Travis County Races See Wins for Incumbents, a Possible Recount
Nail-Biters, needles moved, and a successor for Dana DeBeauvoir
By Lina Fisher, Fri., March 4, 2022
The three Democratic primary races for Travis County offices featured impressive candidates and emotional narratives, as criminal justice reform and Southeast Austin became focal points for the Commissioners Court, and beloved former County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir handed off the torch. Late-breaking results from the technically challenged county elections website and a request for a recount heightened the drama.
As soon as early vote totals finally appeared, it was clear that Dyana Limon-Mercado would follow DeBeauvoir's 35 years of service as county clerk. (The current county clerk, Rebecca Guerrero, was appointed by the Commissioners Court upon DeBeauvoir's retirement in January.) In 2020, Limon-Mercado, former chair of the Travis County Democratic Party and executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, lost to now-County Judge Andy Brown in an internal vote among 136 county precinct chairs to fill the seat vacated by state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, which some found undemocratic. This time around, Limon-Mercado cleaned up with 83% of the Democratic vote. She told the Chronicle, "The fight for voting rights and safe, fair elections is as critical as ever. I am so grateful for the community's trust and confidence in the leadership I will bring to this position." She will face Republican Susan Haynes in November and almost certainly win.
The race for Commissioners Court Precinct 2, which brought criminal justice reform to the forefront, ended in a comfortable victory for incumbent Brigid Shea, with 76% of the vote to former Grassroots Leadership director Bob Libal's 24%. Libal ran a leftist campaign kick-started by Shea's relative ambivalence toward comprehensive criminal justice reform during last summer's debate over building a new women's jail. He also heavily criticized the court's decision (which Shea defended) to give $14 million in property tax rebates to Tesla's "Gigafactory," two issues which galvanized progressives in his favor.
However, Shea's 30-year track record as an enviro leader, city council member, and commissioner since 2015 won her the support of almost every Democratic club, a nigh-insurmountable challenge for Libal's grassroots campaign. Yet Libal is confident he moved the needle: "We are at a place, in part because of our campaign, but also because of the advocacy over the years, where I don't think we are going to embark on a plan to build hundreds of millions of dollars in new jails." Shea told the Chronicle her win is "an endorsement of the crucial work I'm doing fighting climate change" and that "I am committed to continuing to work on meaningful criminal justice reform"; Libal says in a post-loss phone call with Shea he told her to "consider me an ally. As bold of a climate change policy as we can push in Travis County, I'll be right there with her."
The nail-biter of the evening was Del Valle ISD Trustee Susanna Ledesma-Woody's second attempt to unseat Precinct 4 Commissioner Margaret Gómez, seeking her eighth term, which consistently hovered at 50%-50%. For much of the night, Ledesma-Woody was on top, and at her Eastside election party she told the Chronicle she was "excited! A lot of people are ready for change." But a last-minute batch of election day results that came in around 10:30pm flipped Gómez into the lead by 219 votes.
Ledesma-Woody told the Chronicle Wednesday morning via text that she's not giving up. In the chaos created by Texas' new "election integrity" rules, "mail-in ballots were rejected ... others came in late. Because the Travis County Preliminary Election Reconciliation Unofficial Totals indicate that additional ballots can be added to the final count and because there is a 1% differential in the unofficial tally ... I am filing a request for a recount. Both the voters of Precinct 4 and my campaign supporters deserve absolute confirmation of the voting results." Because the count isn't officially done until Tuesday, Ledesma-Woody will have to wait until then to officially request a recount.
The Precinct 4 battle has been bitter, as Gómez's campaign attacked Ledesma-Woody last week for a mistake on campaign finance filings, falsely claiming she had conceded. Ledesma-Woody characterized that as "a desperate attempt to stop our momentum" – formidable momentum that might yet propel her to recount victory, though Gómez's lead is actually at 1.1%.
As Travis County's victors move past the primary, Libal told the Chronicle he's confident they won't settle into complacency: "One thing this election has shown is how much more advocacy and attention we need at the county level. It's just so important to the everyday functioning of our community."
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