Democratic and Republican Primaries, March 7
The following are the Chronicle's endorsements in selected contested races for the March 7 primaries in Travis County; we make no endorsements in uncontested races.
This year the primary election question is more difficult than usual because both current Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and writer-performer Richard "Kinky" Friedman will be collecting petition signatures for the governor's race immediately following the primary. Because of the restrictive Texas election code, independent candidates will need roughly 45,000 signatures in a limited period from nonprimary voters even to appear on the November ballot. Some readers will be inclined, therefore, to "save themselves for Kinky" (or Carole). Although the outrageous Texas ballot law should be repealed, we cannot in good conscience counsel our readers to abstain from the primaries, especially when their votes could well determine the outcome in important downballot races. Consider the races in your particular district, and whatever your decision, be fully aware of the potential consequences. Given our progressive bent (and that of our readers) we only endorsed in the Democratic Primary. The Libertarian and Green parties select their November candidates in party conventions, not primaries, and thus are not addressed here. (Longer versions of these endorsements are at austinchronicle.com. The editorial board
Although three names are on the ballot, Houston lawyer Radnofsky is the only serious candidate. She deserves a chance to make a real, visible run against GOP incumbent Kay Bailey Hutchison, who tends to get a statewide pass as a "moderate," although she generally votes lockstep with the Bush administration. Radnofsky has emphasized public education and veterans' rights and has called for a withdrawal timetable from Iraq that in itself is a break from the reflexive caution of the institutional Dems. A strong primary vote would help her kick off a serious and effective campaign that both undermines Hutchison's political invulnerability and gives this candidate a national platform for her progressive ideas.
Sadly, the burden of trying to decide which of the four Democrats to endorse in the Congressional District 10 race is substantially lightened by the knowledge that ultimately, Republican incumbent Michael McCaul almost certainly will steamroll the winner in this very conservative district in November. If we are to be proven wrong, we believe Ted Ankrum offers the best chance. The retired NASA employee from Cypress is very articulate in presenting a vision for how he would lead the district, including well-defined positions on universal health care, getting us out of Iraq, and stopping the corrupt Bush administration in general. Winning the Austin-to-Houston district will be tough, but we believe that Ankrum's military service three tours in Vietnam may offer some appeal to moderates and alienated conservatives.
This was a tough choice for us. Former Houston Congressman Chris Bell, who won a broader state reputation with his forthright ethics complaint against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, initially had the field to himself, until challenged by another former congressman (and state rep. and state supreme court justice, among other things), Bob Gammage. At first the populist Gammage claim was that the unemotional Bell was insufficiently dynamic to galvanize the Democratic faithful; Bell responded that Gammage represented only a return to the Texas Democratic past. More recently the two campaigns have engaged in sniping over whose past congressional votes are more those of a "real" Democrat. Either would be a profound improvement over the current Perry regime. We recommend Bell because, on balance, we think he has a better grasp of the current state political situation and seems more attuned to the broad issues important to the full range of Texas voters.
About the best Democrats can hope for in this race is to draw out incumbent David Dewhurst, especially on public education where his rhetoric has been much more progressive than his legislative agenda. The candidate most likely to be able to do that is longtime Texarkana judge Grant.
It would be nice to see somebody slow the rise of Todd Staples, the Palestine Republican state senator who most recently was carrying the GOP's re-redistricting water in the Senate. Former ag inspector Melton of Fort Worth (currently working for Halliburton in Iraq) is not likely to give Staples much of a race, but he came out of the Hightower ag department and represents the progressive future of the party.
This was also a very tough choice because at least three of the four candidates are well qualified on the merits, and Dem voters may well be choosing the candidate with the best shot to replace incumbent Rep. Terry Keel, who resigned to run for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Considering the primary candidates, we found Bolton, Jason Earle, and Eric Beverly all to be essentially qualified; but meeting Bolton for the first time and following her campaign, we found her to be the most politically experienced and effectively social activist candidate, with a broad grasp of the issues and an engaging personal manner that will reach a broad range of voters on the stump.
Kathy Rider and Andy Brown are still on the ballot, but both withdrew and endorsed Howard after her success in the recent special election. She'll face Ben Bentzin again in November.
This race boasts two very solid candidates. Veteran Assistant District Attorney Buddy Meyer and former Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Charlie Baird are each well qualified, intelligent, articulate, and thoughtful. However, we believe Baird, who has already served in the 299th as a visiting judge, is the best choice to take on this busy criminal court an independent thinker who will consider carefully each case, and a flexible and savvy jurist who understands that incarceration isn't always the right answer for low-level, nonviolent offenders.
(split endorsement) Eric Shepperd or Elena Diaz
This court is a civil jurisdiction, and both assistant Travis Co. attorney Eric Shepperd (head of civil litigation) and Municipal Court Justice of the Peace Elena Diaz have considerable experience handling the kinds of contract, financial, eminent domain, and related litigation that land in this court. Shepperd had a hand in the recent renaming of the courthouse in honor of Heman Sweatt, he has plenty of strong endorsements, and he heavily outpolled Diaz in the local bar rankings. On the other hand, Diaz is certainly more experienced as a judge, and in the kind of grassroots legal practice required of a JP, although not yet at this jurisdictional level. Both are fully qualified and fully engaged in the political and legal process.
We're taking an impolite abstention. Challenger Sarah Eckhardt arrives with ready-made progressive bona fides, a string of impressive prog endorsements, and an engaging campaign manner. By contrast, we're all familiar with incumbent Sonleitner's often condescending style and more unhappy habit of finding a "conservative" direction in her precinct that we can never quite detect. But Eckhardt's opportunistic use of the toll-road issue as a stick for beating Sonleitner, and her consequent noisy embrace by anti-toll demagogues, has been frankly discouraging.
Eckhardt would inject new blood into a too-often lifeless commissioners' court, and could push her mental health agenda in great need of a local champion. And we could do with a commissioner more thoroughly attuned to regional concerns about unmanaged growth in the Hill Country. Yet Sonleitner almost always comes down on the side of good and open government, whether opposing a backroom deal to privatize the collection of delinquent taxes or the politically motivated plan to dismantle the central city constable office.
So while we don't find enough substantive reason to recommend firing the incumbent, we are aware of the benefits of opening the window to a spring breeze.
We wish that Gómez would come out of her shell more often to battle publicly on particular issues as might have been the case during Cap Metro's recent stalemate with the StarTran employees' union. She has a valuable position on the Cap Metro board, and she needs to use it for progressive influence not defend inaction by reference to a vague state law designed to make it difficult for agencies to act fairly for employees. But, on the whole, she has been a valuable advocate for her southeast precinct.
Election day is Tuesday, March 7. Polls will be open 7am-7pm. For election day polling places and to find your precinct, go to www.traviscountytax.org/goVoters.do or call 238-VOTE.
Early voting through Friday, March 3
Travis Co. voters may use any early voting location. Polls are open 7am-7pm, except as indicated.
* Temporary building in parking lot
CentralRandalls, 1500 W. 35th
Fiesta Mart, 3909 N. I-35
UT Flawn Academic Center, West Mall
Travis Co. Airport Boulevard Offices, 5501 Airport
Travis Co. Courthouse, 1000 Guadalupe
Northcross Mall, 2525 W. Anderson (9am-8pm)
Highland Mall, 6001 Airport (9am-8pm)
EastHEB, 2701 E. Seventh*
Albertsons, 1819 S. Pleasant Valley*
NorthHEB, 500 Canyon Ridge Dr. (Parmer & I-35)*
Albertsons, 11331 N. Lamar*
Randalls, 10900-D Research
NortheastNortheast Health Center, 7112 Ed Bluestein (Springdale Shopping Center)
County Tax Office Pflugerville, 15822 Foothill Farms Loop (just off Pecan Street), Pflugerville
NorthwestHEB, 7301 FM 620 N. @ RR 2222*
SouthRandalls, 2025 W. Ben White
HEB, 2400 S. Congress @ Oltorf*
Albertsons, 5510 S. I-35
SouthwestRandalls, 6600 S. MoPac
Randalls, 9911 Brodie Ln.
WestRandalls, 2303 RR 620 S.
Randalls, 3300 Bee Caves Rd.
Thursday, March 2
South Rural Comm. Ctr., 3518 FM 973 S., Del Valle, 10am-6pm
Central Services Bldg., 1711 San Jacinto, 8am-6pm
Huston-Tillotson University, 900 Chicon, 9am-4pm
Bee Cave City Hall, 13333-A Hwy. 71 W., 9am-6pm
Friday, March 3
North Austin Med. Ctr., 12221 MoPac N., 10am-2pm
Volente Vol. Fire Dept., 15406 FM 2769, 10am-6pm
Winters Building, 701 W. 51st, 8am-6pm
Del Valle ISD Admin. Bldg., 53001 Ross, 8am-6pm