Travis Co. Democrats:
Valarie Bristol and Sam Biscoe (dual)
Last year, both of these lifelong Democrats resigned their respective county commissioner seats - Biscoe in Pct. 1 and Bristol in Pct. 3 - to run for the county judgeship, and Austin's progressive/enviro community has been wringing its hands ever since. Both candidates have strong liberal credentials, but also huge anti-enviro skeletons in their closets - such as Biscoe's opposition at the Lege to the Save Our Springs (S.O.S.) ordinance, and Bristol's recent attempt to combine the controversial State Highway 45 bond proposition with the more popular road repair bond props. Thus the reasoning behind so many organizations' (the Chronicle's included) decisions to offer dual endorsements. And while it appeared at first that Biscoe was winning the few out-and-out solo endorsements key clubs were bestowing, this past week has buoyed Bristol considerably, with both the S.O.S. PAC and the Sierra Club waving the green wand over Bristol. We, however, are not quite convinced that one candidate is better than the other. Bristol did lead the Central Texas Clean Air Task Force for the past two years, and she founded the Austin Metropolitan Trails Council. For his part, Biscoe has made overtures to the enviro community, promising to enact regional environmental policies and offering his candidacy as an avenue to heal the perceived schism between the white liberal progressives and East Austin blacks that grew out of the S.O.S. ordinance. Both candidates agree that a healthy environment makes for a healthy economy, both are highly qualified and have experience on the court, and either one would make a decent county judge.
County Commissioner Pct. 1:
Davis has displayed a longtime commitment to his community through years of volunteer work to bring equity and an overall improvement of living standards to the people of East Austin. As a leader of the East Austin Strategy Team (EAST), Davis successfully fought alongside other neighborhood activists in 1992 to get rid of the gasoline tank farms in East Austin. He worked to establish a new Austin Community College campus in East Austin that brought job training facilities and a cultural center to the area, he led affordable housing efforts in the Webberville/Ledesma area, and he was on the forefront of the successful fight for city funding to protect East Austin homes from creek erosion. There is simply no one else running for the commissioner's seat in this traditionally underserved precinct whose activism and community experience matches Davis'.
County Commissioner Pct. 2:
The Democratic Party's mission in this race is to beat newly converted Republican Bob Honts in November. Honts, who calls himself "Road Warrior," served as a controversial county commissioner in a bygone era and is looking to make a comeback on the GOP ticket. Incumbent Sonleitner is running for her second term in Pct. 2 and we endorse her candidacy. Her opponent, Pflugerville Mayor Haywood Ware, has by most accounts done a good job serving his constituency up north. But Ware, while he is known in many Travis County circles, doesn't have the name ID that Sonleitner carries, and he is facing an uphill battle trying to raise the funds necessary to run a successful campaign. As an incumbent, Sonleitner is the stronger of the two candidates, and has the best shot at winning the general election. Precinct 2, which covers north and northwest Travis County, continues to grow at a rapid clip, and the demands of the county commissioner's job will no doubt grow in tandem. Sonleitner has the energy and enthusiasm to put shoulder to the wheel and move full-speed ahead on the issues - transportation and public safety, to name a couple - facing this precinct.
County Commissioner Pct. 3:
Ask Ann Graham and Nan Clayton to list the differences between them and they won't be able to name a single philosophical divergence of opinion. And that's a shame, because it would be nice if either of these accomplished and experienced candidates offered an attractive vision of the future of Pct. 3, which contains some of the county's fastest growing and most environmentally sensitive areas. Both support all the road-building projects to come down the pike, both talk about protecting the environment, and both have a wide array of civic board and group memberships under their belts. Sorry, but in this case, your guess is as good as ours.
County Commissioner Pct. 4:
Incumbent Commissioner Gómez has taken a lot of knocks - unnecessarily - for her quiet nature, which some people perceive as a sign that she's not working. By her record, it looks like Gómez is a better doer than talker, and we endorse her endeavor to keep getting things done in her precinct. Opposing Gómez's re-election bid is Richard Moya, who served as county commissioner in this precinct from 1970 to 1986. Moya, one of the founding members of the so-called "Brown Machine," a political coalition of early Hispanic leaders, is credited with opening the door for many other Hispanics to successfully run for office. While Moya is Gómez's mentor and former boss (she was an aide to Moya during his tenure as a commissioner), we believe Gómez has proven herself worthy of a second term.
261st District Court:
In this race, both hopefuls have an impressive list of credentials to support their aspirations for the bench. On closer examination, Livingston is clearly the best candidate for the job. Her opponent, Karen Parker, is an experienced trial lawyer and viable candidate in her own right. But Livingston, an associate judge in Travis County District Courts, has already acquired valuable bench experience handling thousands of cases, and that experience would serve her well in an elected judicial post. Additionally, Livingston comes equipped with the temperament that citizens expect of a judge. It is also a good sign that after graduating from law school in 1982, Livingston chose to devote the first six years of her career as a legal aid attorney in Austin, providing counsel to people unable to afford a lawyer. Apart from that, the candidate participates in a wide range of volunteer activities, demonstrating her commitment not only to her profession but to the community she would serve if elected to the 261st District Court.
Justice of the Peace Pct. 5:
It's interesting that a J.P. race would end up being the most contentious this primary season. Triana has been the target of her opponent's - Herb Evans - personal sniping since the campaign began. But in the end, despite Evans' references to Triana's past Republican tendencies, her family's socio-economic status, and her former personal relationships, they are of little consequence to this race. In her relatively short career since graduating from UT Law School in 1988, Triana may not have tried as many cases as veteran criminal defense lawyer Evans, but her time on the bench as an associate municipal court judge since 1994 makes her uniquely qualified to judge both the criminal and civil cases that will come before her as J.P. The fact that she may be looking at the Pct. 5 position as just the first step on the judicial and political ladder is not a fault; rather, her ambitions should ensure her commitment to excellence and fairness as a Justice of the Peace.
County Court at Law #5:
This endorsement is not without some reservations. Under normal circumstances, we would wholeheartedly support incumbent Judge Aguilar for another four-year term. But recent news reports and subsequent questions have started surfacing about Aguilar and a November 1996 public intoxication offense that was never prosecuted. Although Aguilar has apologized for the incident, which he blames on a combination of alcohol and medication, too many unanswered questions surround the case on which a grand jury found insufficient evidence to make the charge stick. The city never refiled the case - a situation that County Attorney Ken Oden says is curious, given the circumstances. The city attorney's office has said it will try to get to the bottom of this. (This was Aguilar's second alcohol-related offense in Austin. In 1975, Aguilar as a law student served out a probation on a conviction of driving while intoxicated.) Aguilar has little time left before March 10 to try and tidy up his legal matters. But if the charge is refiled, Aguilar says, he will plead no contest and pay his dues. In the meantime, Aguilar is innocent until proven guilty.
On a more positive note, Aguilar has won a respectable number of endorsements from clubs and professional organizations; he has never had a verdict reversed, and he is one of only a few Hispanic jurists in the county.
Even with Aguilar's legal troubles, it is rare that a sitting judge seeking re-election would draw two opponents - attorneys Janet Stockard and John Cutright. Stockard, a trial lawyer for 25 years, is the stronger of the two, and has greater name identification. Cutright, for his part, appears more determined to expose Aguilar for his flaws than interested in winning the election.
County Court at Law #6:
Of the two Democratic contenders, Meeker is best qualified to handle this court's criminal docket. Currently a Justice of the Peace in Pct. 5, Meeker is board certified in criminal law, and is recognized statewide as a legal scholar and expert in her field. She has authored several books on arrest, search and seizure under the state and federal constitutions, and is frequently called upon to lecture on such topics. In her J.P. post, Meeker has built a reputation for running her court efficiently and responsibly. It seems natural that she would continue this same style of management if elected to the county court. Meeker's Demoratic opponent in the race is Jan Breland, who has been a J.P. in Pct. 2 for 10 years. Breland is a good public servant and would make an honorable judge. Meeker, however, has our vote.
"Been there. Done that. Want to do it again." That could be former attorney general Jim Mattox's campaign motto; instead, he calls himself "the people's lawyer," based on his championing of consumer rights when he served as Texas' top lawyer in the 1980s. Back then, Mattox was the darling of consumer rights advocates who praised him for taking on big corporations on behalf of Texas' Little Guys. He never let the fact that he was supposed to defend state agencies get in the way of his obligations to consumers - prompting the situation where one section of his office was defending rate rulings by the state board of insurance while another section was challenging them. Environmentalists were pleased, as well, with Mattox's moves to beef up the environmental section of the office with more personnel and resources. Mattox agrees with many that he never should have left the AG's office to run for governor in 1988. His successor, Democrat Dan Morales, who is not seeking another term, was a disaster for the consumer and environmental protection divisions of the office. Mattox did an unprecedented good job as attorney general in precisely those areas, and he deserves to come back.
Commissioner of Agriculture:
As a former state representative, Patterson (D- Brookston) had a record of helping farmers and ranchers in Texas through his sponsorship of several bills, including a proposal to authorize up to $500 million in bonds for loans to buy farm or ranch land. His opponent in the primary, farming and ranching consultant Ernesto De Leon of Brownsville, while surprisingly up to speed on the agriculture industry, is a poorly financed newcomer to the political arena, and would not be in a strong position to beat a Republican opponent in the general election; nor would he be as effective an advocate for his constituents as Patterson has already proven to be.
In contrast to the Republicans running for this spot, Gary Dugger and Joe B. Henderson are running low-budget campaigns in their quest to put at least one Democrat on the three-member commission. Dugger is limiting any possible infusion of "tainted" big money into his campaign by vowing to not accept donations from interests regulated by the commission, which oversees the oil and gas industry. The local real estate broker should get some mileage from his name - he's the son of former Texas Observer publisher Ronnie Dugger - and, like a chip off the old block, he is running under a populist banner, promoting energy-saving programs for the industry and looking to tax the big producers more and the small producers less. Henderson, a Huntsville attorney and former Walker County court-at-law judge and county attorney, makes a good point that Dugger has been nowhere in politics or public service until now, but he doesn't offer as refreshing a stance on the issues as Dugger. The populist political newcomer inspires us.
On the GOP side, many races are uncontested, or offer an unpalatable selection of candidates. We did, however, find one candidate who seems clearly a better choice than her opponents.
Justice of the Peace Pct. 2:
It is likely that Precinct 2, which is heavily populated with Republican voters, will go to the GOP this year. (Attorney Richard Anton is the only Democrat who filed for the spot.) Attorney Barbara Bembry is best qualified among the four Republican contenders. She has done her homework with regards to the demands of the 25,000-case docket, and, as a practicing attorney with both a criminal and civil background, she is best prepared to hit the ground running should she win in November. She's getting a few knocks from her more conservative opponents, who say she's a little too friendly with the Dems with whom she works at the courts, but her amiable, non-ideological temperament should serve her well on the bench.