The Austin Chronicle

Primary Colors: Part II

More races to watch, up and down the ballot

By Michael King, February 17, 2006, News

Early voting for the March 7 primaries for both the Democratic and Republican parties begins Tuesday, Feb. 21. Last week we briefly previewed the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and State Board of Education races for Central Texas voters. This week we preview the contested races for the state House and Travis Co. Commissioners Court, and a handful of other races that bear watching, for political reasons, entertainment value, or both. For more voting info, see p.8; for complete sample ballots, voting locations, and other info, see the Travis Co. Clerk's Web site,

Lieutenant Governor, Democrat: Dems on horseback?

Of the three Dems vying for the right to be rolled by incumbent David Dewhurst in November, only former state rep Benjamin Z. Grant has political experience. He was another of the "Dirty 30" reformers (with gov candidate Bob Gammage and Comptroller candidate Fred Head) who fought the Lege leadership 30 years ago – his campaign Web site ( features him riding to the Capitol on horseback. Maria Luisa Alvarado, Austin social worker and Air Force veteran, is currently best known for being the sister of Felix Alvarado, the Fort Worth middle school principal who was also running for governor – until his filing check bounced. Adrian de Leon, still very low profile, owns a business in Carrizo Springs.

Agriculture Commissioner, Democrat: Un-Stapled

GOP state Sen. Todd Staples, fresh from carrying re-redistricting in the Senate, has been anointed to succeed Susan Combs (running for comptroller), but he'll be opposed by one of two Democrats with ag backgrounds. Hank Gilbert, a rancher from Whitehouse (near Tyler) and president of the Walnut Grove Water Supply Co., says he wants to be only a Texas "ag man" with no higher political aspirations. Koecadee Melton, currently an environmental coordinator with Halliburton/KBR in Iraq, has held various state agency posts since beginning his career as an agriculture inspector under Jim Hightower; he's also a vice-president in the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats.

Court of Criminal Appeals, Presiding Judge, Republican: Hang 'em medium

Incumbent Sharon Keller, notorious for her enthusiasm for the death penalty and her indifference to the right to effective counsel, again faces moderate colleague Tom Price, who has called for a moratorium until the state fixes its crime-lab crisis, at least in Houston, and has also supported action against the underlying causes of crime. In the GOP primary, that sounds like rampant liberalism, which in this crowd generally spells defeat.

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 8, Republican: Keel's haul

This race got plenty of early ink when challenger Terry Keel, late of House District 47, managed to get both incumbent Charles Holcomb and candidate Robert Francis kicked off the ballot for petition irregularities. A GOP court reinstated them – what are a few election rules among friends? – and if there's no backlash, the race will turn on whether Keel has established sufficient statewide name recognition to uproot a one-time, 72-year-old incumbent who would be required to retire at 75, before his six-year term ends.

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