The Rest of the Races

Anti-Soifer site comes down, Hidalgo Co. turnout goes up, and Williamson Co. (as usual) veers right


Head North, Turn Right

Pity your progressive friends and neighbors in Williamson Co., who – even by the local Republican standards – are deluged with unattractive choices on their primary ballot. The big story up north, across the board, is the conflict between the good-ol'-boy traditions (like self-dealing and cronyism) that seem to thrive at the courthouse, and the more modern sensibilities of the techies and soccer moms who form the bulk of county voters.

Among the good-ol'-boys is Sheriff Jim Wilson; the former constable was appointed by the Commissioners Court to replace the disgraced John Maspero, after he'd already announced he was running for the seat. His four opponents have cried foul, and Wilson didn't help matters by leading a purge of the sheriff's office immediately after being appointed. The contenders include another James Wilson, the former director of the Texas Department of Public Safety; former longtime Williamson Co. Deputy Rick Faught; Travis Co. Deputy Keith Kinnard; and DA investigator Howell Williams. Kinnard and Williams, and to a lesser extent James Wilson, are running as modernizers, whereas Faught is even more down-home and small-town than the incumbent. No Democrats are running.

Nor are there donkeys in the race for county commissioner for Precinct 1, which covers Round Rock. There are, however, not one but two good-ol'-boy former Round Rock mayors, Mike Robinson and Charlie Culpepper, vying for the seat vacated by Mike Heiligenstein when he took the director's job at the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. (Appointed seat-warmer Brad Curlee isn't running for a full term.) Robinson is in Williamson Co.'s public business up to his eyeballs, employed by contractor FT Woods Construction – allegedly paid a hefty sum for its own screwups at the county's new Juvenile Justice Center – and linked to deals to speculate on the water in the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer. County insiders whisper that Robinson – who's a member of the RMA board that hired Heiligenstein – had been anointed for the seat and that Culpepper is messing with the plan; a third candidate, Lisa Birkman, offers a different agenda, promising voters she'll "put God and my family first."

The man in the middle of many courthouse sagas, County Attorney Gene Taylor – recently spared, by a hung jury, in a discrimination lawsuit filed by an ex-assistant – is likewise fighting a pitched battle with Jana Duty to keep his job. And five candidates are seeking to replace retiring Commissioner David Hays in the Georgetown-based Precinct 3, where the anti-tax Sun City voting bloc holds enormous sway. Two candidates, Don Dison and Tom McDaniel, are themselves recent retiree-arrivals to the county, while Chris Logue is flying the modernizer, clean-up-the-courthouse flag. The winners in both of those races will face actual Democrats in November: former Georgetown ISD trustee Sharon Sanders Webster in the Precinct 3 race and Janet Engvall McTigue for county attorney. – Mike Clark-Madison


Anti-Soifer Site Comes Down

An anti-Jan Soifer Web site – that ironically gained its greatest publicity from the Soifer campaign itself – has now disappeared from cyberspace. The site at www.janscrewedthedemocrats.com came down not long after the 200th District Court candidate issued a press statement last Friday linking the anonymous site to her opponent Gisela Triana. Soifer connects the dots this way: Susan Daniels, president of the Capital Area Progressive Democrats, states in a sworn affidavit that she heard Rick Cofer, an employee of Triana consultant Glen Maxey, claim credit for the site. Daniels told the Chronicle she heard Cofer make these claims at Jovita's Restaurant, during a November fundraiser for state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez.

The Triana campaign denies any connection to the site, as does the third candidate in the race, John Hathaway. "What I find amazing is that Soifer keeps telling people to go read the Web site," Maxey said. "That's like Rick Perry calling a press conference to say he's not gay." Maxey said that Cofer, a student, does not have Web site-building skills. "Clearly there's a lot of people who are ticked off about her involvement with redistricting; anybody could have done it." Cofer himself could not be reached at press time. At any rate, Soifer has asked the state Ethics Commission to investigate the matter for possible violation of election laws.

Triana supporters have accused Soifer of betraying the Democratic Party by defending the state against lawsuits stemming from the 2001 legislative redistricting debacle, which gave the GOP control of the Lege. Soifer, in turn, has several times pointed out Triana's Republican past in an attempt to undermine the former county court-at-law judge's Dem credentials. – Amy Smith


Turnout Troubling for Doggett

It's easy to explain the sense of urgency, if not outright panic, emanating from the Lloyd Doggett campaign this week. So far in early voting, Travis Co.'s turnout numbers have been mediocre: as of Tuesday, fewer than 13,000 people had voted in the Democratic primary, a total turnout of less than 2.5%. There's no way of knowing, until Election Day, how many of those early voters are in CD 25, Doggett's new political home. Turnout at those early-voting sites within the district's East and South Austin boundaries has, as usual, been lower than average, but not as much lower as it's been in recent elections. (In case you're wondering, Dem turnout so far is outpacing GOP turnout in Travis Co. by more than 2-to-1.)

However, at the other end of the two-headed district, early-voting turnout in Hidalgo Co. – home base of Doggett's opponent, former District Judge Leticia Hinojosa – has been among the highest in the state. Nearly 22,000 citizens had voted in Hidalgo – a county with half as many registered voters as Travis – as of Tuesday. (All but 767 are Democrats.) While Hidalgo Co. is likewise split between congressional districts, it has a number of races generating heavy voter interest in addition to the CD 25 battle, and higher turnout in the Valley than in Austin is not good news for Doggett.

Understandably, the Doggett campaign is trying even harder than it already was – if that's possible – to get out the Austin vote. Early voting ends Friday, March 5; expect a blitz of block-walkers this weekend, reminding the Travis Co. faithful that a vote for Doggett on Tuesday is a vote against the evil Tom DeLay. "I hope folks will take the opportunity to support me in early voting, because 'DeLay' is our enemy," Doggett said punningly. – M.C.M.


The Democrats' Opinion Poll

The Chronicle was as surprised as anybody to walk into the voting booth last week and discover a pair of referenda on the Democratic primary ballot. The first asks Democrats whether they are "[f]or or against any efforts to end or privatize Social Security and Medicare programs," and the second asks whether they are "[f]or or against a constitutional amendment protecting taxpayers by prohibiting state mandates that require local property tax increases."

The two measures are on the ballot statewide. "They are nonbinding," said Texas Democratic Party spokesperson Mike Lavigne, "but they are useful in sending a message to our elected officials. We can say, 'Look, people in your county support or are against this.'" The second referendum was promoted by Travis Co. Precinct 5 Constable Bruce Elfant, who said, "During the last legislative session, we had a constitutional amendment [proposed] to prohibit this, but it got laughed out of the Capitol, because they couldn't balance the [state] budget without doing it on the backs of local governments."

Elfant said that education and health and human services used to get more funding from the state, and pointed to the increasing use of emergency rooms for health care and jail as a solution to mental health problems, as the results of the state pushing costs onto local governments. "What we're hoping for," he said, "is a serious discussion on how to fund local and state government." Although GOP primary ballots won't contain the measure (or any other referendum) Elfant said, "We're hoping that Democrats in their primary and Republicans in their precinct caucuses can come to a bipartisan solution." – Lee Nichols

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Election 2004, Williamson County, Jim Wilson, James Wilson, Keith Kinnard, Rick Faught, Howell Williams, Mike Robinson, Mike Heiligenstein, John Maspero, Charlie Culpepper, Lisa Brinkman, David Hays, Chris Logue, Tom McDaniel, Don Dison, Gene Taylor, Jana Duty, Jan Soifer, janscrewedthedemocrats

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