Off the Desk:
One of the Central City Entertainment Center's most vocal advocates, Jenniffer Cole-Doyle, has lost her re-appointment to the CCEC board. The Austin City Council re-appointed all other current board members, but on the day of the vote, Councilmember Willie Lewis told Cole-Doyle she would have to agree to a meeting with him before being re-appointed. Cole-Doyle refused the condition, saying later it was a "slap in the face" to be singled out for her strong views that questioned the city's commitment to move ahead on the construction of the center. At any rate, Joya Hayes, a community supporter, was appointed to the board to replace Cole-Doyle. Council may not have appreciated her confrontational style, says Cole-Doyle, "but had I not been the person I am, I believe in my heart... this project would have died long ago." CCEC co-chair Michael Bryant says his impression of Lewis' offer was that it may have included a "we want you to change" agenda. Previous meetings with Lewis, Bryant says, have not reduced the animosity between Lewis' office and Eastside activists like Cole-Doyle who supported former councilmember Eric Mitchell. -K.F.
Incoming UT president Larry Faulkner knows the value of sports. Outgoing basketball coach Tom Penders knows the value of money. For proof of the latter, consider that UT is paying Penders $643,000 to go away. For proof of the former, consider an article in last Friday's Daily Texan, which recounted an interview Faulkner did with KLBJ's Jeff Ward shortly after Penders quit (read: got sacked). "It is worth bearing in mind that athletics at UT and many other big-time places is a self-controlled financial entity," Faulkner told Ward. Faulkner then said he had difficulty justifying golden parachutes for ex-coaches in a "moral way," but that it was necessary in a "market way." Gee, glad we got that cleared up. -R.B.
If you thought voter turnout was low in the March 10 primary races, an even smaller showing is expected in Tuesday's runoffs, which include several Travis County and statewide races (see Endorsements, p.2). Updates on individual county commissioner and county court-at-law races begin below. Meanwhile, the Travis County Democratic Party is looking for a handful of election judges to work election day in the Westlake area. Pay is $5.15 an hour. Call 477-7500 for more info... -A.S.
Davis v. Dukes-Rhone
When a pitcher is in the midst of throwing a no-hitter, it's absolutely unthinkable to utter a word about it during the game, lest you jinx the pitcher. Given Ron Davis' unsuccessful history in previous elections, one might expect those supporting his candidacy for Pct. 1 on the Travis County Commissioner's Court to be equally superstitious. But Davis' supporters are giddy with confidence as their candidate heads into the April 14 runoff with Stacy Dukes-Rhone for the Democratic nomination and the chance to meet Republican Greg Parker in November. Davis' supporters are sure that the longtime activist is finally going to be rewarded for his years of hard work, and aren't afraid to make bold predictions.
"We're going to win this thing," is the mantra repeated often in the Davis camp. "We're going to win big." Indeed, Davis does have the backing of the majority of powerful Democratic organizations, and in recent weeks gained endorsements from the Travis County Sheriff's Association and the Austin Police Association. He also has the support of prominent African-Americans such as state NAACP president Gary Bledsoe, the Rev. Sterling Lands, and the Austin Black Women's Political Caucus. It's this diverse mix of support - absent in Davis' 1994 council race against Eric Mitchell and his 1996 bid for county commissioner - that has the Davis team poised for victory. "It just makes me feel so good," said an ebullient Davis last week. "The seed is planted and it has yielded good fruit. I just have a really good feeling about this race."
But in politics, as in baseball, you can never discount the underdog. Dukes-Rhone's strong showing in the March 10 primary is proof that the power of the Dukes name cannot be underestimated. Dukes-Rhone, the sister of District 50 Rep. Dawnna Dukes, and the daughter of Eastside power broker and political consultant Ben Dukes, Sr., has gained some notable endorsements, including that of former opponent Darwin McKee, who was the early favorite to meet Davis in a runoff but finished third in the primary. Dukes-Rhone has also picked up endorsements from the Central Labor Council - which supported McKee in the primary - as well as the East Austin Concerned Hispanics, the Travis County Fire Chiefs Association, former councilmember Eric Mitchell, former mayor pro-tem Charles Urdy, and former AISD trustee Bernice Hart.
In recent weeks, Dukes-Rhone's campaign has tried to cast Davis as "the anointed candidate of the politically elite," implying that Davis' support base and therefore his concerns lie outside of his precinct. But that will be a hard message to pull off, considering Davis' years of volunteer work and activism. -L.T.
Baxter v. Schafer
As the Travis County runoff election closes in, GOP county commissioner candidate Todd Baxter is grabbing the phone in his campaign office on the first ring. Meanwhile, Rick Schafer, Baxter's opponent in the southwestern Precinct 3, dispenses campaign information from the counter of his retail hobby shop, and talks about how he's not letting the election interfere with the opening of his 12th season as a Little League coach.
Though the two Republicans' campaign platforms are not widely divergent, the contrasting scenes say a lot about the different style and emphasis the candidates would bring to Travis County government. Baxter, the
29-year-old legal counsel to state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, waged by far the more aggressive campaign during the primary season. Picking up handsome contributions from a coterie of legal and legislative supporters, Baxter amassed over $20,000 in campaign funds, was the only candidate in his race to appear on TV, and emerged from the pack so strongly that he missed capturing the GOP primary by just a single percentage point. Schafer, on the other hand, spent just over $4,000, and confined his campaigning largely to his home base of Oak Hill. Baxter tends to discuss county issues in the wider context of conservative Republican principles, while Schafer's platform is a more direct expression of the immediate concerns voiced by his affluent, suburban neighbors.
Notable contributions to the Baxter campaign include large donations from attorneys in the consulting group of Governmental Affairs, Inc., the office where former Texas House Speaker Gib Lewis (who gave $250) is now employed. Baxter also got help from the Austin law firm Small Craig & Werkenthin, Houston-based law giant Fulbright and Jaworski, and lawyer Robert Kleeman, who is representing plaintiffs in a suit against the city for allegedly endangering salamanders during cleaning at Barton Springs pool.
How much Baxter is benefiting from the campaign machinery of his senior Republican employer depends on whom you ask. State Republican Executive Committee leader Kirk Overbey, who represents the conservative side of the party that has been at odds with Wentworth over the state income tax and parental notification for teenage abortions, says that Wentworth actively stumped for both Baxter and Pct. 2 county commissioner candidate Bob Honts in the primaries. But Lake Travis Republican Men's Club spokesperson Mac McGuire says Wentworth has not appeared on any of Baxter's campaign literature or at his fundraisers, and says Baxter has been successful because he knew people with money and had the political savvy to spend it well.
"For most political signs, I'd say my opponent has won," jokes Schafer. "But is your vote for sale? I guess that's the question to be asked here." Schafer says that his 14 years of community participation in Oak Hill, including an active role on the US290 West extension task force, will earn him enough votes to overcome Baxter's "professional politics." Schafer adds that losing primary candidates Al Holmes and Darrell Wilson are both backing him.
Both Schafer and Baxter, by the way, oppose the city's upcoming May 2 bond proposition for purchasing land in the Barton Creek recharge zone. Schafer says the city is "talking out of both sides of its mouth" when it proposes to subsidize land purchases in Southwest Austin but resists spending for infrastructure to accommodate development. As for Baxter, he says the plan represents an "intrusive, in-your-face, big government program" that defies market-driven growth and robs county and school taxing entities of potential tax revenue. -K.F.
Breland v. Meeker
Early in the race for County Court-at-Law #6, Jan Breland and Jade Meeker judiciously focused their respective campaigns on qualifications and experience. In the week before the Democratic runoff, however, the campaign has taken on a more negative tone. Now the question is which of the two candidates has done a better job of handling caseload and disposition in their current jobs as justices of the peace - Breland in Pct. 2, or Meeker in Pct. 5.
Meeker says that Breland's backlog of cases since 1991 totals 34,000, according to information she attributes to the state Office of Court Administration. "In the last two years alone, she's only handled 54% of the cases filed in her court," Meeker says, adding that state records show her own court to have only 2,000 cases backlogged during the same time period.
But Breland says the backlog numbers are misleading. "Many of those cases may be technically active, but the parties may have settled the dispute without ever requesting any court action," she says. "It's not as if justice is being denied anyone." Breland also says the geographic and population size of her precinct, which spans north and northwestern Travis County, contributes to the high number of cases filed in her court. While there are no official population breakdowns for each of the five J.P. precincts, Breland notes that there are 150,667 registered voters in her precinct, compared to 70,371 in Meeker's Pct. 5 jurisdiction.
While Meeker has won the larger share of endorsements from Democratic clubs and professional groups, Breland carries strong name ID in her sector of the county, and she led the primary with 46.2% of the vote. Meeker's campaign staffers, meanwhile, are working the telephones and pounding the pavement in eastern Travis County, where they hope to capitalize on the energy of the Pct. 1 county commissioner race between Ron Davis and Stacy Dukes-Rhone. -A.S.