by Daryl Slusher
Andy Brown prevailed in the contest to become the Democratic nominee for County Judge on the November ballot — meaning he will almost certainly be the next Travis County Judge in the Democratic stronghold of Travis County. Readers may recall that this is the race to replace Sarah Eckhardt who won the contest to replace Kirk Watson in the Texas Senate. Watson’s resignation as State Senator and Eckhardt’s as County came too late for there to be a replacement contest in this year’s Democratic primary. So under state law, and accompanying Democratic Party rules, the nominee was chosen by a vote of 136 Travis County precinct chairs. All of them, by the way, voted in the election.
A runoff was generally expected when Democrats gathered virtually on Sunday, but Brown pulled 76 votes, or 56%, on the first ballot vote and won the nomination. Dyana Limon-Mercado came in second with 36 votes/26% and County Commissioner Precinct 1 Jeff Travillion finished third with 24 votes or 18% .
On Monday Republicans announced a candidate, attorney Michael Lovins. Lovins is a member of the ultra conservative Federalist Society. Among other things, the Federalist Society was a leader in developing a list of potential Supreme Court nominees for then presidential candidate Donald Trump. Lovins acknowledged that his candidacy is a long shot and, according to several press reports, says he will run on a campaign of public safety and putting the “taxpayer first.” Lovins was appointed as the Republican nominee by Travis County Republican chair Matt Mackowiak who was delegated that authority by the local party’s executive committee.
Back on the Democratic side, the issue of race will doubtlessly get more discussion, as Brown defeated Travis County Commissioner Precinct 1 Jeff Travillion and immediate past Travis County Democratic Party Chair Dyana Limon-Mercado. It is also the case, however, that the process played to Brown’s strengths. He has been seeking the job since 2014 when he very early lined up a number of key endorsements, but still lost to Sarah Eckhardt. This time around he jumped in immediately when the post became open. He methodically contacted precinct chairs, often engaging in long discussions. He won early support and the precinct chairs stuck with him.
Brown Locks In on No New Women’s Jail Stance
Brown’s opponents accused him of taking what Limon -Mercado labeled as “politically expedient” stances on issues i.e. positions that just pandered to the hot issues of the moment without acknowledging the complexity of the issues involved. The two primary issues there were a new women’s jail where Brown said that simply talking about a new jail amounted to a “failure.” Travillion and Limon-Mercado countered that the issue was more complicated than that. Travillion in particular voted, as a County Commissioner, to more forward with the new jail arguing that it was the more humane way to go, would provide better health care and be safer for the women inmates. Travillion and fellow Commissioner Brigid Shea later put the new jail on hold until they were satisfied with plans for improved medical care.
So Brown will enter office committed to oppose a new women’s jail, a position activists will doubtlessly fiercely remind him of, if he were to determine that a jail is truly needed after hearing more from Sheriff Sally Hernandez and County Commissioners. Further locking in to his position, Brown committed in a questionnaire called the Travis County Justice Guarantee — compiled by a coalition of criminal justice advocates — to “voting against any further money towards a new women’s jail or further jail building at the Travis County Correctional Complex?”
As to an Elections Administrator, the primary issue was that creation of such an office would, by statute, remove voter registration duties from County Tax Assessor Collector Bruce Elfant. Elfant has led, and continues to lead, efforts that have made Travis County number one among Texas urban counties in the percentage of eligible voters who are registered. Brown though began backing off on this issue in the final days of the campaign, saying he would consult with the Commissioners Court, Elfant, and County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir who runs elections.
The Winds of Change
It was doubtlessly a disappointing loss for Limon-Mercado and Travillion who both campaigned tirelessly. Limon-Mercado is young and hers was a long shot candidacy, in the spirit of young women who have run for positions that traditionally many would say they did not yet have the experience to hold. A number of such female candidates around the country won, however, and have proven to be very skillful at the job. Particularly coming to mind are Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York and County Judge Lina Hidalgo in Harris County. Then there is Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza who won the Democratic primary for County Attorney (with no Republican opponent in November). Garza overcame the well publicized fact that she has very limited legal experience, but voters chose her anyway.
Limon-Mercado was unable to prevail, but she has a compelling bio, is knowledgeable on the issues, and quick on her feet, and will likely run for office again.
The more glaring outcome in this race is that Travillion came in third. Travillion has been an active and effective Commissioner. He has a strong record on criminal justice reform, Civil Rights, social justice, transportation and the environment. He knows how all those issues work together. Travillion’s record and prospects, however, apparently did not move the precinct chairs. It was not just with them, however.
For example, a letter from mostly “women of color” advocated for Limon-Mercado on the grounds that: “We need someone who understands and has the lived experiences of those often first impacted by policy decisions, but least likely to be represented by government – working class communities of color. And we need someone with a proven track record for building multi-generational and racially diverse coalitions.” Travillion, a distinguished African American office holder, former head of the Austin NAACP, and proven coalition builder did not even rate a mention.
Travillion also had the active support of long time Austin political stalwarts, from this reporter’s generation, David Butts and Alfred Stanley. As consultants and campaign operative Butts and Stanley both have won-loss records on the level of say, the New England Patriots (although neither ever engaged in anything like deflating footballs before a game/election).
Both were very instrumental in building the Democratic majority in Austin that makes it futile for Republicans to run for countywide offices here. Their active support for Travillion, however, was obviously not near enough to bring a Travillion victory.
Butts has now suffered three defeats in a row. He consulted for District Attorney Margaret Moore who was routed by insurgent candidate Jose Garza and for Laurie Eiserloh in the County Attorney’s race. Eiserloh is an Assistant County Attorney with tons of relevant experience, but voters went for the younger, less experienced, candidate promising more sweeping change.
It is far too soon to write Butts off, but his three losses in a row are unprecedented in this reporter’s long memory. At the least it marks a dramatic change in the local electorate, reflected both in the overall electorate and in the Travis County Democratic precinct chairs.
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