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Candidate-o-File: Local Races

Only a handful of contested seats in Travis County

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Nov. 29, 2013

HD 50 candidates – Republican Mike VanDeWalle (above) and Democrat Celia Israel (below) – head to a special election Jan. 28
HD 50 candidates – Republican Mike VanDeWalle (above) and Democrat Celia Israel (below) – head to a special election Jan. 28
Photos by Jana Birchum

In the modern era of gerrymandering, the March primaries often count for more than the November general elections – and that's doubly true for one-party dominated areas. Yet with filing for those intraparty fights scheduled to close on Dec. 9, so far there's only a handful of confirmed contested seats within all or part of Travis County.

Senate District 14: Ending speculation that he might run for statewide office, incumbent Democrat Kirk Watson wants a third term representing the bulk of the county. His sole challenger is Republican Vik Vad, whose only previous electoral experience involves getting blown out by Democrat Bruce Elfant last year in the race to become tax assessor-collector.

SD 25: Grab the popcorn, because this may be this cycle's most entertaining GOP primary. Confirmed Tea Party radical and legislative laughing stock Donna Campbell faces San Antonio council member and noted homophobe Elisa Chan.

House District 47: Travis County's unspoken détente between parties seems to be holding, as Republican Paul Workman is the sole filed candidate for Southwest Travis.

Candidate-o-File: Local Races

HD 48: Workman's neighbor to the North, popular Democrat Donna Howard, looks set for a fifth term, with neither members of her own party or the GOP seemingly prepared to waste money on a fool's errand race.

HD 50: With a special election runoff to finish out Mark Strama's unexpired term set for Jan. 28, this Northwest Travis seat will have exactly the same candidates running in Novem­­ber: Republican Mike VanDeWalle, who won the first round of the special with 39% of the vote, and Democrat Celia Israel, whose 32% took second place. Israel's two Demo­crat­ic challengers in the special – Rico Reyes and Jade Chang Sheppard – have both bowed out.

HD 51: Another session seems inevitable for Southeast Travis' Eddie Rodriguez, who established his progressive credentials with programs like free breakfasts in schools, while getting regular kudos for his bipartisan skills.

District Judges: A host of Democratic incumbents filing unchallenged so far: Cliff Brown in the 147th, Amy Clark Meachum (201st), Karen Sage (299th), David Crain (331st), and Brenda P. Kennedy (403rd). However, there could still be excitement in the 250th: In anticipation that Judge John Dietz will retire, Karin Crump has already filed to replace him.

Travis County Commissioner's Court: Onlookers can expect a bloody Democratic primary in Travis County. Former county Dem­o­cratic Party chair Andy Brown and former Precinct 2 commissioner Sarah Eckhardt are already trading barbs in their war to assume Sam Biscoe's mantle as county judge. As of press time, former Austin Council member Brigid Shea is the sole filed Democratic candidate to succeed Eckhardt. However, with tech CEO and leading Asian-American community voice Richard Jung poised to run, that race will likely become a tough fight between the old center city (where Shea faces an extra underdog challenge from former county court and congressional staffer Garry Brown), and the growing population in the Northwest. The winner will face the sole GOP candidate, former sheriff Raymond Frank. In Southeast Travis, Democrat Margaret Gomez's unwavering support for the Circuit of the Americas may spark grumbling, but that has yet to produce an electoral opponent.

County Court at Law: So far, it's all Demo­crats. In the civil courts, Todd Wong plans to succeed David Phillips in County Court at Law #2, while Eric Shepperd wants back on at #2. On the criminal court side, incumbents John Lipscombe (#3), Mike Denton (#4), Nancy Hohengarten (#5), and Brandy Mueller (#6) have all filed to return without challengers.

Justice of the Peace: Three incumbent Dem­ocrats are unopposed thus far: Susan Steeg (Precinct 3), Raul Gonzalez (Precinct 4), and Herb Evans (Precinct 5), and Democrat and Travis County Court at Law #5 Chief Prose­cutor Randall Slagle has filed to challenge the county's sole Republican JP, Precinct 2's Glenn Bass, in November.

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