One More Time for Lugo, Canchola

Constable candidates expect a close contest in the April 13 run-off

In preparation for the April 13 run-off, incumbent Travis Co. Precinct 4 Constable Maria Canchola has been doing exactly what she did in preparation for the primary race that landed her in the run-off: block walking. "It's going very well, and I am feeling very positive," she said during a phone interview while cruising through a Travis Heights apartment complex. In two weeks, Canchola, 58, will face off against political newcomer and former Precinct 4 deputy Leticia Lugo, 39, in a race that insiders say could be a toss-up – depending on how many folks actually show up to cast their ballots. The race, which covers the southeast portion of Travis Co. (traditionally the county's lowest-turnout region) will be the only Democratic contest to be decided in the run-off.

But Canchola is confident that she'll be able to hang onto the post she won from Rocky Medrano in 2000 – after all, she notes, that race went into overtime too, and, without breaking a sweat, Canchola knocked pugilist Medrano right out of office. "I feel very positive about it," she says about the upcoming vote. "I won last time, so you might say I've got some experience in winning run-offs."

Canchola has a record she's proud of – including the successful implementation of an at-risk mentoring program at Travis High (which she hopes to expand to other Precinct 4 schools in her next term) and the service of more than 7,000 warrants (including many of the 5,000 "back-logged" warrants left over from the Medrano administration). Canchola says that her successes are, in part, attributable to the fact that she has made the constabulary her career choice – a career that includes a nine-year stint working with Precinct 5 Constable Bruce Elfant (who is something of a celebrity, in the underappreciated world of county constables). "When I won, it was the first time a constable had worked their way up through the ranks to actually be an elected constable," she said. "By doing that I learned exactly what a constable should be doing."

But Lugo isn't concerned with the credentials of her former boss Canchola. Indeed, Lugo's greatest asset in the race may be her enthusiasm for the job. She was born and raised in Precinct 4 and is "full of energy" and ideas on how to use the constable's office as a platform to give back to the community. Lugo, who has worked with the county's parks and recreation department for nearly 20 years, was first introduced to the work of a constable while a Precinct 4 deputy for 11 months – a term that spanned both the Medrano and the Canchola administrations – on the grant-funded Project Spotlight, checking up on juvenile and adult probationers. She says she wants to further automate the Precinct 4 office by bringing in the Internet and by finding grant money to outfit the office's cars with mobile data terminals. In addition, she says, she'd like to increase the number of reserve officers (who volunteer their services in order to keep their law enforcement commissions current) to between 20 and 30 – currently there are just a handful – so that the office can become more involved with community outreach programs such as National Night Out. In short, although Lugo lacks the experience of her opponent, she says she'll make up for it with enthusiasm and energy. "That's the way I always am," she said.

Lugo may – or may not – have one last ace up her sleeve: Mike Hanson. Yes, the fireworks salesman, cable-access conspiracy theorist, and former Precinct 4 candidate has thrown his supporters – nearly 22% of the primary vote – in Lugo's direction. Of course, whether that'll help her out remains to be seen. "At this point I'm hoping it will," said Lugo. "He got nearly 1,700 votes, so, heck, if he's going to throw 200-300 votes in my direction, I'll take them." But Canchola (among others) isn't so sure the Hanson endorsement will help Lugo. "It may hurt her," she said. "You know, really, I'm sorry, but the truth is my defense." – Jordan Smith


The Rest of the Races

While Lugo and Canchola have the Democrats' attentions all to themselves, local Republican voters have a wide array of races to resolve. Perhaps the highest-profile is the CD 10 run-off between Austin's Michael McCaul and Houston's Ben Streusand, since the winner will face no Democratic opposition in November and will likely automatically become one of Tom DeLay's D.C. minions. Even by the ever-declining standards of the genre, this race has become a stupid mess, with talk of issues drowned out by tub-thumping over which candidate has the larger, tougher, and more conservative Republican penis. Thousands of disenfranchised Austin liberals weep.

Elephants in Travis Co. also have to pick a candidate for sheriff in the run-off – expected to be quite close – between APD Cmdr. Duane McNeill and outgoing Precinct 3 Constable Drew McAngus; the winner will face Democrat Greg Hamilton in November. And GOP voters statewide have to resolve the Railroad Commission primary contest between incumbent Victor Carrillo (who barely missed getting 50% on March 9) and semi-unknown Robert Butler; Bob Scarborough is the Democrats' nominee for the seat. In southwest Travis Co., the race to succeed McAngus as Precinct 3 Constable is likewise hanging, with favorite Thornton Keel (yes, one of those Keels), who likewise just missed winning outright March 9, facing challenger Andy Anderson for the right to face Democrat Richard McCain in November.

The fun also isn't over in Williamson Co., where GOP voters will pick between favorite James R. Wilson, the former director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, and good-ol'-boy former deputy Rick Faught to become the county's fourth sheriff in less than six months. (Controversial incumbent Jim Wilson – a different person, appointed to succeed the even more controversial John Maspero – finished a very close third on March 9 and had made noises about a recount.) And voters up north will also decide two county commissioner races – Precinct 1 (Round Rock), pitting former Round Rock Mayor Charlie Culpepper against Lisa Birkman, and Precinct 3 (Georgetown), with Jeff Stockton facing off against Tom McDaniel. In a rare occurrence for Williamson Co., the winner of the Precinct 3 race will actually face a Democrat – former Georgetown ISD trustee Sharon Webster – in November. – Mike Clark-Madison

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Election 2004, Leticia Lugo, Maria Canchola, Pct. 4 Constable, Mike Hanson, Travis Co. Sheriff, Duane McNeil, Drew McAngus, Railroad Commissioner, Victor Carrillo, Robert Butler, Pct. 3 Constable, Thornton Keel, Andy Anderson, Williamson Co. Sheriff, James R. Wilson, Rick Faught, Williamson Co. Commissioner, Charlie Culpepper, Lisa Birkman

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