County Dems: Vincent Harding Out, Rick Cofer In?
Election set for March 6 to fill Harding’s seat
Travis County Democratic Party Chair Vincent Harding will not run for re-election when his term is up, and already a familiar face in Austin's progressive politics has filed the preliminary campaign finance paperwork to take his place.
Harding made the announcement via email on Sept. 28. Originally appointed to the position in 2015 when Jan Soifer stepped down to run for the 345th Civil District Court, Harding became the county party's youngest chair ever, and the second African-American to hold the post, and won re-election in 2016 without opposition. As chair, he gained support for reinvigorating the party's public profile, highlighting workers' rights and immigration issues, and leading the charge against Uber and Lyft's effort to overturn Austin's rideshare regulations.
Recently, however, Harding's leadership had become somewhat untenable after he used procedural tactics to block a no-confidence resolution brought by precinct chairs against Pflugerville Rep. Dawnna Dukes. Harding was already on rocky ground after being forced to wade into the middle of last year's salacious primary spat between district attorney candidates Gary Cobb and Rick Reed, after Reed filed a lawsuit demanding that Cobb's candidacy get yanked over issues with the signatures on his ballot access petition. (Neither of them won, of course. Margaret Moore entered the race late and cruised to victory over Cobb after Reed dropped out.) Referring to his tenure, Harding wrote that when he originally took the position he "made one campaign promise: to do the right thing. Although I have not been perfect, I believe I have kept that promise."
His vacant seat will be contested on the March 6, 2018, ballot. Stepping up first to replace him in the most thankless role in local politics is Rick Cofer. A veteran of UT's University Democrats and a former legislative staffer, Cofer was heavily involved in the state-level presidential campaigns for Howard Dean and Barack Obama, founding UT Students for Obama in 2007. He has also been a regular presence in Austin politics, having served on the city's Zero Waste Advisory Commission and Solid Waste Advisory Commission, and currently the Parks & Recreation Board. He's also chair of the Capital Area Progressive Democrats, and parliamentarian for the State Democratic Executive Committee.
Even though Cofer only formally announced his candidacy a day after Harding announced his exit, he's already accrued endorsements from a marquee set of current and former county officials, as well as the Austin AFL-CIO Central Labor Council. He's said he wants to move the party left, and make it more impactful at the ballot box. "Travis County turnout and performance, along with the other larger Democratic strongholds in Texas," he said, "will decide whether we can flip some statewide seats, and will decide whether we can help flip some local seats surrounding our strongholds."