The Austin Chronicle

The Race Is on for House District 48

By Amy Smith, December 16, 2005, News

Judging from the growing field of contenders, the Jan. 17 special election for Austin's HD 48 is almost certain to go to a run-off. To date, the list of hopefuls vying to replace former Rep. Todd Baxter includes a Republican, a Libertarian, and two Democrats. A third Democrat, Andy Brown, filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday after the secretary of state's office ruled him ineligible to run in the special election because he doesn't meet the residency requirement. Brown, a lifelong Austinite, said, "The law is clear that the residency requirement doesn't apply to the special election." Brown moved to the district in May and is qualified to run in the March primary. At a press conference Wednesday, Brown called on GOP opponent Ben Bentzin to "come clean" about his role in the governor's decision to schedule a special election on a very tight timeline. Brown said the short notice was a deliberate move to coincide with the holidays and the UT calendar, to ensure a Bentzin victory. "In the spring of 2005, no one realized Todd Baxter would resign from the Legislature with a pending and vitally important special session looming," Brown said. "Baxter's decision to cash in on his office for a six-figure lobbying contract began an orchestrated effort by Todd Baxter, Rick Perry, and the Republican leadership to call an election that they hoped would benefit their handpicked candidate, Ben Bentzin."

The entry of Libertarian candidate Ben Easton could create some interesting dynamics as well. In a swing district such as this one, just the "L" word alone could siphon enough votes from Bentzin to guarantee a run-off between him and a Democrat – in this case either Brown, Donna Howard, or Kathy Rider. Howard and Rider are running on their record as school board members – Howard as a former trustee on the Eanes school board and Rider as former president of the Austin school board. Playing the education card is of particular importance in the special election because the winner will represent the district when the Lege convenes in a special session on school finance, most likely after the March primary. Early voting for the special election starts Jan. 2 and runs through Jan. 13.

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