Chronicle Endorsements for the March Primary Election
Here are the local, state, and national Dems we picked to represent us
Lots of action this cycle, as redistricting has changed the political map in ways that mostly work to Austin progressives' benefit. We offer here the considered opinion of our Editorial Board in most of the contested races on the Democratic primary ballot (Republican voters, you're on your own; may the odds be ever in your favor). For ongoing coverage, visit austinchronicle.com/elections, where you can also find a streamlined, unannotated version of our endorsements.
TX-21: Coy Branscum, Claudia Zapata
Branscum and Zapata have made the best impression on us as the Democratic choice for this likely doomed contest against incumbent Rep. Chip Roy, R-Dripping Springs, in November.
TX-35: Greg Casar
As regular Chronicle readers can surmise, there has been a wide spectrum of views on the Editorial Board regarding Casar's performance and agenda on the Austin City Council. Still – and despite our admiration for all that state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez has done for Austin and Texas – we agreed easily that Casar is the best choice to be Austin and San Antonio's new voice in Congress. Note we said "new" rather than "next" – we envision the trio of Casar, Lloyd Doggett, and Joaquin Castro superheroically strafing their bumbling GOP colleagues daily while also leading toward better workers' rights and wages, and health care for all.
TX-37: Lloyd Doggett
Do we really understand why anyone is running against Lloyd in this late-career race to finally represent his lifelong neighbors in Austin? No, we do not.
Governor: Beto O'Rourke
You didn't need us to tell you that. We do wish our professional colleague, former KUT and Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz, further success in her political career – maybe at City Hall?
Lieutenant Governor: Mike Collier
The man behind "Fix the Damn Grid" has been running for this job now for eight years, coming quite close to unseating carnival barker Dan Patrick in 2018 and never breaking stride since. For his trouble, he attracted a risible vanity challenge from Bush-era talking head Matthew Dowd, then a less risible but still issue-free challenge from Texas Democratic Party Vice Chair Carla Brailey and state Rep. Michelle Beckley – either of whom would be credible alternatives if they'd begun running eight years ago rather than eight weeks. Representation matters but so does showing up.
Attorney General: Rochelle Garza, Joe Jaworski
It may indeed take two A.G.s to undo all the damage done by the worst villain in Texas state government, incumbent Ken Paxton, and either of these two super-lawyers – former ACLU legal champion Garza or former Galveston Mayor Jaworski – would be our pick for first chair. If they, as we suspect, end up in a run-off (civil rights super-lawyer Lee Merritt is the third possibility here) while Paxton also ends up in a run-off, we'll have a new frame of reference to revisit this race.
Comptroller: No endorsement
We might end up endorsing GOP incumbent Glenn Hegar in November, since he's the only competent statewide elected official. Janet Dudding is the actual accountant among the three candidates in the Dem primary.
Land Commissioner: Jay Kleberg
Remember when this was a job where one needed to love Texas' lands, and not just political power and prospective Alamo profits and guns? Jay Kleberg does, and he has that love, and has shown it to Texans as a conservationist and environmentalist for a long time (offsetting the right-wing tilt of his prominent family, owners of the King Ranch), and has the sustainability to put up a credible challenge in November. Jinny Suh, director of Immunize Texas, is also a strong choice.
Agriculture Commissioner: Susan Hays
Hays, former chair of the Dallas County Democratic Party and co-founder and legal director for Jane's Due Process (which provides legal support for minors seeking to bypass parental consent for abortion care), pivoted to cannabis law when she moved back to Austin a couple years ago, and boy, could Texas use a highly competent, dedicated, and ethical lawyer in this post, rather than rodeo clown Sid Miller, whose friends and allies wasted no time trying to sell access to his office and the hemp licenses it now issues. Hays can hopefully fix the mess Miller and the Lege have made of cannabis regulation while also picking up where the last Democrat to hold the office, Jim Hightower, left off to make the still-vital Texas ag industries more sustainable and equitable.
State Board of Education, District 5: Rebecca Bell-Metereau
After running four times in 10 years to finally land this seat on the board that tries to edit everybody's textbooks, Bell-Metereau has been rewarded in redistricting with an easily defendable Democratic district including all of Austin. Our progressive community has never really had this much power to lift the SBOE's heavily conservative (racist, homophobic) hand from the necks of Texas children, and we think the incumbent is best positioned to use it.
Texas House District 45: Erin Zwiener
Zwiener – who upset Bell-Metereau four years ago to claim the Dem nomination and then win this Hays County seat – has also benefited from the new map with a district now firmly anchored in the Buda/Kyle suburbs (i.e., far-far South Austin) and in the college community in San Marcos. In her first two terms, Zwiener has bloomed as a leader of the Dem caucus, co-founded the LGBTQ Caucus, staked a big claim in environmental legislation, and generally impressed the heck out of us.
Texas House District 50: James Talarico
Talarico, elected at the same time as Zwiener, has impressed the heck out of everybody as the House's youngest (32) member, including Republicans who the Capitol crew thought would treat him better in redistricting. Instead, he's moving down the street (and across the Travis County line) to represent the somewhat less suburban (and less Anglo) North Austin neighborhoods in the seat held by retiring Rep. Celia Israel, now running for mayor. We wonder how much – or how little – Talarico will need to adapt to his new district next session and beyond.
Texas House District 51: Lulu Flores
This seven-candidate field (we talked to six) to succeed retiring Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, now running for Congress, is amazingly qualified, and we thought this would be for sure a double or even triple endorsement. But Flores, who was narrowly upset by Rodriguez 20 years ago and has been making her mark as a community and civic leader ever since, rose to the top in our deliberations (which included ranked-choice voting among the Ed Board). Matt Worthington, Cody Arn, and Cynthia Valadez-Mata are also strong choices in this race.
3rd Court of Appeals, Place 4: Rosa Lopez Theofanis
All three choices are good for voters in the contest for the nomination to, in all likelihood, flip the last GOP-held seat on the 3rd Court. Theofanis impressed us particularly with not only her command of, but her love for, the quirky world of appellate law, the things that make serving on this intermediate bench such an important role as a bulwark for Central Texans and their values against the hostile state government and its compliant high courts.
261st District Court: Daniella Deseta Lyttle
Both candidates would be fine judges, but we think the shoes of Lora Livingston, the county's longest-serving civil judge and administrator for that side of the docket, would be best filled by Lyttle, whose diverse background in medicine as well as law, and in immigration and business matters as well as family law, make her an asset to the bench.
331st District Court: Chantal Eldridge
Usually, Travis County voters are pretty good about taking seriously their responsibility to elect good judges at all levels. We trust their judgment regarding Eldridge, who deserves to serve despite attempts in two cycles now to use one of the minor contretemps that gets blown into scandal in this town to take her out.
403rd District Court: Brandy Mueller
Here on the criminal side of the docket, Livingston's counterpart and fellow courthouse titan Brenda Kennedy is also retiring, and we think Mueller – the innovative Court at Law No. 6 judge whose Project Engage has kept hundreds of youthful offenders out of jail – is the best prepared candidate to move up to the felony bench and continue that work.
419th District Court: Catherine Mauzy
So, did y'all see that NBC is now turning old Dateline stories into scripted black comedies starring people like Renée Zellweger? Someday, one of those movies will be made about Judge Madeleine Connor, the exception to Travis County's good judgment that proves the rule. The story is bizarre – read more – and will surely be amusing on TV, but Judge Catherine Mauzy is living it right now, y'all, and needs your support.
455th District Court: Laurie Eiserloh
For this new civil court, we will go through the usual exercise of electing a Democrat to replace the appointed Republican – Cleve Doty – and we wish Eiserloh, who is now a familiar face and name all over town from her 2020 campaign for county attorney (where we endorsed her and then co-endorsed in the run-off), the best of success on this bench.
County Court at Law No. 4: Dimple Malhotra
OK, y'all are starting to tick us off, defense bar, for continuing to go after Malhotra for being an advocate for survivors of intimate partner violence, the focus of this misdemeanor specialty court. We get it, justice reform means decarceration and restorative justice for everybody. But we also know what rape culture looks and smells like. Go check yourselves and let Malhotra use her actual expertise on this bench.
County Court at Law No. 5: Mary Ann Espiritu
This is an interesting one. Right now this is primarily seen as the DWI court, and Espiritu may be the best-regarded DWI defense lawyer in the county. (She's even a Chronicle "Best of Austin" winner!) So that's good, and she's right that DWI is an area that hasn't yet been impacted that much by justice reform. Her opponent Tanisa Jeffers is also right that we could restore CCL5 to its former status as a mental-health-focused court (which doesn't exclude DWIs for those with substance use disorders), but we think Espiritu is better prepared to do that than Jeffers is to reform DWI adjudication.
County Court at Law No. 6: Denise Hernandez
This is the court that Brandy Mueller is yielding after 12 years to run for the 403rd, but it will likely remain focused on youthful offenders (17- to 21-year-olds) – of whom there are currently more than 1,000 in the Travis County system – to help them avoid being damaged for life by a permanent record. We feel Hernandez is the best prepared to take on that role and even expand it beyond Mueller's already admirable achievements.
County Clerk: Dyana Limon-Mercado
Speaking of local legends, this is the race to succeed Dana DeBeauvoir, who may be Texas' most famous election official and thus a target of state leadership. It's a job that requires an enormous amount of political savvy at the moment, and Limon-Mercado, former chair of the county Democratic Party and the head of Planned Parenthood's Texas political arm, has plenty of that as well as demonstrated competence as an administrator.
Commissioner, Precinct 2: Brigid Shea
The two most challenging races for us to deliberate this cycle were probably the two commissioner contests. There is no currently active politician whose career has been more interwoven with the Chronicle's advocacy journalism than Brigid Shea, the hero of the Save Our Springs movement and a highly productive disruptor at City Hall in the 1990s. She is justly proud of being a local pioneer in climate action while many of her enviro colleagues were still focused on naturalist conservation efforts. But here in this century, there is a lot more to be done to create a just and sustainable Travis County, even on climate. We hope that facing a legit primary challenge from Bob Libal – former head of Grassroots Leadership, running to Shea's left on criminal justice, economic development, and the built environment – will help Shea take her service to the next level.
Commissioner, Precinct 4: Susanna Ledesma-Woody
Implicit in all of our endorsements is our general presumption that unseating an incumbent is a higher bar to clear than staking a claim for an open seat. And we have to admit that in the last two years incumbent Margaret Gómez has done more to reflect the Chronicle's values on important issues than ever before in her extremely long career. But it's time for a change out here, and Del Valle ISD Trustee Ledesma-Woody is the most credible advocate for the people and places in outer Southeast Travis County – now ground zero for the next decade's chapter of Austin's endless boom – that's run for this seat in a while.
Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1: Yvonne Williams
Even though they're judges, the JPs in Travis County are more like specialized hyperlocal problem-solvers, being the courts of first instance for both truancy cases and evictions. Williams got some bad press in the national media regarding the latter, but she convinced us that she views housing as a civil rights issue and has acted carefully in that role. Her opponent Andrew Hairston is also very qualified and credible, and if this is Williams' last campaign, as she has suggested it might be, we encourage him to run for this seat again in the future.
Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5: Nick Chu
Chu has quite simply reinvented what JP 5 – the precinct that covers the central city and, by extension, the Capitol – does and can do as a front-line defender of justice in Travis County. There is absolutely no reason to replace him.