Wheat, Chaff Intact in Sheriff's Race

The seven candidates to replace Margo Frasier show few differences at forum

The race to become Travis Co.'s top cop kicked off Jan. 20 with a Q&A session featuring seven of the candidates running to replace Margo Frasier as the county's next sheriff. During the two-hour forum, the candidates (three Dems and four pachyderms) answered questions on a variety of topics – from handling homeland security to improving union relations – and then fielded a final zinger posed by audience member and perennial candidate for insert-office-here Jennifer Gale.

Hosted by the Travis County Sheriff's Law Enforcement Association and attended primarily by county law enforcement and corrections officers – including Frasier – Democratic candidates Raymond Frank, Greg Hamilton, and Todd Radford along with Republican candidates A.J. Johnson, Duane McNeil, Joe Martinez, and Drew McAngus sought to earn support for their bid for Frasier's job. (Dem candidate Kyle Kincaid did not attend.) And although the race is in its infancy, there are already several presumptive front-runners. For the Democrats, they're Hamilton – whom Frasier has named as her choice of successor – and Radford, whose on-message style suggests a certain savvy that may resonate well with civilian voters. At the top of the Republican heap sits McAngus, Travis Co.'s elected constable in Precinct 3, whose name recognition makes him, at least for the time being, the pachyderm to beat.

After the TCSLEA forum, the wheat and chaff remained intact; while the questions posed to the candidates varied widely, their answers did not. All seven expressed support for finding a way to raise TCSO employees' salaries, fostering open communication between officers and management, and improving community relations. Still, important issues lurk in the race – not just for Travis Co. residents but for the fractious TCSO family itself. In-house warring over pay, equity, and other issues between the department's two factions of deputies – the law enforcement officers and the correctional officers – last year fractured the officers' union, resulting in the creation of two separate interests: the Travis County Sheriff's Officers Association, which represents most of the department's corrections officers, and the TCSLEA, host of the forum, which represents most of the other deputies. "It is important to have one united voice," said Republican candidate McNeil, an APD commander. "The bottom line is that all [the TCSO's resources] come out of the same pot of gold. Sometimes they'll go to corrections, sometimes to law enforcement." Radford said that if elected sheriff, he would ask leaders for each union to sit down with him. "Sometimes the issue is 'how can we help each other?'" he said. Hamilton said that the two groups need to reunite, "because there is great divisiveness going on right now, and that is not what this department needs" – an assessment shared by McAngus. "United we stand, divided we fall," he said. Only Martinez said he believes that the unions should remain separate. "Each has its special needs," he said. "They need to be separate; [they need to be] two bodies thinking on their own." As sheriff, he said, it would be his responsibility to make sure county commissioners hear and respond to each union's needs.

The candidates also, unanimously, pledged support for other hot-button issues, among them a quest for a new TCSO shooting range (deputies currently train and qualify at a private skeet-shooting range) and support for state legislation giving deputies meet-and-confer bargaining power in labor-contract negotiations with the county.

Still, the candidates may need to work on their ability to field zingers from non-law-enforcement voters – a lesson offered by local political gadfly Gale. After announcing her candidacy for Congress, Gale asked the candidates whether they would forbid deputies from arresting people for failing to identify themselves, pursuant to the Texas Penal Code. The question earned several snickers from the audience and denial from the candidates. Arresting people who won't offer identification is necessary for officer safety, replied Hamilton, Martinez, and Johnson. And, officers don't make the laws, they simply enforce them, said McAngus, Radford, and McNeil. Unfortunately, according to the penal code, neither answer will do. Officers are allowed to arrest a person for failure to identify only if the person fails to provide identification after being picked up for some other offense. "So, I'm afraid that would disqualify all of you," Gale told the candidates.


Travis Co. Sheriff Candidates:

Democrats

Greg Hamilton – former TCSO deputy and head of law enforcement operations at Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission

Todd Radford – former TCSO deputy turned national law enforcement instructor and consultant

Raymond Frank – former Travis Co. sheriff

Kyle Kincaid – attorney

Republicans

A.J. Johnson – Austin Police Department officer

Duane McNeil – Austin Police Department commander

Drew McAngus – Travis Co. constable, Precinct 3

Joe Martinez – former TCSO deputy and Travis Co. DA's investigator

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Election 2004, Travis County Sheriffs Office, sheriff's race, Margo Frasier, Greg Hamilton, Todd Radford, Drew McAngus, Duane McNeil, A.J. Johnson, Joe Martinez, Frank Raymond, Kyle Kincaid

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