Travis County Constable, Precinct 2: Mud & Experience

Incumbent files defamation suit against opponent in this particularly bloody battle

Paul Labuda
Paul Labuda

Name-calling is normal in even the smallest political races, but the three-way Democratic primary fight for Travis County Precinct 2 Constable may have hit a new low with the incumbent lobbing defamation lawsuit threats at a challenger.

Adan Ballesteros
Adan Ballesteros

In some ways, it's a rerun of the 2008 primary, when veteran peace officer Adan Ballesteros edged tech sector worker Paul Labuda 52%-48% before narrowly dislodging Republican incumbent Bob Vann. Four years later, Labuda returns with increased law enforcement credentials and wants another crack at Ballesteros, but has been joined in the race by a new face – Michael Cargill, a candidate with no policing experience but a bruising campaign style.

Getting in the race early meant Balles­ter­os picked up just about every prominent Democratic endorsement. That should give him a huge advantage, but there is a gap in his armor. In 1998, he was fired as a narcotics investigator in the Valley by the Depart­ment of Public Safety for reportedly letting several thousand pounds of cocaine cross the border. The allegations are scarcely new: Ballesteros faced them when he and Labuda went head-to-head in 2008 (see "Precinct 2 Constables," Feb. 22, 2008) but Ballesteros has denied them all, and none have been proven in court. Yet Cargill has gone to new extremes, calling Ballesteros the "Cocaine Constable" and tweeting links to a smear website run by the gun-happy Texans for Accountable Gov­ern­ment, containing every rumor about the incumbent in the most salacious terms possible. Ballesteros ran out of patience, and on April 30 filed a defamation suit against Cargill in the 53rd District court, accusing him of running "a mudslinging campaign."

Michael Cargill
Michael Cargill (by Photo courtesy of Cargill for Constable's Facebook)

But Cargill comes with his own baggage – mainly his strident opposition to gun control. In 2011, Travis County Democrats were unified in their opposition to Senate Bill 354 – the guns on campus legislation spearheaded by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, which would have overruled handgun bans on Texas college campuses. Car­gill, who provides concealed handgun license training through his firm Central Texas Gun Works, spoke in favor of the bill on behalf of both the National Rifle Assoc­i­a­tion and the Texas State Rifle Association. As the only African-American and openly gay candidate on the ballot, Cargill called any questioning of his Democratic loyalties "laughable. The fact that I am for the Second Amendment is only one particular position that I hold that may be different from everyone else."

Cargill's other weak spot may be his lack of policing experience. Ballesteros argues that, because he has never been a licensed peace officer and does not hold an associate's degree, Cargill does not even reach the minimum criteria for the office. Ballesteros wrote, "How he was even allowed on the ballot is beyond me."

Cargill replies that his lack of policing experience is made up for by 12 years in the U.S. Army. Moreover, he notes that Con­stable Bruce Elfant had zero hands-on law enforcement experience before he took over Precinct 5 in 1992 (he qualified under other criteria). Labuda made the same argument in 2008, to little avail; he now serves as a senior police officer in the small Williamson County community of Florence. He admits that he was "a trainee, essentially" for his first run, but this time around he hopes his 2½ years in William­son will sway voters, especially in the right-leaning Precinct 2. "Florence is red," he said, "and this is a very purple precinct." That could help when facing the winner of the GOP primary between Williamson Coun­ty Constable Al Herrera and senior deputy sheriff Toby Miller.

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elections, primary election, constable, Adan Ballesteros, Bob Vann, Paul Labuda, Michael Cargill

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