Our recommendations for the March 2 primaries
State and SBOE Races
Governor: Bill White
There are seven gubernatorial candidates on the Democratic primary ballot, but only Bill White is a qualified and experienced public official. Beyond these basic and necessary credentials for the state's highest executive office, White has served as a particularly effective and popular mayor of Houston. In doing so, he brought together a very diverse community – and many competing public interests – to engage and support his leadership of the community as a whole. That's the broadest task of a Texas governor, and White has demonstrated, on the ground, his ability to do that well. On the issues, he's strong on education, economic development, the environment, and health care. Although more a pragmatist than an ideologue, in Texas he would represent a major step in a progressive direction for public policy. His only significant challenger, Farouk Shami, has no experience in government, and is campaigning on a huge personal bankroll and grand promises without realistic foundation. While the Republican candidates engage in a high-speed race to the far right, and away from the state's common future, Democrats would do well to unite behind their best chance at the governorship in two decades.
Lieutenant Governor: Ronnie Earle
While some Central Texas Democrats are backing the former Travis County DA primarily as a favorite son, he is also the only Democratic candidate with the experience and political savvy – both as a district attorney and a former two-term legislator – necessary to run the Senate. Moreover, Earle has a statewide name as a fighting prosecutor in the ethics wars of the last decade, which should give him a leg up in the fall and help energize the Dem base. His leading opponent, former Texas AFL-CIO Executive Director Linda Chavez-Thompson, brings a heroic biography and a strong history of advocacy for workers and the poor; but she began the campaign with little grasp of what the job of running the Senate actually entails, and she has since shown little interest in finding out. As for Austin deli owner Marc Katz, he's an entertaining guy who makes a great sandwich.
Agriculture Commissioner: Hank Gilbert
Cattle rancher Gilbert's brief run for governor was in retrospect a diversion: He should have been in the ag commissioner race all along. He brings with him the same constructive and creative solutions to supporting Texas agriculture – from eminent domain reform to bioenergy production – that he presented when he ran in 2006, and incumbent Republican Todd Staples has yet to present a single policy that approaches Gilbert's proposals. Why fellow former gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman, who may not even reach the statutory (farming or ranching experience) requirements to run for this post, is challenging Gilbert remains unclear – the Kinkster seems to have handed over the campaign reins to take-no-prisoners consultants who are doing their best to blow up the Democratic race altogether. Gilbert has a real shot of providing more than a rodeo show in November.
Land Commissioner: Hector Uribe
Of the two Dems vying to take on GOP incumbent Jerry Patterson in November, Uribe, an attorney and former Brownsville state senator, is by far the more qualified for a job with the responsibility of protecting and managing state lands and mineral-rights properties. He makes a forward-thinking campaign argument for moving aggressively on turning clean-energy operations into profitable industries for Texas, which would in turn pump new money into the state's Permanent School Fund. For the most part, Uribe's record in the Senate (1981-1990) reflects a person of progressive thought and leadership – and someone who knows what it takes to turn ideas into actual policy. His opponent, real estate professional Bill Burton of Athens, seems earnest enough, but he doesn't have a record that measures up to Uribe.
State Board of Education
District 5: Rebecca Bell-Metereau
District 10: Judy Jennings
Travis County Races
County Commissioner, Precinct 4: Raul Alvarez
It's rare that we endorse a candidate running against a longtime Democratic incumbent in Travis County, but we believe it's time for a new county commissioner to fill the seat Margaret Gómez has occupied for 15 years. Alvarez, a trustee on the Austin Community College board and a former City Council member, is by no means the first campaign opponent Gómez has faced in her tenure, but he's the first to bring hands-on experience, political savvy, and a vision to the table. Alvarez cut his teeth on grassroots activism and has a political track record that proves his ability to facilitate change for the common good. Gómez has done a good job, for the most part, of advocating for and voting in the interests of her South Austin and southeastern Travis County precinct, but as we stated in our endorsement of her four years ago, "We wish that she would come out of her shell more often to battle publicly on particular issues." Since that time, Gómez consistently failed to deliver on that challenge, opting instead to hide behind one state statute or another on controversial issues – e.g., labor or the environment – over which the county has too limited control. We need a commissioner who has a vision and the drive to implement it and who takes stands on issues, if only for the sake of doing what's right and helping set the stage for a change in political conditions. It seems Gómez has passed the time when she could be expected to rise to that challenge. We endorse Alvarez as more likely to consistently take on that responsibility.
147th District Court: Cliff Brown
Both candidates in this race are honorable and accomplished attorneys. Brown was first a criminal defense attorney and then a prosecutor for a combined 17 years, and since 2007 he has served as Austin's police monitor. He brought an even temperament and a determination for justice to a very difficult assignment, raising the office to a new prominence and engagement in city affairs. Bill Gammon has a broad-based business civil practice and is best known for legal work on behalf of environmental causes. He's running a quirky and independent campaign, vowing to accept no contributions and spend as little as possible. We admire both men and know that in any capacity, each will continue to serve the community. On balance, we believe Brown has the specific experience and judicial character that will serve him and the county well in a difficult felony court.
201st District Court: Amy Clark Meachum
This is a difficult decision for endorsers as well as voters. Justice Jan Patterson has long and broad experience in appellate law and before that in federal prosecution. She has served well on the 3rd Court of Appeals since 1999, providing some progressive balance on a court that otherwise leaned to the right. Had she decided to step down directly from that court to run for the district court, we might well have endorsed her. But her solicitation of an appointment from Gov. Rick Perry – and then her public denial that she had done so, despite the documented evidence reported first in the Chronicle – has cast a troubling cloud over her candidacy. It has also raised questions about her temperament, even her integrity, and earned her an ethics complaint concerning the entire episode. By contrast, Meachum has no judicial experience and is campaigning essentially on her independence and her impressive background as a civil litigator. But she certainly has the legal and intellectual background for the bench, and she promises innovation and community engagement on the court, as well as a welcome breath of youth. Patterson has created a shadow over her own candidacy that will inevitably remain should she return to the bench. Meachum is fully qualified for this seat and will bring to it a fresh perspective and a clean slate.
299th District Court: Karen Sage
The 299th may be the most difficult primary choice for local Democrats, as it involves four candidates who each have engaging qualities of experience, knowledge, personal history, and desire for innovation. Presumed frontrunners Sage and Mindy Montford have solid prosecutorial backgrounds, good ideas for improving the court system, and a sufficient range of experience to make a successful judgeship. (Montford would bring particular insight to the job, learning – after her questionable arrest last year on a public intoxication charge that was quickly dismissed – that the system does have flaws.) Leonard Martinez has a lengthy career as a defense attorney, but his legal work has met with sharp criticism at times. Eve Schatelowitz Alcantar is capable and earnest (her campaign events are also charitable fundraisers), but she lacks the experience of her competitors. This race may well go to a run-off – but on balance, in light of the range of her experience and her demonstrated seriousness of purpose, our recommendation goes to Sage.
331st District Court: David Crain
Two compelling candidates compete to replace retiring Judge Bob Perkins. Keith Lauerman is a defense attorney with practical experience trying serious felony cases, which this court handles and which includes the most serious range of punishments – including death. Crain has been presiding over cases in Travis County since 1985, when he first became a justice of the peace. Since 1992 he's decided misdemeanor cases in County Court at Law No. 3. Lauerman has more direct felony experience and would bring considerable defense bar experience – generally underrepresented on the felony bench. But Crain's hands-on judicial experience means he'll be ready on day one to sustain this busy criminal court. And we're impressed by his commitment to working with mentally ill offenders, trying to get them into social services and divert them from jail when possible. He should have a chance to continue this work on the felony bench.
County Court at Law No. 3: John Lipscombe
This will be another difficult vote. Both Olga Seelig (from hairdresser to municipal court judge) and Lipscombe (from oil-field roughneck to shuttle-bus driver to longtime prosecutor) offer compelling personal narratives, from humble backgrounds to considerable accomplishments. Each candidate promises to engage the court in restorative justice approaches, using special dockets or other innovative methods to address social issues that can't simply be solved with the bang of a gavel; both have already worked in their current posts to establish such methods. It's a difficult call, but on balance we believe Lipscombe has longer and broader experience in the kind of socially complex cases facing this court and good instincts and practice at how best to address them in a progressive way.
Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1: Yvonne Williams
Former Associate Municipal Judge Williams (she stepped down to run for JP) and Assistant County Attorney Daniel Bradford represent some of the best young energy of Austin and the Democratic Party, and on the campaign trail they exchange heartfelt compliments that belie their current competition. Williams has far and away more experience, having served as a fighting civil rights attorney when it most mattered, as briefing clerk to Judge Morris Overstreet on the Court of Criminal Appeals, and as a workers' compensation hearing officer, before taking on the county's night court duties. Bradford has less experience – he describes one of his advantages as being a young lawyer among "entrenched bureaucrats." He has worked both at the Texas Civil Rights Project and the state Attorney General's Office, an interesting range, but insufficient to persuade us he is yet Williams' match in judicial experience and perspective.
Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2: Karin Crump
Crump is an attorney and certified mediator with 12 years of broad legal experience, ranging from miscellaneous business law to appointed criminal defense and children's legal advocate. She also has broad connections with legal service organizations and the state bar. Her opponent, Fidel "Ace" Acevedo, is a longtime Democratic activist and has been deeply engaged in the community for many years. The JP courts handle both civil and criminal cases of a wide variety, and it's undoubtedly an advantage to have legal experience to perform the duties of the court. In light of her background in law, we recommend Crump for the job.
Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5: Herb Evans
Incumbent Evans is intelligent, hardworking, and has served county residents well. We again endorse him without reservation.
3rd Court of Appeals: Melissa Goodwin
In this race for the seat being vacated by Democratic Judge Jan Patterson, Goodwin's experience in criminal law, which accounts for a considerable amount of the work handled by this very busy court, makes her the best choice. She was appointed a Travis County District Court Judge by Gov. Rick Perry but lost her bid to keep the seat in 2008, most likely because of the "R" after her name. Nonetheless, Goodwin earned a reputation for being a reasonable and moderate jurist, and she has earned the chance to run for the seat in November.
State Board of Education
District 5: Tim Tuggey
District 10: Rebecca Osborne or Marsha Farney
Though we will almost inevitably prefer the Democrats in these two November races, the real division in SBOE races has changed from "Dem vs. GOP" to "Crazy vs. Not Crazy." Within the GOP, some moderates have risen to challenge the fundamentalist bloc. So we recommend Tuggey in District 5, who appears focused on fiscal issues rather than the pro-creationism obsessions of incumbent Ken Mercer. The District 10 race really is a referendum on the awful single term of Cynthia Dunbar. She's not running for re-election, but she handpicked fellow right-wing ideologue Brian Russell as her successor. As an alternative, we recommend either former teacher Farney or McNeil High teacher Osborne to help bring a true education perspective back to the board.