Dream on, Dream Team

Democrats Fail to Convince Texas

Travis County's Mixed Messages

The D-word -- "debacle" -- got thrown around a lot at the Crockett Center polling headquarters on election night, and not just by Democrats. Seton Motley, campaign manager for Travis Co. judge aspirant Bob Honts, knew just how they felt. When early voting numbers, typically the high-water mark for GOP candidates, showed Honts being walloped by incumbent Sam Biscoe, nobody seemed more shocked than Motley. "It's still a Democratic county," he sputtered before fading into the otherwise good GOP night, making no allowances for Honts' checkered past and ample weaknesses as a candidate. Biscoe finished the evening with 54.3% and picked up more Travis Co. votes than did Tony Sanchez.

Honts stayed away from the cameras at the Crockett Center, but victorious Pct. 3 GOP candidate Gerald Daugherty did his TV-time coronation walk, followed by hooting supporters chanting "No more traffic!" Despite this admirable if inexplicable faith in the powers of their hero, Daugherty himself took a more conciliatory stance, promising to be "part of the team" at the courthouse while staying focused on his mandate to lower taxes and build more roads. Daugherty handily beat appointed incumbent Margaret Moore with 53.5% of the vote in the redistricted Pct. 3, which includes half of Travis County's area -- and far more than half of its Republicans.

Although Daugherty sought to begin his tenure by reaching across the aisle, he also filed a libel suit against county Democrats on Monday over a campaign mailer highlighting (and, in his view, distorting) his record as a "successful businessman, not a politician" -- 19 tax liens, violations involving alcohol and minors, et cetera. (For the record: The Chronicle reported on May 10 that minors have been cited for alcohol violations at events held at a Daugherty-owned facility -- which did not itself serve alcohol -- but that Daugherty himself had not been cited.) But now that Daugherty is, in fact, a politician, his mixed messages should make for a much livelier Commissioners Court.

Further evidence that Honts' failure was more personal than ideological came in Pct. 2, where two-term incumbent Karen Sonleitner once again was returned to the courthouse by the narrowest margin -- she finished with 50.6% -- despite giving up hordes of GOP voters in redistricting. "We've run a terrific race," said Sonleitner's opponent Sheri Perry Gallo. Sonleitner stayed home on election night: "We figured that, with a Libertarian in the race (taking votes away from Gallo), we would be OK," said one Sonleitner supporter. "We didn't want to get into a staring match [with Gallo] across the room all night." (Actually, the only candidate to spend all night at the Crockett Center was House Dist. 48 victor Todd Baxter, who posed innumerable times with his 2-month-old baby and brayed loud frat-boy whoops when the final county results came in at 12:30 am.)

The biggest winner on either side of the ballot (in races featuring both "major" parties) was Pct. 4 incumbent Margaret Gomez, who took 66.9% of the vote in trouncing GOP candidate Mike Hanson for her third term. Other than Daugherty, the only GOP winner in a race contested by Dems was Melissa Goodwin, who beat John Vasquez (with 52.2%) to become the new justice of the peace for Pct. 3 in southwest Travis Co. In the closely watched race for the 403rd District Court bench, longtime County Court at Law judge Brenda Kennedy handily unseated appointed GOP incumbent Frank Bryan, with 57.7% of the vote.

Returning for a second term as county judge, Biscoe said "loud and clear, the voters want to prioritize traffic" and promised that Travis Co. would both meet its own county road-and-bridge obligations and "partner with our 21 municipalities and the state of Texas ... for a real transportation system connecting county roads, city streets, and state highways." But this is easier said than done -- or paid for -- Biscoe noted. "The voters need to understand that for major transportation projects, you need additional revenue, both from tolls and from taxes." He also noted the county's state and federal mandates and unmet social-equity needs as burdens on the Travis budget that would provide a wake-up call to Daugherty and the GOP tax hawks. "Public safety, affordable housing, workforce development, environmental protection -- there are a lot of county priorities that haven't gone away," Biscoe said. "Quality of life is about traffic -- and a whole lot of other things."

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