|The endorsement season to date makes pretty clear that Bruce Elfant is the absolute front-runner for the office of Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar. Cheers for Bruce at this meeting were very enthusiastic, in large part because Bruce has been such a dedicated public servant and so deeply involved in the Democratic and University community for decades. Bruce's speech to the members not only emphasized his qualifications to collect our taxes, but also his commitment to expanding voter registration and advocating for same-day registration at the state level.
Sally Hernandez continued her sweep of endorsements over incumbent Constable Richard McCain, and at this point can considered to be the frontrunner in this race as well. I hadn't seen Sally on the stump in a few weeks, and she genuinely impressed me. She highlighted her long career in community service, especially helping women transition after serving prison terms. She's spent 30 years in law enforcement, 23 of that here in Travis County, and currently serves as Chief Investigator at the DA's office. She touted her support of public safety organizations and police chiefs in Precinct 3, and also emphasized that she's proud to be a Democrat. It's also refreshing to hear her speak so directly about the need for more women in law enforcement, and her desire to improve training in the Precinct 3 office. Hernandez touched on the incident several years ago when a Pct 3 deputy tasered a 72-year-old woman at a routine traffic stop, an action which incumbent Richard McCain defended. (Now that is one tough great-grandma.)
Rosemary Lehmberg also continued her sweep of Democratic clubs this season, besting Charlie Baird in both groups. At this point with SAD, CAD and UDems all backing Rosemary, I will be curious to see if more than one or two Democratic groups don't side with the incumbent. Given that the electorate in this primary is likely to be composed of frequent Democratic primary voters who are often influenced by Democratic club endorsements, it will be interesting to see how the Baird campaign tries to work around the traditional and institutional support Lehmberg has earned to date.
The race for the 167th District Court continues to be close, with Efrain de la Fuente and David Wahlberg splitting endorsements at the meeting. Wahlberg had prevailed over de la Fuente in a run-off at SAD, due in part to Bryan Case's supporters choosing Wahlberg in the second round of balloting. At this meeting, there was little support for Case evident, so the endorsements became a de facto two-way race. Both candidates would be capable jurists. During the candidate forum, De la Fuente emphasized his tremendous personal story and strong experience. Wahlberg emphasized that he's practiced law for 35 years in Travis County, and has been board certified in criminal law for longer than de la Fuente has been practicing. Wahlberg's campaign at this point seems to be pushing a narrative of the candidate being most qualified for the job, whereas de la Fuente seems to combine a combination of qualifications and personal narrative to sell the voters. At least through the endorsement season, I expect this race to remain neck-and-neck.
The two races that attracted the most debate in and around the forum were Sheriff and Constable Precinct 2. Sheriff Greg Hamilton has come under fire for issues regarding immigration. A 2010 story published by the Austin American-Statesman asserts that Travis County currently leads the nation in deportation of non-violent undocumented immigrants. Arguably when liberal Austin is besting Arizona and Georgia in unnecessary and costly deportations, something is wrong. However, Hamilton has refused to address the issue directly on the stump as far as I have seen. At a luncheon for the Central Texas Democratic Forum, Hamilton was absent at a law enforcement training (which was a legitimate absence) and yesterday did not take questions on immigration issues or the role that ICE plays in Travis County.
Hamilton is being challenged by John Sisson, a law enforcement veteran who is campaigning hard on the immigration issue. At issue on Saturday was Sisson's voting history -- supporters for Hamilton circulated a document demonstrating that the challenger's lone primary vote was in the 2008 Republican primary. Sisson explained that he recently came out as a gay man, and at that time switched parties. It's a valid question whether primary voting is a litmus test for endorsement by Democratic groups. Of bigger concern is that Sisson is largely unknown to local Democratic and immigration activists. However, the immigration issues raised by Sisson seemed to be enough for the University Democrats to choose to endorse the challenger, rather than the incumbent. Sheriff Hamilton needs to take this as a clear directive that he must address the immigration and ICE issues that are dogging him on the trail, and answer questions which he has not yet satisfactorily addressed. It is clear in talking to immigrant rights activists and advocates that there are clear issues here in Travis County. It's time that the Sheriff addressed them directly in a public forum.
The other race that caught fire at the forum -- and moreso in the lobby -- was the race for Constable Precinct 2. Incumbent Adan Ballesteros is being challenged by Michael Cargill, with the newcomer's campaign being based on the same allegations that dogged Ballesteros four years ago, when he won the Democratic primary and went on to oust an incumbent Republican constable. Now, let me begin by saying that Michael Cargill is unfit to hold public office as a Democrat. This guest post by John Woods details Cargill's history lobbying for the Concealed Carry on Campus bill, and the rest of his far-right views on gun issues. Cargill is campaigning on public safety, but it's clear that for him, safety means arming every citizen with a gun. Cargill affirmed the allegations in Woods' guest post linked above to me in the lobby after he spoke. Despite extreme hostility from the candidate, I was able to confirm that Michael Cargill supports Concealed Carry on Campus, supports Ron Paul's efforts to repeal federal Gun Free School Zones, and has attended meetings of the Young Conservatives of Texas -- in a brief discussion he and I had in the lobby.
The exchange was, to put it mildly, the most uncomfortable experience I've had in local politics in six years. Cargill refused to let me ask him my basic yes-or-no questions, and instead began repeating the story he told in the forum that his grandmother was the victim of an attempted rape on campus. This experience seems to have made a great impact on Cargill, and in turn seems to be the basis of his main platform plank, namely arming college students. As I tried to ask him about other issues, he smugly repeated "Raped on campus. Raped on campus. Raped on campus." He refused to let me ask him my additional questions about his positions on these issues until I literally shouted "I'm sorry your grandmother was attacked but please answer my questions." To make matters worse, Ballesteros' deputies had closed in and also began shouting as well. It's fairly insulting to think that Cargill can change my mind or persuade voters to support him by intimidating women into thinking they'll be raped if they can't carry a gun. A better way to prevent rape is to teach men not to attack women. Perhaps when he attends all of those YCT meetings, Michael Cargill should spend less time promoting the CHL school he runs that markets to college-aged kids, and more time training men not to rape women. Cargill's temperament and position on gun issues make him unacceptable as a Democratic candidate.
Ballesteros claims that Cargill was pushed to run by Republican JP Glenn Bass. There's currently a lot of bad blood between Bass and Ballesteros up in Precinct 2 that stems from redistricting, during which Ballesteros supported a county constable and JP map that makes Precinct 2 a shade more Democratic, which in turn will help Democrats win JP-2 in 2014. Bass was first elected during the Republican wave of 2010, besting the vastly more qualified Karin Crump. Bass has no law degree and was pushed into the race rather than challenge State Rep. Donna Howard in HD-48, where Howard ultimately beat some former football player by four votes. However, while Ballesteros may be a good Democrat -- and I can say that in my own experience, he indeed has been a very good supporter of our party and candidates, with both time and energy -- Ballesteros still needs to put to rest some of the same rumors and allegations that he faced in 2008 dealing with his time on DPS.
To their credit, the University Democrats chose not to endorse in the race at this time. While they clearly oppose Cargill -- the UDems and other student leaders at UT are very involved in blocking the Guns on Campus legislation -- they had concerns about Ballesteros that they don't feel have been sufficiently addressed. Remember that since the UDems turns over every four years, few remember the last campaign cycle because most weren't around for it.
These endorsement meetings can run long and be tedious at times, but it's a good opportunity to visit with some of our elected officials who are often too busy governing to glad-hand. There are also always a few club members who are genuinely undecided on races, and have good questions and comments during the caucus portion. It's also fun to watch various present and former elected officials show up to cast their ballots, as many are CAD members from their own campaign seasons. I saw Mayor Leffingwell, Council Members Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole, former Council Member Randi Shade, State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, and a host of other local elected officials. Many stayed to listen to the candidates speak for awhile. And I'm pretty sure that just about everyone who's not on the ballot is happy not to be swept up into the drama over primary dates and district lines.
Next up is the March 1 multi-club endorsement forum, when many of the remaining Democratic clubs in Austin will be endorsing in the primaries. With City Council elections looming -- heck, they're going to happen before our primaries will -- after the clubs wrap this round up, they'll have a few minutes to breathe before they have to do it all again!
Commenters, feel free to weigh in on the races, but please remember to disclose if you work for a candidate or campaign. Thanks!