2004 General election, Nov. 2

Following are our endorsements in all contested races on the Travis Co. ballot, as well as selected races elsewhere in Central Texas. We agree this is the most critical election in a generation and encourage all readers to exercise their right to vote. Early voting begins Monday, Oct. 18.

President: John Kerry

No surprise to regular readers, and not a tough call. As voters approach the booth, we can either pretend the last four years have not been a national and international disaster, teetering on the brink of much worse, or we can remove the man and the team who drove the country into an aggressive and unjust war, willfully bankrupted the treasury, and used both as excuses to undermine virtually every socially progressive U.S. institution, from schools to health care to Social Security. If George W. Bush is re-elected, he and his neo-conservative handlers, feckless retreads of the worst excesses of the Reagan administration, will have no incentive to moderate their ingrained policies of imperial adventurism abroad and reckless social retrogression at home.

It's astonishing to us that any sentient progressive voter would not see the urgency of summarily evicting these reactionaries who've so abused the public trust. There has been much spilled ink over the insufficient differences between Bush and Kerry, as if the electorate is too naive to know that over the long term, our two-party duopoly needs a major overhaul. We don't entirely buy the cynicism about Kerry on literal grounds, but even so, how can it justify granting four more years to Bush & Co.? We either fight one necessary battle at time, or we surrender.

We believe most of our readers agree. Some will be moved out of a sense of ideological purity or desperation to write in Ralph Nader or the Green Party's David Cobb, or Libertarian Michael Badnarik. But under GOP dominance Texas has suffered badly, and in the last two years, a large segment of the state Democratic Party has risen from its long sleep to begin to make noise and raise hell, sounding once again like a party of the people. It's a movement certainly to be encouraged.

U.S. House, District 10: Lorenzo Sadun

Most write-in candidates are attention-seekers badly in need of a hobby, but Lorenzo Sadun deserves your vote. He's an earnest and intelligent Democrat (with both a large-D and a small-d) motivated not by ego but by revulsion with Tom DeLay's arrogance and a desire for voters to have a real choice. After no Dem filed in the primaries for the redrawn District 10, the UT math professor took it upon himself (at great personal expense) and campaigned hard. Michael McCaul was the least crazy of the right-wingers who ran for the GOP nomination, but we still fear he would be a willing footsoldier for the Radical Right. Remember, Sadun is a write-in – voting "straight Democrat" won't help him. To learn how to cast a write-in vote on the eSlate voting machines, go to www.votetravisvote.org, call the Travis Co. Clerk at 238-VOTE, or ask an election worker.

U.S. House, District 21: Rhett Smith

We'll be honest – Rhett Smith is not particularly inspiring, and doesn't appear to have much chance in this heavily GOP district, even with the support of gerrymandered Central Austin Democrats. But surely he could serve Texans better than incumbent Lamar Smith, whose main issue seems to be bludgeoning undocumented immigrants. Rhett Smith offers a more compassionate take on that issue and a saner view on foreign policy.

U.S. House, District 25: Lloyd Doggett

As charming and amusing as we find Becky Armendariz Klein, it is beyond dispute that she does not reflect and represent the values, interests, and concerns of this district – an assessment that's become even clearer as her campaign has gotten ever more strident, negative, and, well, Republican. Regardless of how you feel about Doggett as an icon, or redistricting as a casus belli, throughout this entire election cycle he has simply been the best candidate in this race.

U.S. House, District 31: Jon Porter

Porter is a friend of the Chronicle – his wife is a former employee – but endorsing him over GOP incumbent John Carter would be an easy call in any case. Porter understands that the Fort Hood families in the new District 31 – previously well-represented by Democrat Chet Edwards – are the ones who suffer when George W. Bush sneers "bring it on!" while quietly cutting veterans' benefits. Carter has shown complete willingness to support Bush's leap into the abyss, and has written loathsome editorials questioning the patriotism of those who don't back the war. Porter also wants to bring fiscal sanity to our budget by stopping the Republicans' drunken-sailor spending spree. Residents of Williamson Co. and the rest of District 31 should vote for Porter.

U.S. House, District 15: Rubén Hinojosa

U.S. House, District 28: Henry Cuellar

Thanks to redistricting, our friends in Bastrop and much of Hays County each get new representation in Congress. Incumbent Hinojosa clearly deserves support; Cuellar is a bit more troubling, given his past dances with the state GOP and the shenanigans attending his primary victory over Rep. Ciro Rodriguez. But on balance Cuellar has been a solid public official and a good choice for the district.

Railroad Commissioner: Victor Carrillo

The RRC has long been the house servant of the oil and gas industry, and hoping for something more seems like whistling down the drill hole. Incumbent Chair Carrillo, a Republican and former county judge in Abilene appointed last year by Gov. Rick Perry, has the energy, expertise, and experience to do the job and has occasionally shown a reasonable, even surprising independence from the industry – as in decisively voting in a rate decision earlier this year not to give TXU everything it was asking for. He has also advocated for renewable energy, and despite his GOP bona fides seems to take a refreshingly nonideological approach to the job. Political novice Bob Scarborough is a Democrat qualified by little more than good intentions, and Anthony Garcia a Libertarian for whom the free market heals all uncapped wells.

Texas Supreme Court, Place 9: David Van Os

The Texas Supreme Court, once notorious as a place where plaintiffs might stand a chance against the big boys, has devolved into a rubber stamp for large corporate interests and hard-right activist judges. It's alarming that GOP incumbent Scott Brister, appointed by Gov. Perry, promises to fit right in, even recently neglecting to recuse himself over an obvious conflict of interest. Brister has also been a judicial activist for anti-abortion groups, and in his confirmation hearing couldn't even bring himself to support the constitutional separation of church and state. Democrat David Van Os is a longtime labor lawyer and populist activist who promises to restore some balance to a court that has ceased being an independent arbiter and interpreter of the law.

Court of Criminal Appeals

Place 2: Quanah Parker

Place 5: Tom Oxford

Place 6: J.R. Molina

Incumbent Republican judges Lawrence Meyers (Place 2) and Cheryl Johnson (Place 5) face token opposition from Libertarian candidates Quanah Parker and Tom Oxford; Michael Keasler (Place 6) is opposed by perennial Democratic candidate J.R. Molina. None of the challengers are particularly impressive. But voters should reject any incumbent on the CCA as a matter of principle; the current court, led by presiding judge Sharon "Who Needs Evidence?" Keller, has distinguished itself largely by its hostility to any and all appellants and its willingness to rubber-stamp any lower court decision that smacks of anti-crime absolutism, whatever the broader legal or constitutional consequences. Meyers thinks the court is "as fair as it can be," and Keasler says he looks to Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas for his "textualist" models. Johnson has occasionally acted as a moderating vote on the court's worst decisions, to little avail. The opponents are valiant mavericks, hoping to make a statement about the court's reactionary intransigence and its ineffectiveness at promoting equity and simple justice in the Texas judicial system.

Texas House, District 17: Robby Cook

Cook, a WD-40 whose district includes Bastrop, has contemplated both retiring and switching parties. The fact that he didn't seems to have served him in good stead. Under current circumstances, it's hard to imagine what should motivate voters to turn out an incumbent Democrat.

Texas House, District 20: No endorsement

Perhaps we missed something, but we weren't completely or uniquely appalled last session by freshman Rep. Dan Gattis, whose district includes northern Williamson Co. (Indeed, he pleased us greatly with a floor fight on one particularly obnoxious anti-environmental bill.) And we're realistic about how well any Democrat would do representing such a rock-ribbed GOP district. So we encourage readers to look past party labels in Gattis' race with Jim Stauber.

Texas House, District 45: Patrick Rose

In his freshman term, Rose demonstrated strong enough survival skills to merit being sent back for another endurance test. The youthful lawmaker from Dripping Springs, representing Hays, Blanco, and Caldwell counties, took slings and arrows from both sides as he tried to walk a tightrope as narrow as his 2000 victory over ethically challenged incumbent Rick Green in this closely divided swing district. Rose angered Democrats by supporting tort reform, redeemed himself by joining his Dem colleagues in Ardmore, and then ended the session voting for a GOP-penned budget that, among other things, slashed health care for children. But his party, and even a few of its trial lawyers, still view the hard-working, astute rep as a rising star in Texas government, and so do we. Rose's GOP contender, Alan Askew, is 99% right-winger, full of talk of "family values" and "less government." We trust District 46 voters will want to keep the clock moving forward, not backward.

Texas House, District 48: Kelly White

Anyone who can grow a successful nonprofit from the ground up, as White did during her tenure at SafePlace, is both capable and deserving of applying her skills on behalf of The People. Her opponent, incumbent GOP Rep. Todd Baxter, all but forgot The People in his zeal to play to Tom DeLay's agenda, and added further insult (and injury) by voting to stiff kids out of the Children's Health Insurance Program. He should include that telling piece of information in his we-balanced-the-budget-without-raising-taxes campaign spiel. White has vowed to fight to restore full funding to CHIP, and we trust that she will follow through. Also, Baxter received campaign cash that prosecutors believe was corporate money illegally laundered by Tom DeLay's lieutenants. Haven't we had enough of partisan, power-grabbing government? White has committed to work toward a bipartisan spirit of give-and-take for the good of all Texans, not just a select class of chumps.

Texas House, District 49: Elliott Naishtat

Regular Chronicle readers need no introduction to Naishtat, who has spent a difficult baker's decade fighting the good fight for public institutions, especially for health and human services, and just plain ordinary folks in an often hostile or indifferent environment. Since he has a nominal opponent – Libertarian "Bo" Howell – we're delighted to put in a good word for Naishtat, who with his dedicated staff has worked doggedly, professionally, quietly, and always very hard for his constituents, for the state as a whole, and for the age-old dream of a more democratic, more equitable, and more just Texas.

Texas House, District 50: Mark Strama

Those familiar with our coverage of Jack Stick know that we would endorse practically anybody over the GOP incumbent. Fortunately, District 50 voters (and the rest of Austin) have an exceptionally strong Democratic nominee in Mark Strama, a tech-oriented entrepreneur and a former aide to Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. Not only does Strama possess a firm grasp of the issues, he articulates them in a way that exudes genuine passion, especially in two areas: education (he's keen on instituting mentoring programs in schools and actually working toward collaborative solutions to school financing) and campaign finance reform. Wonks calling for political accountability have historically been eye-glazers on the stump, but Strama's candidacy is having an easier go of it in this election cycle; the existing Legislature, and the indictments of those responsible for bankrolling the purchase of said body, have roused public interest in the knotty subject. We have living proof of what happens when you mix corporate money with campaigns: Jack Stick, who benefited from the tainted cash and cast his votes accordingly. But enough about Stick. Strama's our standout choice for the job.

Texas House, District 52: No endorsement

We're happy that, on transportation and growth management, incumbent Mike Krusee has shown signs of enlightenment. On most other issues, though, we're still pretty disgusted. Write-in Democrat Karen Felthauser, though, has gone after Krusee on issues where we support him, so we're torn. Choose wisely and look ahead to 2006.

3rd Court of Appeals, Place 4: Jan Patterson

Because its 24-county territory is based in the capital city, rules on state government, and thus has statewide influence, the 3rd Court is the most important of the state's 14 intermediate courts. So it's imperative to elect the most qualified and reasoned jurists to its bench. In her six years on the court, Patterson has built a reputation for fairness, judiciousness, and hard work, and has more than earned a return to the bench; she's the broad choice of the people most familiar with the court system.

3rd Court of Appeals, Place 6: Diane Henson

Henson has more than 25 years experience in both criminal and civil law, representing both plaintiffs and defendants, and practicing before numerous courts, including the 3rd Court. By contrast, GOP incumbent Bob Pemberton, appointed by his then-boss Gov. Rick Perry in 2003, has never argued a case in appellate court, never sat as lead attorney in a jury trial, and has no criminal-law experience. He does, of course, promise voters he'll refrain from "legislating from the bench" by interpreting the law with "conservative values." That is not what the bench is for. The honor of sitting in judgement should only be offered to the most experienced and reasoned thinkers – fortunately, Henson fits that bill perfectly.

345th District Court: Stephen Yelenosky

We're endorsing Yelenosky for the same reasons we supported him in the Democratic primary; he's a public servant in the truest sense whose "special interest" is not the needs of the rich and powerful, but the needs of those in need. He has spent his career advocating for the legal rights of the poor and disabled, at Legal Aid of Central Texas and currently at Advocacy Inc. He is also a long-standing member of an advisory committee to the Texas Supreme Court. Yelenosky faces a tough challenge against incumbent Judge Patrick Keel, a Republican appointee of Gov. Perry. This civil court rules on a number of important issues that could have long-term impact on Austin and Travis Co. – everything from the environment to campaign finance to family law matters. Suffice it to say, we're more comfortable with Yelenosky weighing these types of decisions than we are with a Perry appointee.

353rd District Court: Margaret Cooper

Cooper is a good judge with a reputation for fairness. She's not ready to leave the bench, and there's no reason why she should. Her GOP opponent, Demetri Anastasiadis, is a perennial candidate who has already run against Cooper (not to mention others) – and lost by an extra-wide margin. Cooper should have no problem winning another knockout. We're in her corner.

Travis Co. District Attorney: Ronnie Earle

After several aggressive but failed attempts, the GOP has given up opposing Ronnie Earle – described jokingly as our "district eternity" by The New York Times the other day – but he has drawn a Libertarian opponent, William Howell. But Earle is under heavy partisan fire at the moment, by GOP operatives determined to dismiss his current prosecution of alleged wrongdoing in the last election cycle as "a partisan witchhunt." We have differed with Earle on certain past cases, and we even thought he might be dragging his heels on the TAB and TRMPAC scandals. But we have never suspected Earle or his office of operating under any principles but what he believes the law and facts demand. Once perhaps marked for higher office, he may retire as the most powerful Democrat in Texas – and he certainly deserves another strong vote of renewed confidence.

Travis Co. Court-at-Law No. 5: Nancy Hohengarten

County courts at law handle misdemeanors such as simple assault, driving while intoxicated, and criminal trespass. Hohengarten's experience as both a prosecutor and a defense lawyer tells us that she will effectively balance the rights of both the victims and the accused. We were also impressed by the mud-free primary race she ran; our elected offices could use more people of this demeanor.

Travis Co. Sheriff: Greg Hamilton

Travis voters have been blessed this year with many good candidates seeking to replace retiring Margo Frasier, including both Hamilton and his GOP opponent Duane McNeill. Which is good, because the new sheriff will have a full plate: from mending internal divisions and boosting morale to dealing with chronic overcrowding at the jail and building a new facility. The TCSO needs a dynamic leader committed to hard work and new ideas to move the department forward – streamlining and improving operations within the constraints of the county's tax base. We believe that Hamilton is enthusiastic, progressive, and genuine, qualities that make him the best choice to tackle the job and best serve the citizens.

Travis Co. Tax Assessor-Collector: Nelda Wells Spears

Electing a Libertarian to this job would certainly be fun for a while, but it would get old pretty fast. Incumbent Spears has performed well and deserves continued support.

Travis Co. Constable, Precinct 3: Richard McCain

Democrat McCain, a longtime police officer and deputy constable, is facing the GOP's Thornton Keel (brother to Rep. Terry and Judge Patrick) to fill the post vacated by Drew McAngus; in addition to name ID, Keel has the endorsements of the county's law enforcement associations. While we're sure Keel would make an able constable, it's a what-you-make-of-it kind of gig, and we believe McCain would make more of it – he intends to make the office more efficient and offer more help to other law enforcers while generating revenue for the county. We believe that McCain should be given the chance to use his experience to mold a new and progressive approach to constabulary management.

Travis Co. Constable, Precinct 5: Bruce Elfant

While Greg Papst, the GOP challenger to three-term incumbent Elfant, also has good ideas for ways to expand the constables' mission, we believe that Elfant remains the right man for the job. He has increased efficiency and continues to further automate Precinct 5 activities – Elfant's is the first constable office in the state to create an online civil process tracking service, and he's working to reduce paperwork by putting data terminals in his deputies' county cars, among other innovations. Elfant says his goal before leaving office is that his deputies can do their jobs in real time with real-time information. We have no doubt he can do it.

Capital Metro Referendum: For

How do we put this nicely? If you don't vote for this rail plan, Capital Metro is doomed. Yes, this plan is excessively cautious and modest. Yes, it really sucks that Cap Metro has been put in this box. But in the box it remains, and unless rail wins, that box is going in the trash, and we can give up any hope that Austin will ever have a transportation system (or land-use pattern) that isn't totally dependent on the automobile. We believe this to the depths of our souls, and we hope you do as well.

Lago Vista Referendum: For

Voters in the Lake Travis town are being asked to consider adopting a charter and becoming a home-rule city. If there's a downside to this, we aren't sure what it would be.

Williamson Co. Attorney: Janet Engvall McTigue

Williamson Co. Commissioner, Pct 3: Sharon Sanders Webster

The Democrats in the two contested local races on the Williamson County ballot. We applaud WillCo's tentative steps out of the good-ol'-boy zone – both McTigue's opponent Jana Duty and, to a lesser extent, Webster's foe Tom McDaniel, ran as reform candidates. But an even better way to clean up WillCo's messy courthouse would be to elect some Dems.

Hays Co. Commissioner, Pct 3: No endorsement

Sort of like Mike Krusee's race, though young fresh GOP face Will Conley is too green yet to be very offensive. But Dem David Baker is running a shrieking campaign against toll roads, and/or against retiring incumbent Bill Burnett, but not against Conley, that we can see. Do your best, folks.   end story

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