U.S. Senate (Dem): Ron Kirk
The candidacy of Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk represents a historical payback for the Democratic Party's too often cynical reliance on African-American voters as an unwavering base. Ken Bentsen has a generally solid progressive record as a congressman, while Kirk has been a mainstream consensus-builder in an extremely conservative, business-dominated city. But he has the leadership skills to reach beyond the party's comfortable constituencies and to excite the disaffected Democrats who could make the difference in a close November election. Victor Morales is a sincere but at best part-time candidate, and should he pull off the solitary upset once again, he will make it more likely that John Cornyn will assume a drearily Gramm-like reign in Washington. If you want to help build a Democratic ticket that not only reflects the real Texas -- but actually has a chance to represent it -- vote for Ron Kirk.
U.S. Congress, District 10 (Dem): Lloyd Doggett
Having survived redistricting, Doggett now has to survive Jennifer Gale. He undoubtedly will -- and perhaps he can use his now unassailable congressional redoubt to carry necessary legislation nobody else from Texas will touch.
Governor (Dem): Tony Sanchez
Goaded by an unexpected primary campaign, the heretofore silent Tony Sanchez has begun to sound like an actual Democrat: with a healthy emphasis on education and health care, and even a willingness to take on such sacred state cows as the insurance industry and the already gargantuan prison budget. Is Sanchez the cure for the perilous condition of the Texas Democratic Party? No -- but with a real shot at defeating Rick Perry, he could help create the space where such a revival, initially fueled by minority-soon-to-be-majority voters, might begin to take place.
Land Commissioner (Dem): David Bernsen
Beaumont Sen. Bernsen has the legislative and policy experience to return the General Land Office to being an important public resource, as it was under Garry Mauro, before David Dewhurst turned it into a political whipping post and a campaign commercial backdrop.
Agricultural Commissioner (Dem): Tom Ramsay
Ramsay has been a solid, unpretentious East Texas representative (Mt. Vernon) with some farming background, and knows his way around the Capitol well enough to advance the interests of Texas farmers and ranchers. He has no pretensions to higher office, and Texas ag policy could use a little direct, unpoliticized attention.
Railroad Commissioner (Dem): Sherry Boyles
With a record of party activism and social commitment, Boyles has the look of a rising Democratic star. She proposes merging the RRC and Public Utility Commission, an idea so sensible and overdue that it will take at least another decade to accomplish. We should get started.
Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 2 (Dem): Julius Whittier
Whittier is contending for the seat once held by the deplorable Steve Mansfield (who wants it back). He has extensive experience as both a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney, and holds promise of moving the court away from its current "hang 'em high" extremism toward more straightforward, balanced justice. That shouldn't be too much to ask.
State Rep., District 50 (Dem): Jim Sylvester
Both candidates are convincingly earnest, but Sylvester's experience working at the Capitol on crucial issues, particularly family violence, and his beat as a Travis County sheriff's deputy, give him the edge over Fidel Acevedo's record of party activism. It should also give Sylvester an edge with voters in this new, leans-GOP, low-turnout, swing district.
State Rep., District 51 (Dem): Eddie Rodriguez and Lulu Flores
It's an embarrassment of riches in the six-way race to succeed retiring Rep. Glen Maxey. Rodriguez, Maxey's former chief of staff, promises to fill his boss' shoes fighting for progressive causes and against the state's status quo. But Flores, who lost to Maxey 10 years ago and has spent the interim working primarily on regulatory matters, has something of an edge in experience over the younger Rodriguez. We expect a runoff, and we'll revisit this endorsement then.
Travis County Judge (Dem): Sam Biscoe
During his four years as county judge, Sam Biscoe has had to learn some serious accountability lessons -- the Criminal Justice Center debacle chief among them. No doubt the costly construction fiasco has been a humbling experience, but we don't believe that failure is sufficient to reject him. In other areas, Biscoe has demonstrated fiscal leadership on county budget matters and a willingness to listen to opposing views. We believe Biscoe has the county's best interests at heart, and see no compelling reason to change course now.
County Commissioner, Pct. 2 (Dem): Karen Sonleitner
Of all our endorsement deliberations, this was the closest call. We are aware that many of the Chronicle's core readers will back Jeff Heckler in this race, but Sonleitner won our endorsement. Heckler has an admirable record as a progressive activist, and is sincerely determined to give a stronger voice to environmentalist, anti-sprawl sentiment on a court too often driven by reflexively suburban concerns. But we believe Sonleitner, as a two-time incumbent on the Commissioners Court, has a much broader understanding of how county government functions, knowledge which will serve her well going into a third term. Like Heckler's supporters, we have often been unhappy with Sonleitner's go-along-to-get-along drift on too many crucial county decisions. We will expect her to be more attentive to the wishes of her newly redistricted Central City constituents, whose votes in the last bond election ran strongly counter to Sonleitner's grin-and-bear-it enthusiasm for highway bonds. Given the new, more progressive boundaries under redistricting, we're willing to let Sonleitner show us what she says she's really made of -- as she did when she helped push the SH 130 route through Travis County eastward, away from neighborhoods and schools, or with her recent CAMPO vote against SH 45 South. We expect to see more of that kind of leadership in the new Pct. 2.
County Commissioner, Pct. 3 (Rep): Ira Yates
It's rare that the Chronicle endorses in Republican primary elections, but we couldn't resist the opportunity to sit down and talk politics with Yates and Gerald Daugherty, two community activists seeking the GOP nomination. (In November, the winner will face Democrat Margaret Moore, serving out the term vacated by Republican Todd Baxter.) We're endorsing Yates, because we believe his rancher-conservationist sensibilities are more closely aligned with our own -- that is, Yates seeks to protect property rights while preserving the natural heritage of the Hill Country. Daugherty is well known as a watchdog and critic of Capital Metro, founder of ROAD (Reclaim Our Allocated Dollars, a leading opponent of all proposals for light rail), and an unblinkingly consistent advocate of highways as the solution to problems created -- at least in part -- by highways. Daugherty's fire-in-the-belly principles are refreshing in these days of voter apathy. We just don't happen to agree with those principles. Our comfort level rests with Yates.
County Commissioner, Pct. 4 (Dem): Margaret Gomez
We have watched Gomez grow into this position and become more outspoken on matters important to voters in her South Travis County precinct. The incumbent has shown sensitivity to those of her constituents who live on low or fixed incomes, aptly demonstrating this last fall when she parted company with the commission majority and voted against a $199.3 million county bond package -- and the property tax increase that went with it. Gomez should stay put.
County Court-at-Law No. 7 (Dem): Evelyn McKee
Another close call, between McKee and Elisabeth Earle, but we're endorsing McKee because of her 13 years of bench experience in municipal courts. She's the city's presiding municipal judge, while Earle presides over the Downtown Austin Community Court, a position she has held since 1999. Either McKee or Earle would serve this misdemeanor court well, but our vote goes to the more experienced candidate.