We have little patience for the persistent argument that Austin can't afford these bonds, or that Austin does not need substantial investments in infrastructure. But we do have misgivings about the general-obligation bond proposals in Props. 1-5. We think the process for selecting these bonds could have been handled better by the City Council. We think that if several of the bond projects were presented as stand-alone items, they would not pass. And we think that big, omnivorous bond packages in general should not be a prized tool in our civic toolbox. But we think that voting no on any of these bonds would be irresponsible. Too many of the projects to be funded by this debt -- from street repairs to the Shoal Creek Trail, from branch libraries to flood control on Williamson Creek -- have been needed, and promised, for years. They are not the problem, and to turn them down because you don't like "destination parks" or the Mexican-American Cultural Center serves nobody's interests. Instead, we encourage citizens to ensure that the bigger, murkier projects are done wisely and well, and that this round of promises is kept. We applaud the creation of a citizens' oversight committee to shepherd the implementation process, but we feel that all citizens need to be more vigilant and engaged where the city's infrastructure is concerned.
Propositions 6-10 (Utility Bonds): YES
The water/wastewater revenue bonds are generally easier to swallow than Props. 1-5, because they reflect a coordinated plan to both fix our currently decaying systems and build new ones where we want people to be. These are a big improvement over past utility bonds, and we support them. Our only reservation is with Prop. 8's allotment for land acquisition in drinking-water-supply zones. Didn't we just vote in May to spend an enormous amount of money for this very purpose? Why do we need more? This has been ill-explained by the city. Still, the majority of Prop. 8 funding goes to expanding our reclaimed water system, which will actually increase and protect our drinking water supply, instead of using "drinking water protection" as a cover for the city's real (though, we think, admirable) goal of land use management.
Props. 11-12 (Palmer/Coliseum): YES
Luckily, perhaps, our major reservation about the Town Lake Park project concerns the part that isn't on the ballot; we have great doubts that Palmer Auditorium can ever really be "retrofitted" into an acceptable fine-arts performance venue. We expect that down the line the option of simply demolishing Palmer, and building a real concert hall in its place, will end up on the table. But for even that to happen, we'll need to pass Props. 11 and 12, since the likelihood that the city will spend tax money to build such a hall is nil. Otherwise, we fully support replacing the outdated City Coliseum with an up-to-date public events facility to house groups that can't afford or do not wish to be in the Convention Center -- an effort that really should have been part of the Convention Center projects themselves -- and we look forward to seeing the south shore of Town Lake revitalized as a great public space for Austin.
Travis County Races
Travis County Judge: Sam Biscoe
The Travis County Commissioners Court is poised to become a leader on regional government issues as we move into the next century. Democrat Sam Biscoe has proven his leadership abilities and consensus-building skills as a Pct. 1 commissioner on the court. As county judge, Biscoe would redefine his leadership role in tackling new issues facing Travis County, the most pressing of which is growth management -- a task traditionally handled by local municipalities. Additionally, we believe Biscoe can work creatively and productively with other elected leaders on transportation matters, health and human services, public safety, and the economy. Finally, Biscoe may be just the one to forge a friendly bond with Austin's elected officials, provided there's cooperation from leaders on both sides of this longstanding divide.
County Commissioner Pct. 1: Ron Davis
It isn't often you come across a man as dedicated to his community as Ron Davis is to his neighbors in East Austin. He has spent nearly 20 years looking out for them, trying to improve the quality of life in the often-neglected Pct. 1. Perhaps he is best known for the role he played in ridding East Austin of the gasoline tank farm in 1992, but his achievements did not begin or end there. More recent efforts include establishing a new Austin Community College campus in East Austin that, when it opens in January, will bring sorely needed job training and child care facilities, and a cultural center to the area. He led affordable housing efforts in the Webberville/Ledesma area, and was on the forefront of the successful fight for city funding to protect East Austin homes from creek erosion. As Pct. 1 Commissioner, he will continue to represent the underserved. Republican Gregory Parker does not even come close to matching Davis' record of activism and community experience.
County Commissioner, Pct. 2: Karen Sonleitner
Sonleitner has come a long way. Running for her second term on the Commissioners Court, this former TV news reporter faces a tough race in Pct. 2's vast northern sector of Travis County. This is one of two sections of the county where Democrats like Sonleitner are threatened by growing numbers of Republicans. At this juncture in Travis County's history, however, it's important to keep someone as experienced and energetic as Sonleitner on the commissioners court. She is well-versed on the issues, and has proven herself to be a leader on the court.
County Commissioner Pct. 3: Nan Clayton
Even if Todd Baxter is not the Republican troublemaker enviros and progressives portray him as, can anyone who hopes for future city-county cooperation risk letting a Republican who is obviously tapping into suburban anger on the court? Clayton has a record, and a serious commitment to creating government that works for everyone. She has proven her dedication through tireless, unpaid work as a member of the AISD board of trustees, charity organizations, transportation committees, and more. Baxter's big-monied campaign leaves the impression that, despite his governmental acumen, he represents very narrow interests. Clayton's list of grassroots campaign contributors shows she clearly is the community candidate.
County Commissioner Pct. 4: Margaret Gómez
Some criticize the incumbent's quiet thoughtfulness as a sign she is not working. But a look at her record proves them wrong. Gómez may be a better doer than talker -- but isn't that what we want in our public officials? Her opponent, former Councilmember Bob Larson, has some interesting ideas about metro-government, but we believe it is Gómez who will continue to get things done for the residents of Pct. 4 and all of Travis County.
County Clerk: Dana DeBeauvoir
The job may be mundane, but it's important. The clerk keeps all of the county's records on wills, deeds, marriage certificates, and elections. The office has been modernizing ever since DeBeauvoir won the seat in 1986. But the process has stalled in recent months due to partisan bickering between her and county auditor Susan Spataro, as well as run-of-the-mill disagreements between DeBeauvoir and the Commissioners Court. While some computerization efforts are on hold, DeBeauvoir is moving forward with a plan to put all of the county's deed records on the Internet; the system should be up and running by the middle of next year. DeBeauvoir's Republican opponent, Bud Schauerte, has been attacking her at every turn. But DeBeauvoir should be given the opportunity to continue as county clerk, and she has our vote in this effort.
District Clerk: Amalia Rodriguez-Mendoza
In her two terms as Travis Co. District Clerk, Rodriguez-Mendoza has effectively modernized operations and services at this office, which keeps records for all cases heard in district court, and coordinates all jury matters for the county and city of Austin. Rodriguez-Mendoza implemented a system for county employees to keep track of case files and has organized jury operations to save the county -- and the residents called for jury duty -- money and time. She has earned herself another term.
County Treasurer: No Endorsement
County treasurer since 1986, Dolores Ortega-Carter has spent much of her tenure defending the existence of her elected position. Her duties have systematically been whittled away until the treasurer's office has become largely irrelevant. Its duties, such as receiving tax money and dispensing it to county departments, paying bills, and writing checks for employee salaries and jurors, are tasks that seem more appropriate for a county employee, not an elected official. Some of the paring down has been punitive -- in 1992, for example, the county commissioners removed independent investment authority from the treasurer's office after a controversy over Ortega-Carter's investment of $2.7 million in county funds without court approval. Is the treasurer's office worth the headache? We think not.
Justice of the Peace, Pct. 2: Richard Anton
Attorney Richard Anton's first bid for elected office pits him against Republican Barbara Bembry. Both are well-qualified, but Anton has more experience, particularly in handling the sort of misdemeanor criminal and civil cases that come before the J.P. court.
Justice of the Peace, Pct. 3: Scott Davis
Davis is running for his second term and, by most accounts, is well-liked and holds a reputation for running an efficient court. He has our vote.
Justice of the Peace, Pct. 4: Elena Diaz
The incumbent Diaz has made a name for herself as an effective, hard-working and no-nonsense J.P. That's proof in our book she's doing her job. She deserves another term.
Legislative & Judicial
State Rep. Dist. 49: Elliott Naishtat
During his four terms in the House, Naishtat has remained unwavering in his support for the underdog. He is a consistent voice for those whom most politicians would rather pretend do not exist: battered women, gays, pregnant teens, immigrants, welfare moms, the elderly, and the poor. Naishtat has already lined up for two tough battles during this upcoming Legislative session: opposing both legislation to ban gays and lesbians from becoming adoptive parents, and a mandatory consent law that would restrict access to abortion. Naishtat is one of a dying breed of politicians who believe that government can still do something for the disenfranchised besides punish them.
State Rep. Dist 51: Glen Maxey
What can we say about Glen Maxey that we haven't said before? Maxey is among the hardest-working reps at the lege -- just look at the number of worthy bills he files each session in the name of good government, health care, and social services. He's a master at successfully pushing through legislation without making enemies in the process. Next session, we trust, he'll be back at it again, championing sound legislation for everyone's benefit.
147th District Court: Wilford Flowers
First elected to this seat in 1990, the Democratic incumbent deserves another term on the bench, where he has earned a reputation as a fair, intelligent and hard-working judge. His GOP opponent, whose tough-on-crime handle is "Maximum" Marian Bloss (despite a bare minimum of criminal law experience), calls Flowers a "liberal judge" in her campaign ads, but "liberal" is hardly the word many defense lawyers and prosecutors would use to describe the former prosecutor who has presided over some of this county's most sensational criminal cases. The legal community on both sides of the docket holds Flowers in high esteem and give him excellent marks for integrity, intelligence, and sensitivity. What more can you ask for in a judge?
261st District Court: Lora Livingston
Here is a candidate who is just as committed to her community as she is to her legal profession. As an associate judge for three years, Livingston presided over family law matters, which is part of the civil caseload she would handle should she win election here, in her first try for an elected position. This Democrat spent the first six years of her law career as a legal aid attorney for indigent citizens in Austin and Travis County. She has worked a varied caseload in private practice, and in 1995 was appointed to an associate judge's bench by a panel of Travis County district court judges. Her Republican opponent, John Drolla, practices civil and business law and is making his third bid for a judicial post. Based on her legal and judicial experience, not to mention the hours she devotes to various volunteer efforts and pro bono projects, Livingston is by far the best qualified and most well-rounded candidate for the job.
County Court No. 6: Jan Breland
We did not endorse Jan Breland in the March primary, but we were quick to describe her as a good public servant who would make an honorable judge. We meant it then, and we mean it now; we heartily endorse her in the final round against Austin attorney Randy Trybus. As a 10-year justice of the peace in Northwest Travis County, Breland would come to her new post with expansive legal credentials. She served as legal counsel to the Texas Dept. of Public Safety and prosecuted cases for the County Attorney's office. This county court handles Class A and B criminal misdemeanors, such as assault and DWI cases. Travis County would be in good hands with Breland overseeing the docket.
Chief Justice, 3rd Court of Appeals: Marilyn Aboussie
Aboussie is the clear-cut choice here; she has served on the court since 1986 and was selected by her colleagues to serve as interim chief justice after Jimmy Carroll resigned in January. But rather than go with the experienced Aboussie, who is known for her common sense and fair mindedness, Gov. George W. Bush overruled the court and appointed Lee Yeakel, a former Travis Co. GOP chairman with no judicial experience. On Nov. 3, voters have a chance to correct that error and elect the right person to lead the powerful 3rd Court of Appeals.
Justice, 3rd Court of Appeals: Jan Patterson
Pity the 3rd Court of Appeals for its lack of visibility, but certainly not for its lack of power. All the more reason to elect Democrat Jan Patterson -- someone we trust will not sell us down the river on any Austin-bashing, anti-environmental cases this court is likely to hear in the future. We can't say the same of her Republican opponent, David Puryear, who is known in local circles as the ex-liberal Dem who switched to the GOP in 1994, shortly after winning election as a Democrat to a Travis County court-at-law seat. In this race, Puryear is running as an ultra-right candidate in order to curry votes from residents in the 24 counties that fall under the 3rd Court's jurisdiction. In one campaign letter written in his behalf last November, Puryear is characterized as one who believes the "traditional family is the bedrock of western civilization"; as an avid hunter who "shoots his semi-auto quite often"; and one who believes that the Save Our Springs Ordinance rulings made in this court "are examples of jurisdictional gerrymandering for purely political reasons." Patterson, a former federal prosecutor and adjunct law professor, is running on her record as a highly skilled and forward-thinking lawyer. She is clearly the more experienced, enlightened, and evolved candidate.
Here is a recap of the endorsements we offered last week; the full text ran in the last issue, and is still available on the Chronicle Web site.
Governor: Garry Mauro. He's clearly better than Bush on all the issues, but hasn't been able to turn the debate away from his big deficit in the polls. That's a pity. This state deserves better.
Lieutenant Governor: John Sharp. Pragmatic, but visionary in his own temperate way -- after an extraordinary tenure as comptroller, Sharp is ready for bigger things.
Attorney General: Jim Mattox. Mattox was the best attorney general this state has had in the last 20 years; his opponent is a demagogue who would gut the office's important duties.
Comptroller: Paul Hobby. Lucky for all of us, Carole Keeton Rylander drew a strong opponent in this race. Hobby has our vote.
General Land Office Commissioner: Richard Raymond. His decade of government experience, first as assistant to Land Commissioner Garry Mauro and for the past five years as a state rep, make him the clear choice.
Commissioner of Agriculture: L.P. "Pete" Patterson. During 21 years in the Lege, Patterson carried the banner for rural Texas. This is no stepping stone to higher office for him. This is where his passion and his expertise lie.
Railroad Commission: No Endorsement. A few years ago, the state got rid of the Treasurer's Office and transferred its duties to other agencies. It's time to make a similar move with the Railroad Commission.
Supreme Court Justice, Place 1: Mike Westergren. A district judge in Corpus Christi since 1984, Westergren won high marks for his professional handling of the high-profile Selena murder trial.
Supreme Court Justice, Place 2: Rose Spector. The first woman ever elected to the Texas Supreme Court, Spector brings a much-needed moderate voice to the ultraconservative court.
Supreme Court Justice, Place 3: David Van Os. This Austin attorney, who has spent 22 years working all levels of the legal system, will bring a long overlooked populist voice to the bench.
Supreme Court Justice, Place 4: Deborah Hankinson. Since joining the court in 1997, Hankinson has proven to be an independent thinker on the court, earning a reputation as a fair and forward-thinking justice.
Criminal Appeals Court, Place 1: Charlie Baird. The senior member on the bench has authored more than 750 opinions, and has been the highest-rated statewide judge in judicial bar polls.
Criminal Appeals Court, Place 2: Winston Cochran. This Harris Co. criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor would bring broad-based expertise to the court.
Criminal Appeals Court, Place 3: Lawrence "Larry" Meyers. The GOP incumbent, first elected to the court in 1992, has done a good job by most accounts, and is well-liked by attorneys on both sides of the political fence.