Slinging Mud: Sampson vs. Travillion

In response to challenger Arthur Sampson's attacks, Travis County Commissioner front-runner Jeff Travillion joked, "I'm surprised to learn what a bad person I am."

Jeff Travillion

Just when you thought it was safe to wait for November, another election pops up – this one the Democratic and Republican primary run-offs, May 24, with early voting May 16-20. Of the three contests on the Democratic side – Railroad Commissioner, Travis County Commissioner (Precinct 1), and TC Constable (also Pct. 1) – the Commissioners Court holds the most local importance.

A run-off for Commissioner is unsurprising, since there were five candidates in the initial round. The survivors are city administrator Jeff Travillion (who received 42% of the vote) and retired city project manager Arthur Sampson (18.5%). In theory, Travillion should be able to gather enough of the remnant (from supporters of James Nortey, Richard Franklin III, and Marc Hoskins) to capture a majority, but in an election where the turnout will be unpredictable (other than "low"), the outcome remains uncertain.

Sampson, who has run for this office several times, has decided to go negative, attacking Travillion's fitness for office. He gave the Chronicle a list of charges against his opponent, which he believes make Travil­lion "inconsistent, unreliable, and ineffective." (Sampson likes triplets: He has promised to be "responsive, respectful, and resourceful.") He's recycled a charge from the Nortey campaign that Travillion has accepted financial support from "special interest groups" (citing a donation from HillCo Partners' Bill Miller), accuses Travillion of misrepresenting his home address, and of having an IRS tax lien on a former residence. "Miller is an old family friend," responds Travillion, noting that the two have worked together in the past on NAACP issues (Travillion is the state organization's communications director). He lives in Hutto (in Precinct 1), and insists, "I've never said I live in East Austin" (as Sampson charges). The tax lien record discovered by Samp­son – which was news to Travillion – dates from the early Nineties, on a house Travillion has since sold (without liens), and the debt was paid many years ago. "I'm surprised to learn," Travillion joked, "what a bad person I am."

Sampson's more substantive charges concern Travillion's work record at the city, where he's held several positions over the years (he's currently a division manager in the Code Department), including positions with Public Works, Austin Energy, and as Dir­ec­tor of the Small and Minority Business Resources Department. Sampson charges that these moves reflect "poor performance" by Travillion, particularly at SMBR (another charge made by Nortey). Travillion says he was recruited for various positions because he was considered capable of improving faltering programs, and says particularly that at SMBR, he helped turn around a troubled department and create programs that are "known across the country." He added that critics of minority and women's business programs often fail to understand how they function, and that they involve negotiating between prime contractors and subcontractors to persuade both to work together. "Even when the programs are working well," Travillion said, "it's normal to get complaints from both sides."

Arthur Sampson

Travillion said much the same about his consultant work with AISD, on contracts under state Rep. Dawnna Dukes' company, DM Dukes & Associates, also a minority business equity program. Sampson charges that the company and Travillion have been ineffective; Travillion says that in fact, their research enabled the AISD disparity study that established goals for minority business involvement. "You can't address disparate outcomes," he said, "until you've done the research that confirms the disparities."

Very late in the initial round, the Nortey campaign had also attacked Travillion's association with Bill Miller, charging that Miller's lobbying firm HillCo Partners had worked for subsidiaries of companies owned by the "radically conservative" Koch brothers. Nortey also denigrated Travillion's tenure at SMBR. The attacks didn't help, and perhaps hurt Nortey's candidacy; although he was widely endorsed and expected to be quite competitive, he was edged out by Sampson by about 150 votes. (Nortey has since withdrawn the attacks and is supporting Travillion.)

Asked if he was concerned that his attacks on Travillion might also generate a backlash, Sampson said, "I'm just trying to point out the issues" concerning "the type of person" he is running against. Travillion responded that he has been "committed to running a positive and constructive campaign [and] not to assault the character of anybody else."

"It doesn't do us any good to beat each other up," Travillion concluded, and said Sampson's attacks "are beneath the dignity of the office he is seeking."

Early voting in the run-off runs from May 16 to May 20. Election day is Tue., May 24.

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Commissioners Court, May 2016 Run-Off, Jeff Travillion, Arthur Sampson, James Nortey, Richard Franklin III, Marc Hoskins, Bill Miller, HillCo, Small and Minority Business Resources Department, Dawnna Dukes

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