The March Primaries and After: The Filing Report

Flurry of last-minute filings

After 29 days, only four Travis Co. Republicans had filed for the March 4 primaries, all for county-level offices. But in a flurry of last-minute filings before the Jan. 2 deadline, 10 more potential candidates – including five for state representative – have entered the fray to take on the Democratic county dominance.

First facing off in a GOP primary, physician Joseph Donnelly and insurance agent Pamela Waggoner will vie to take District 48 back from freshman Dem Donna Howard. Financial adviser Jerry J. Mikus is back to go after Mark Strama in District 50, having mounted an unsuccessful 2002 primary run for the seat, while in District 49, Elliott Naishtat will face business consultant Jim Hasik. Of the six Travis Co. incumbent Democrat state reps, only two – Dawnna Dukes in District 46 and Eddie Rodriguez in District 51 – avoided a Republican challenge. Dukes does face a primary run by lawyer Brian Thompson, while Rodriguez is opposed by Libertarian Jerry Chandler.

And there's one vaguely familiar name on the GOP ticket: Donna Keel, looking to oust freshman rep Valinda Bolton from District 47. If the name rings a bell, that's because she's the sister-in-law of Bolton's five-term predecessor, now turned-parliamentarian to Speaker Tom Craddick, Terry Keel. If she won, she'd be the third Keel in the seat since her mother-in-law Patty briefly held it after a 1996 special election. Patty assumed the seat from Susan Combs who, as state comptroller, is now Donna's boss in her day job as a government auditor. Asked whether being called "Keel" might affect her run, husband and campaign manager Thornton Keel said, "It can't hurt." But the Keel name is not the unstoppable force in Travis Co. politics it once was, and the recently close Keel association with Craddick may instead evoke a Democratic backlash. "I doubt it will have an effect on the ballot," said Travis Co. Democratic Party Chair Chris Elliott. "The last Keel that was on the ballot, [Precinct 3 Constable] Richard McCain [defeated] comfortably." That Keel was Thornton in 2004, the same election in which third Keel brother – Patrick – then 345th District judge, was trounced by Democrat Stephen Yelenosky.

Not that Bolton isn't also trying to keep government in the family: Her husband, Andy Hathcock, is jockeying with Rhonda Hurley and Robert Ettinger to replace Judge W. Jeanne Meurer in the 98th District Court. Meurer had suggested she might run to replace outgoing Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle, but her decision not to file leaves the seat open for the winner of the Democratic primary among current Earle staff members Mindy Montford, Rick Reed, and Rose­mary Lehmberg, as well as former assistant DA Gary Cobb.

Further down the ballot, last-minute candidate Don Zimmerman – president of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 (Canyon Creek) and currently a prominent Ron Paul booster – signed up to run as the GOP candidate for tax assessor-collector, meaning he'll face the winner of the already brutal Nelda Wells Spears/Glen Maxey Democratic primary. Zimmerman's probably glad to avoid a primary, since he lost the GOP slot to general election loser Jeff Fleece by seven points when he hoped to take on Strama in 2006.

It's not only Republicans targeting the bluest Texas county: Eight Libertarians have filed for county-level seats in Travis, more than for Williamson and Harris counties combined. However, they could indirectly turn it a deeper shade of blue, with Libertarian Party of Texas challengers for two GOP incumbents – peeling away conservative votes and potentially leaving the incumbents more vulnerable to Democrats. In fact, that's the explicit intent. "My personal aim is that I want to wipe the Republicans off the Travis County map," said Executive Director Wes Benedict.

Both targeted GOPers face crowded fields. Precinct 2 Constable Bob Vann faces a primary run from Carl Joiner, who challenged him in 2004. If he survives that, he may be further weakened by Libertarian Arlo Pignotti in the general election, when he faces either Deputy Constable Adan Ballesteros or IT support engineer Paul LaBuda as the Democrats' candidate.

Benedict himself is running against Precinct 3 County Commissioner, Republican Gerald Daugherty, and plans to attack him over his backing of toll roads and the commuter rail. "That's two things a real conservative would never support," said Benedict, "and I'm going to get him for that." Benedict has his own primary to win first (more precisely, Libertarian candidates are chosen in a spring nominating convention). However, he's not surprised by the challenge from Travis County Libertarian Party Executive Committee member Emily Cowan. "I asked her to file," he said. "More candidates and campaigning for a nomination, get the issues out there."

Daugherty will also face the winner of the Dem primary, Karen Huber or Albert Gonzales, and independent candidate and Austin public-access TV producer David Griffin. Although Griffin is registered as an independent, "If anyone asks me, I'm a Green Party member," he said. With the Green Party of Texas uncertain whether it will have ballot access, Griffin decided to run as an independent. "That'll make things harder," he said, "But I'll still be running on the same issues – that the county is spending too much money."

State House Races

District 46

D: Dawnna Dukes*, Brian Thompson

L: Michael Morgan

District 48

D: Donna Howard*

R: Dr. Joseph Donnelly, Pamela Waggoner

L: Ben Easton

District 52 (to replace Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock)

D: Diana Maldonado

R: Bryan Daniel, John Gordon, Dee Hobbs, Vivian Sullivan

L: Lillian Simmons

District 97 (taken by Democrats in Dec. 18 special election)

D: Dan Barrett*

R: Bob Leonard, Clint L. Roberts, Mark M. Shelton, James Dean Schull

Travis County Offices

Tax Assessor-Collector

D: Nelda Wells Spears*, Glen Maxey

R: Don Zimmerman

L: Mike Burris

Travis Co. Commissioner, Precinct 3

D: Karen Huber, Albert Gonzales

R: Gerald Daugherty*

L: Emily Cowan, Wes Benedict

I: David Griffin

Judge, 98th District Court (to replace W. Jeanne Meurer)

D: Andy Hathcock, Rhonda Hurley, Robert D. Ettinger

District Attorney (to replace Ronnie Earle)

D: Gary Cobb, Mindy Montford, Rick Reed, Rosemary Lehmberg

Constable, Precinct 2

D: Adan Ballesteros, Paul Labuda

R: Bob Vann*, Carl Joiner

L: Arlo J. Pignotti

Constable, Precinct 3

D: Richard McCain*, Robert Eller

R: Mike Varela

L: Joe Edgar

Constable, Precinct 4

D: Maria Canchola*, Alonzo Reyes

Travis County party Chairs

R: Rosemary Edwards, Joe Gimenez

D: Fidel Acevedo, Andy Brown

* denotes incumbent

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Richard Whittaker
Fantastic Fest Review: <i>Stopmotion</i>
The artist subsumed by her art in chilling increments

Sept. 28, 2023

Fantastic Fest Review: <i>Saw X</i>
Saw X
Least-secret secret screening still has some twists

Sept. 28, 2023


March Primaries, Donna Howard, Mark Strama, Dawnna Dukes, Eddie Rodriguez, Donna Keel, Valinda Bolton, Terry Keel, Andy Hathcock, Ronnie Earle, Don Zimmerman, Wes Benedict, Bob Vann, Gerald Daugherty

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle