Early voting is underway now, through November 1. For a list of polling places, check out the Chronicle Election Board, on the Web at /election/, or call the Travis County Elections Division at 473-9553.
U.S. President/Vice President: Bill Clinton/Al Gore.
When Clinton and Gore rocked the vote in '92, they exuded youthful energy and held such promise. Clinton dug right in, opening the military to gays and putting his wife to work on providing a national health care system to take care of rich and poor alike. Both moves were utter failures, and like a kid who has the wind knocked out of him, Clinton has yet to take a deep breath and plunge on. Instead, he keeps moving to the right as if he would woo both Democrats and Republicans alike. Still, he's kept the economy on track, the unemployment rate low, increased minimum wage, and supported gun control and family and medical leave bills. Of course, for those who want to make a statement against the duopoly we call the two-party system, there's always consumer rights champion Ralph Nader.
U.S. Senator: Victor Morales.
He hasn't dazzled with a great campaign, great oratory, or sparkling ideas. He's a schoolteacher, not a politician and he has resisted doing the things that politicians do, like taking money from PACs and taking advice from spin doctors. Unfortunately he has also resisted providing sufficient answers to important questions about his policy positions and how he would enact them. Still, Morales appears to want to act in the voters' best interests. Phil Gramm has acted on behalf of Phil Gramm. Gramm should lose.
U.S. Rep., District 10: Lloyd Doggett
In the two short years since his congressional career began, Lloyd Doggett has been a beacon of progressive light in a Gingrich-dominated darkness, winning him respect from his colleagues and powerful allies in the Democratic Party. He has pushed for ethics reform, and his environment-friendly congressional votes have consistently earned him high marks on the annual environmental scorecard compiled by the League of Conservation Voters. Lloyd's conservative lapses with regards to welfare reform and his opposition to same-sex marriages are regrettable, but other than that, the pro-choice former Texas Supreme Court Justice is on the right track.
U.S. Rep., District 14: Charles "Lefty" Morris.
We first saw Morris years ago on lamentable TV commercials drumming up customers for his personal injury law practice, but we can't hold that against the Bee Cave Democrat. Not with competition like Libertarian-turned-Republican Ron Paul, a Surfside physician who wants to do away with most anything to do with the federal government such as the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, environmental regulations, campaign financing regulations, social security, and medicare. In his newsletter, Paul has slammed African-Americans and advised rich people to hide their money overseas. Voters in the 14th district will be a lot safer if Morris, who wants to cut taxes, balance the budget, and institute campaign finance reform measures, wins this race.
Railroad Commissioner: Hector Uribe.
Democratic challenger Uribe, a former state senator from Brownsville, wants to replace the Railroad Commission with a new entity he plans to call the Texas Oil and Gas Agency to reflect the agency's focus on the petroleum industry. By dropping the three elected commissioners (who each are paid $79,000 a year and maintain personal staffs) in favor of a governor-appointed executive director and streamlining the agency, Uribe plans to cut $14 million out of the budget over the next two years. He wants to insulate the agency from the influence the oil and gas industry applies through its campaign contributions. While Republican incumbent Carol Keeton Rylander has complained of regulatory overkill and environmental extremism with regards to the industry, Uribe pledges to make polluting companies pay for clean-up, and plans to focus on the environment and conservation.
State Board of Education, District 10: Will Davis.
Austin attorney Davis has a long, unpaid record of public service. He was on the AISD board of trustees for 16 years (and was president for six of them), an officer in the state and national school board associations, and has served on the State Board of Education for nine years. His challenger, Republican Charlie Weaver, is backed by the religious right, which is looking to influence decisions ranging from sex education to textbook content. Davis' views, which include age-appropriate sex education and opposition to diverting public funds to private schools, are by far the most reasonable.
State Senator, District 14: Gonzalo Barrientos.
Democratic incumbent Barrientos has been a solid liberal voice on labor issues, abortion, civil rights, and the environment. He best represents the average voter in his district; the Republicans aren't even bothering with this race, and the Natural Law Party candidate is an acting director and theatre coach.
State Rep., District 47: No endorsement
It's a good thing that Terry Keel threw in his badge at the Travis County Sheriff's Department to run for State Rep. After defending all the lawsuits filed against him while in office since 1992, taxpayers could use the break. Perhaps the hot-headed manager would do better in a lawmaker's role than with the Sheriff's mantle; he is at his best as an advocate -- either as an attorney in the courtroom or as a victims' rights activist. But as a legislator, Keel would have to get along with others and deal fairly -- and we are not prepared to predict whether that will be the case. Yet neither of the other candidates -- Democrat John Lindell, who is retired from the Texas Department of Human Services' children's division and Natural Law's John Stern, who is a chiropractor -- have the experience to be effective at the Lege.
State Rep., District 49: Elliot Naishtat.
The irrepressibly liberal Democratic New York City native has been a tireless advocate for consumers -- whom he calls the "little guy" -- during his three terms in the legislature. He appealed to conservatives when he co-sponsored a strong anti-crime measure known as the anti-stalking law which was recently struck down by the state supreme court. With regards to welfare reforms to be considered by the legislature, Naishtat has pledged to protect legal immigrants who, under the new guidelines, could be cut from receiving food stamps and social security assistance.
State Rep., District 51: Glen Maxey.
Why must Democratic incumbent Glen Maxey be forever described as "openly gay" in every single story written about him? The man has done some other things to be remembered for: He has been a passionate advocate not only on gay and lesbian issues, but also in the areas of transportation, health, human services, and the environment. This next legislative session he will concern himself with health care issues such as obtaining health insurance for children who are currently uninsured. His Republican opponent is running on a platform that includes hating homosexuals. Yikes. Vote Maxey.
District Attorney, District 53: Ronnie Earle.
Yes, after 20 years in office, Democratic incumbent Ronnie Earle has made a few mistakes with regards to some high-profile cases. The Kay Bailey Hutchison fiasco and the fumbling of the Lacresha Murray case are two that come to mind. Still, Earle's ideas and programs on crime prevention, intervention and children's advocacy tip the scales in his favor. His opponent, Shane Phelps, is an experienced, hands-on prosecutor who rallies behind a tough-on-crime stance he honed during his years as an assistant district attorney in rougher, tougher Harris County. Here in Travis County, we're experiencing our own share of rising crime and need to deal with it accordingly. But, like Earle, we believe that a tough-on-crime message should work in tandem with programs designed to dig at the root-causes of criminal behavior in order to head it off at the pass.
County Sheriff: Margo Frasier
Democrat Frasier simply has more experience than her opponent in the area of the Sheriff's Department that will occupy the most time and expend the most money: Corrections. Frasier worked her way up through the ranks from prison guard to become the jail's first female captain from 1977 to 1982. She later spent 11 years representing law enforcement agencies throughout the state on criminal justice matters. Her ideas for money-saving measures at the Del Valle jail and her prior experience working with Travis County commissioners on prison issues will be a boon to taxpayers used to watching the current sheriff's administration and county commissioners duke it out. The career of Frasier's opponent, Chief Deputy Alvin Shaw, has been focused more on patrol and less on prisons, and the troubles the current administration has had with its employees will be an obstacle that could prove too difficult for Shaw to overcome.
In other County races, we find the following Democratic incumbents worthy of reelection:
County Tax Assessor-Collector: Nelda Wells Spears
County Commissioner, Place 1: Sam Biscoe
Constable, Precinct 2: David Bintliff
Constable, Precinct 3: Kevin Miskell
And among the local judicial races:
Criminal Appeals Judge, Place 1: Bob Perkins
Criminal Appeals Judge, Place 2: Charles Holcomb
Criminal Appeals Judge, Place 3: Frank Maloney
Appeals Chief Justice, District 3: Jimmy Carroll
District Judge, District 353: Margaret Cooper