July 14 Primary Run-off Election and Senate District 14 Special Election
The Chronicle Editorial Board offers the following endorsements to Democratic voters in advance of early voting (June 29-July 10) and election day, Tuesday, July 14.
Find all of our coverage from the campaign trail at austinchronicle.com/elections.
CONGRESS & STATE
U.S. Senator: Royce West
MJ Hegar is awesome. We love her. She was a fantastic candidate for Congress in 2018; we understand why she, and Democrats in D.C., opted to move up to the U.S. Senate race almost immediately, before that field eventually became crowded. Her nonstop campaigning has already had real, tangible results in the quest to turn Texas blue. She will continue to be a standout Democratic leader in this state.
But we didn't endorse her back in February, feeling that what this cycle needed at the top of the ticket was a leader who embodies what that actual new, blue Texas is and believes, as a sharp contrast to John Cornyn's empty D.C.-tailored suit. In the primary, that was Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, who placed third and immediately threw her support to state Sen. Royce West of Dallas. We are following her lead; West's decades of experience as a leader of Texas Democrats from their worst days to the optimism of now means something that voters should appreciate. And his status as a dean of the state's elected Black Democrats also matters, especially right now. He deserves our support, and yours.
U.S. Rep. District 10: Mike Siegel
We endorsed Siegel in 2018, when he ran a DIY grassroots campaign that made competitive a GOP-drawn district written off by the national Democratic Party and the pundits. Though we've definitely been impressed by his run-off opponent Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, who would likewise be a vast improvement over entrenched incumbent Michael McCaul, Siegel has continued to earn our support.
U.S. Rep. District 17: Rick Kennedy
Software engineer Kennedy has soldiered on in this difficult, 12-county district for two cycles and is savvy about what it will take to defeat the eventual GOP nominee (either carpetbagging former Rep. Pete Sessions or businesswoman Renee Swann). Kennedy nearly won outright in the March primary against David Jaramillo, and continues to be our choice now.
U.S. Rep. Dist. 31: Christine Eady Mann
Family practitioner Eady Mann ran a solid second to MJ Hegar in 2018, and she led the five-candidate field in March; businesswoman Donna Iman has the resources and positions on the issues to also be a worthy successor to the useless John Carter. But Eady Mann clearly has the experience and community presence needed to win in November.
Railroad Commissioner: Chrysta Castañeda
After incumbent Ryan Sitton's surprise defeat in the GOP primary, Castañeda is an even more worthy choice on the Dem side, where she faces former Rep. Roberto Alonzo – who got primaried out of his seat in 2018. Her real-world experience in the energy industry will help her go toe-to-toe with the current commissioners, both entrenched GOP pols, and the RRC bureaucracy that's for years been totally captive to the power of that same industry.
District Attorney: José Garza
This is the most important race on the local ballot, and we simply cannot endorse incumbent D.A. Margaret Moore for reelection. As we have reported extensively, Moore is under fire on many fronts for her perceived insufficient commitment to true justice, particularly for survivors of sexual assault, with multiple missteps and outright transgressions that have rightly put her career in jeopardy. We acknowledge there are examples of Moore's progressive values put into practice, and that she alone did not create what Garza correctly describes as a crisis of confidence and legitimacy for Travis County's justice system. But we feel she is simply too compromised to continue in office, and the rising demand for real, structural change in how justice is done, in America and in Travis County, making Garza an even more imperative choice.
County Attorney: Laurie Eiserloh and Delia Garza (dual endorsement)
We know a dual endorsement in a two-candidate race is not as helpful to the voter as a clear favorite, so let us lay out our thinking here. We endorsed Eiserloh in February for the very reasons that she remains a strong candidate today – she's clearly the more accomplished lawyer and is a veteran of the C.A.'s Office, with a real commitment to criminal justice reform and a host of plans for improving Travis County's systems.
But as with the D.A.'s race, what's happened in America and in Austin since March has changed how voters will, and should, look at their options on the ballot. In March, we wrote that Garza's "limited experience in trying cases doesn't fit the requirements of the job." But she is, right now, the more accomplished community leader on justice reform, as Austin's mayor pro tem. She has chosen to give up a safe Council seat to make this run because she thinks a leader who comes from outside the current system is what's needed to create real changes, not just within the C.A.'s Office but across the network of entities that work in partnership to sustain the justice system. She is right that, as progressive as Travis County is and thinks it is, there are entrenched views and practices in that system that need to be replaced, not just reformed. She is also worthy of your consideration in this race.
Judge, County Court at Law No. 4: Dimple Malhotra
This is the county's frontline court handling family violence cases, with much contention between prosecutors and the defense bar. Incumbent judge Malhotra was a specialized domestic violence prosecutor when she was appointed last fall by the Commissioners Court; challenger Margaret Chen Kercher is an accomplished defense attorney. Malhotra has quickly taken steps to reduce CCL4's case backlog and to include all stakeholders in improving court efficiency and facilitating diversion. We believe she deserves a full term to fulfill those programs.
County Commissioner, Precinct 3: Ann Howard
Democrats have come close to taking the only GOP-held seat on the Travis County Commissioners Court in the past two cycles, and with incumbent Gerald Daugherty stepping down, 2020 represents their best shot at taking it – and possibly holding it for years to come. Howard nearly won this race outright in March and continues to enjoy our endorsement, though former state Rep. Valinda Bolton is a worthy opponent. Howard's tenure leading Austin's community response to homelessness gives her insight into the needs of the most marginalized in the county and experience pulling the policy levers of local government to impact the lives of all county residents.
Texas Senate, District 14, Unexpired Term: Sarah Eckhardt and Eddie Rodriguez (dual endorsement)
Voters can trust that either former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt or State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez will faithfully carry the progressive mantle that outgoing Sen. Kirk Watson did for 13 years. The rest of the candidates? Not so much.
Rodriguez would bring two decades worth of Capitol experience with him, where he's established a reputation as a coalition builder and a dealmaker – two traits that could be useful in a Senate likely to remain under GOP control. He's a solid progressive vote who has brought home real victories for low- and moderate-income families, primarily through his legislation that allowed the creation of special homestead districts cities can use to keep homeownership affordable.
Eckhardt has her own consensus building record to stand by as county judge, notably in her help launching the Sobering Center, which has diverted many unnecessary arrests from jail. She could also call on the bomb-throwing energy she demonstrated as a county commissioner – and, in a more restrained version, as county judge in the feud between Travis County and the city of Austin over hotel taxes, the Convention Center, and the Palm School – that would amplify progressive interests in a chamber that is currently dominated by a more tempered version of the House's right-wing lunacy.
On criminal justice, the issue of the moment, both have successes and failures voters should consider. Eckhardt helped bring Travis County its first public defender's office – a hugely important victory for justice in the county – but she also initially voted to expand the county's jail system by building a new women's jail despite emphatic opposition from a coalition of criminal justice organizations (though she did later vote to postpone that expansion). Rodriguez has done admirable work in lessening the sentencing terms for some felonies and in making it easier for former inmates to get their records expunged; but he was also one of the House Dems who missed a critical, if just procedural, vote that could have helped push the Sandra Bland Act through the House in 2019.