huber herself had a good bit to do with her victory – in particular, she wasn't Daugherty. As Gregor wrote in 2008, former Huber campaign manager Mary Ann Neely* thought "voters had seen the downside of the 'totally unregulated growth' favored by Daugherty," and that "the pollution and degradation of Lick Creek, Bee Creek, and Hamilton Pool had served as wake-up calls to voters, raising awareness that a change in county commissioner was necessary to get better water-quality regulations."

"And she's really talked about transit seriously," Neely told Gregor.

Daugherty
Daugherty

Daugherty seems determined to rehash the transportation debate. A longtime proponent of more road construction, he's a vocal (to be kind) critic of Capital Metro and a strong voice for the "build the damn road!" side of the congestion debate. This time around he's got the stalled State Highway 45 project on his front-burner. Huber's critics say she was ready to support that project but changed her mind when it came to the court; Huber herself says that she never promised that she'd support the road.

For her part, Huber seems keen to de-emphasize transportation issues, which she considers relatively minor in comparison to the county's water problems – which is where she'll try to focus the conversation. Her recent efforts as commissioner should be of some assistance. During the past year, she's helped push through a new set of water-use regulations aimed at conservation requirements for new development that the court passed at its Jan. 31 meeting.

If you relish a bloody campaign season, this could be the race to watch. Daugherty joined late, and only after he learned that Huber would definitely run again. Even without a firm primary date, Daugherty is already punching past his Republican challengers (former Westlake school board member Jim Strickland and rancher/environmentalist Ira Yates) to get to Huber. He says he "wouldn't have gotten into the thing" if he wasn't confident that he was going to make it to the general election. "I've got a lot of supporters out there," he said, before turning to the question of turnout. "I think that most people know that Gerald Daugherty got beat in 2008 by Obama – I mean, that's what happened to Republicans in 2008. I think it's going to be a much different turnout this time," he continued. "I'm very confident I'm going to win the primary, and I'm going to be victorious in the general election as well. I'm looking forward to it."

Huber has hinted that she's not entirely sold on the perception that Daugherty will be the GOP nominee, telling online journal In Fact Daily last month that Strickland "has a pretty good base in West Lake [Hills] ... I hear he can really turn people out at the polls."

The war chests suggest otherwise. As of the most recent campaign reporting deadline, Daugherty had raised more than $80,000 and had more than $60,000 still on hand. Strickland held a mere $9,429. (Yates has reported no funds.) Daugherty told IFD that he planned to spend between $75,000 and $100,000 on just his primary run.

Huber's only primary challenger is Albert Gonzales, whom she defeated handily in 2008 (after which Gonzales endorsed Benedict), but she still managed to raise almost $50,000 in the reporting period.

A look at the list of major contributors to the campaigns – for Daugherty, engineering consultant Paul Bury, Heritage Title Com­pany President Gary Farmer, and enemy of urban rail Jim Skaggs; and for Huber, the Brown McCarroll PAC, mega auto salesman Red McCombs, and philanthropist Pamela Reese – suggests that should the anticipated fall showdown happen, both sides will have plenty of banked ammo.

*Correction: The story originally identified Neely as Huber's current campaign treasurer; in fact, the campaign treasurer is Gary Pickle.
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