Chronicle Endorsements for 2022 Travis County Elections
Our picks for state and local races
We normally just say, "Vote for the Democrats," when, as has been the case for the last 25 years, there has not been a Republican worth voting for, or a Dem who needed voting against. We're giving you a longer list because we want to shout-out people who are doing good and encourage Dems in really tough races; regardless of your centrist, leftist, or indie leanings, these are good people.
CITY OF AUSTIN
Mayor: Celia Israel.
We've endorsed both Israel and Kirk Watson before, including when he was first elected mayor, but not when he was reelected (with 84%, against Leslie Cochran and others) in 2000. As we told readers then, it was not to shame him but to goad him to do better as the leader and defender of a big and diverse community, not a superhero who all by himself would build a political house big enough to hold the new Austin. He got shit done when his ways were prepared by like-minded Austin voters, volunteers, activists, advocates, entrepreneurs, city employees, state and UT employees, elected officials – just a whole bunch of people who had defined this baby big city as a place where nature, culture, and technology were all in balance and made everyone money. It was a great parade for him to get in front of, and Watson's Green Machine era was the high point of Austin's 20th-century prosperity and influence. People who were here then still remember what it felt like to be a winner. One of those people is Celia Israel, who got noticed as she worked in the movements that would eventually make Watson's mayoralty possible. Many of her peers have no doubt helped Watson fill his campaign purse to bursting.
But people who came to Austin in this century – year after year, decade after decade, from everywhere, doubling the metro area – look at Israel now and hear her speak, and see and hear their own feelings about Austin today, and about our nation and our identities today, reflected back at them – feelings of righteousness and belonging and fear, of urgency and need and gritty commitment, articulated by voices not heard before. It does matter that a queer Gen X Latina who also holds elected office is a tougher opponent than Kirk Watson has really faced before, and can ask questions he doesn't know how to answer. Is he still the favorite? How much money can he spend, how fast?
Let us be real and acknowledge that neither Watson nor Israel has as tight and powerful a grasp of the tools arrayed at City Hall as we hoped we'd see in this race. Some problems look unchanged from our past but are now quite different – old ways of "taking on traffic" and "keeping Austin safe" have been exhausted, discarded, discredited. Our land use policy and practice is still weak, obsolete, and broken, not just creating suboptimal outcomes as in the Nineties but imposing immediate and grievous costs on people who literally cannot find a place to live. We all will have to show Israel what to do during a brief two-year term, barely enough time to reorient City Hall, let alone go somewhere new. She'll have a few more degrees of freedom to operate than has Steve Adler, and she should use them to do things as bold as she says Austin needs to be and which she herself needs to keep being. Of the remaining candidates, Jennifer Virden has some credible housing ideas, but is Republican enough that she stands too close to the treason and racist violence and is thus disqualified.
Council District 1: Natasha Harper-Madison.
The incumbent has provoked some folks with her ideas and exasperated some others with her approach to governing, but she has also risen to the occasion and shouldered the several burdens that City Hall and Austin at large felt a need to place upon the one Black Council member, and the most prominent Black woman in local politics, over a term made chaotic by pandemics and police racism and violence. She's done a great job, and none of her opponents really pass the credibility threshold.
District 3: José Velásquez.
Born and raised in East Austin, Velásquez's pride in his community has shone throughout his campaign. Coupled with the long, hard hours he has put in meeting with organizers, business owners, and advocates inside and outside the district, we feel Velásquez is best positioned to navigate the complex challenges facing D3, the vanguard of gentrification in Austin both north and south of the river.
Velásquez will bring to the dais a robust vision for increasing housing supply in a rapidly growing part of the city, while working to protect his lifelong neighbors from displacement. His campaign coalition of labor unions, Democratic clubs, elected officials, and prominent community leaders will hopefully form a foundation for organizing to address not only housing and affordability, but transportation and public safety challenges in D3.
We were also impressed with Daniela Silva, who demonstrated a deep knowledge of Austin's housing issues and compassion for our unhoused neighbors. She devoted herself to helping D3 residents during Winter Storm Uri and no doubt has bright prospects as a leader in Austin – elected or otherwise.
District 5 (dual): Ryan Alter, Ken Craig.
Ann Kitchen has been a reliably good Council member; her great reluctance to disempower neighborhood activists on land use issues has been offset by tremendous leadership on transportation, public safety, and public health. Alter and Craig, who have much to offer in those areas as well, offer different ways of moving forward from where she leaves off. Alter, a longtime Lege staffer (including for Kirk Watson), has the most fully developed housing plan (called Housing Now) of any candidate in any Council race; he'll be able to walk into City Hall with a mandate to immediately seek support for big changes. Craig, who has worked in Kitchen's office for five years, would move much more deliberately but would champion and, most likely, bring to fruition the small-area planning that Kitchen's side of the Code Wars has sought for decades – opening the door for a mapless code scenario that can fix problems with Austin's regulatory regime in general without provoking protests from angry property owners.
District 8: Paige Ellis.
We blew this call four years ago, thinking Ellis couldn't possibly go the distance against the seasoned Southwest activists in the race. Not only were we wrong, but she's gone the distance again and again, leading confidently from a progressive place despite representing one of the purple Council districts west of MoPac, and scoring wins like the $460 million active transportation bond that went with Project Connect in 2020. This time, her opponents simply do not have the range to think about succeeding her.
District 9 (dual): Ben Leffler, Linda Guerrero.
Ben Leffler's campaign outshines the packed field of D9 candidates, including Guerrero, who is the anointed successor to Kathie Tovo, stepping down after a decade on Council. Leffler grew up working-class in Central Austin neighborhoods of the kind that now make D9 living so desirably out of reach; he has worked within the city bureaucracy and in a Council office; and he offers a compelling vision on how to ease Austin's housing crisis. He wants to move urgently to enact land use reforms to increase Austin's housing supply, but commits to seeking input from renters and homeowners in houses, four-plexes, dorms, and skyscrapers and takes a pragmatic stakeholder-centered approach. If elected, we hope Leffler will be able to listen to the diverse array of voices in D9 and not just hear them. Guerrero has not yet found her rhythm as a politician, but she's definitely done the homework. An Old Austin survivor who's also lived in D9 her whole life, Guerrero has put in decades of volunteer service in leadership roles on city boards and commissions and with a broad array of community causes, and would walk into City Hall with all that knowledge and a powerful coalition already behind her. That will put her in the best place to find solutions to Austin's decadelong housing crisis. We hope that if elected she reaches for solutions appropriate to the scale of our emergency and acts with the urgency D9 residents need.
City of Austin Prop A: FOR.
Subsidizing income-restricted housing at the $350 million level of this (third) bond in the last decade is just something we must do, and/but it's only about a third of what we and the new Council need to initiate.
AUSTIN INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT
Trustee District 1: Candace Hunter.
Voters in Northeast Austin have two great choices in this race, as Roxanne Evans and Candace Hunter each have a robust understanding of the challenges the district faces. In a perfect world they'd also share space on the dais, but we must choose. Hunter taught in AISD until 2015, is a current AISD parent, and has a fiery frankness that we think needs to be heard on a board that's gone along meekly with misguided plans of recent superintendents. Yet she offered nuanced and pragmatic approaches to the problems the district faces now without wavering on her values: "I'm not big on compromise for this one reason: That's how we got here, [and] we haven't even moved the needle for these children."
District 4: Kathryn Whitley Chu.
Having taught in AISD until last year, Chu has the most recent experience in its classrooms and deep convictions about the working conditions teachers deserve. While her opponent Clint Small, whose father and grandfather both served on the school board, demonstrates an obvious love for and deep understanding of the district, Chu's grasp of the multifaceted issues pushing teachers out of AISD – the biggest problem the district faces – is invaluable.
District 6: Andrew Gonzales.
Incumbent Geronimo Rodriguez, a highly regarded community leader who has spent most of his tenure as board president, understands AISD's mechanisms as only a hardworking insider can. But we expect the more assertive Gonzales – a former AISD teacher and the son of another – to take a stronger stance against inequities and unfair conditions for both teachers and students in a way that aligns with his passion for social justice.
At-Large Place 9: Arati Singh.
This was an easy choice for us, as Singh's only actively campaigning opponent, Heather Toolin, strikes us as a stalking horse for the know-nothing right-wing bullshit that's being dumped upon school boards across Texas. Singh, on the other hand, has been a highly effective trustee on precisely the "adult political issues" Toolin wants to keep out of the classroom. Singh championed a consent-centered revision of AISD's sex education curriculum that also sought to help LGBTQIA+ students, and led the board in developing accountability metrics for AISD police to reduce violence against Black and Hispanic students. In each case, she has demonstrated an admirable balance of determination and decorum.
Austin ISD Prop A, B, C: FOR.
This $2.4 billion-with-a-B bond package is AISD's Project Connect, an expensive retrofit to bring district facilities up to where they need to be in the 21st century, a direction AISD first began pursuing with its 2017 bond program, with better-than-expected results. It's a shame that common-sense solutions to longstanding problems have been deferred to exactly when land and labor are most expensive, but students in Austin's aging and economically fragile outer-ring neighborhoods really will need these things.
ROUND ROCK INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT
This is an especially important election for RRISD. Incumbent Trustees Danielle Weston and Mary Bone and their supporters have wreaked havoc on a board that otherwise reflects the diverse mixed-income school district that includes a large chunk of North Austin. The two not only spout know-nothing MAGAnational bullshit but also have tried to get the superintendent fired and the district taken over by the state. All five of the other seats on the board are now up for election, and Weston and Bone’s allies – the Round Rock One Family slate, including former Austin CM Don Zimmerman – are truly steeped in evil as they try to QAnon their way into office. We wish we were exaggerating.
We strongly recommend that RRISD voters vote for the Access Education slate:
Place 1: Estevan Jesus “Chuy” Zárate.
Place 3: Amber Feller. Current board president.
Place 4: Alicia Markum.
Place 5: Amy Weir. Current board secretary.
Place 6: Tiffanie Harrison. Current board vice president.
Governor: Beto O'Rourke
Lieutenant Governor: Mike Collier
Attorney General: Rochelle Garza
Comptroller: Janet Dudding
Land Commissioner: Jay Kleberg
Ag Commissioner: Susan Hays
Railroad Commissioner: Luke Warford
Supreme Court, Place 3: Erin Nowell
Supreme Court, P5: Amanda Reichek
Supreme Court, P9: Julia Maldonado
CCA, P6: Robert Johnson
TX-10: Linda Nuno
TX-17: Mary Jo Woods
TX-21: Claudia Zapata
TX-35: Greg Casar
TX-37: Lloyd Doggett
State Board of Education, District 5: Rebecca Bell-Metereau
3rd Court of Appeals, P4: Rosa Lopez Theofanis
Senate District 5: No Endorsement
SD 14: Sarah Eckhardt
SD 21: Judith Zaffirini
SD 24: Kathy Jones-Hospod
SD 25: Robert Walsh
House District 20: Raul Camacho
HD 45: Erin Zwiener
HD 46: Sheryl Cole
HD 47: Vikki Goodwin
HD 48: Donna Howard
HD 49: Gina Hinojosa
HD 50: James Talarico
HD 51: Lulu Flores
HD 136: John Bucy III
455th District Judge: Laurie Eiserloh
Travis County Judge: Andy Brown
Travis County Clerk: Dyana Limon-Mercado
Travis County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2: Randall Slagle
Williamson County Judge: Blane Conklin
WilCo County Clerk: Erica Smith
WilCo Commissioner Pct. 2: Brigid Lester
WilCo Commissioner Pct. 4: Jose Orta
WilCo JP Pct. 1: KT Musselman
WilCo JP Pct. 4: Stacy Hackenberg
Hays County Judge: Ruben Becerra
Hays Commissioner Pct. 2: Michelle Gutierrez Cohen
Hays Commissioner Pct. 4: Susan Cook
San Marcos Proposition A: FOR
AUSTIN COMMUNITY COLLEGE
Trustee Place 6: Steve Jackobs
ACC Prop A: FOR
* Editor’s note, Friday, Oct. 28, 6:25pm: An updated list of recommended candidates to elect in Round Rock ISD has now been added.
* Editor’s note, Thursday, Oct. 20, 10:31am: A previous version of these endorsements included a list of Round Rock ISD candidates, noting “favorable incumbent[s]” and “horrible right-wing candidate[s].” In a race where no party affiliation is listed on the ballot, we intended to simply identify the worst options and the incumbents who have proven sane on a disordered board. In error, we omitted candidates from the list and neglected to note non-incumbent candidates worthy of voters’ attention. The list did not belong on our Endorsements page, and does not stand up to the standards we’ve set for ourselves in issuing endorsements, and for these reasons, we’ve removed the list from this page. The Chronicle regrets the error; more in the Oct. 28 edition of “Austin at Large.”