Austin Progressive Coalition Makes 2012 Primary Endorsements

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Yesterday the Central Austin Democrats and University Democrats made endorsements in contested primary races here in Travis County. Candidates who earn the endorsement of both CAD and the UDems receive the coveted “Austin Progressive Coalition” endorsement, which comes with significant GOTV work on behalf of endorsed candidates.

Essentially, the results told the same story of the previous South Austin Dems and Central Labor Council endorsements — there are clear frontrunners most of our local contested primaries. However, some of the intrigue at the meeting focused on two races where members present had serious reservations about both candidates.

Here are the endorsements. Incumbents are indicated with an asterisk. If there was no agreement between CAD and UDems, who both voted and caucused separately, then there was no APC endorsement. Thoughts on the meeting are below the jump.

2012 CAD / UDems / APC Endorsements
US Senate Paul Sadler Paul Sadler Paul Sadler
Travis Co. Sheriff Greg Hamilton* John Sisson n/a
Travis Co. Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant Bruce Elfant Bruce Elfant
Travis Co. District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg* Rosemary Lehmberg* Rosemary Lehmberg*
Travis Co. 167th District Court Efrain de la Fuente David Wahberg n/a
Travis Co. Constable Pct 1 Danny Thomas* Danny Thomas* Danny Thomas*
Travis Co. Constable Pct 2 Adan Ballesteros* Did not consider — see below n/a
Travis Co. Constable Pct 3 Sally Hernandez Sally Hernandez Sally Hernandez
Travis Co. Constable Pct 4 Maria Canchola* Maria Canchola* Maria Canchola*
Travis Co. Commissioner Pct 1 Ron Davis* Richard Franklin n/a
Travis Co. Commissioner Pct 3 Karen Huber* Karen Huber* Karen Huber*

Congratulations to all endorsed candidates. Analysis is below the jump. As always, we welcome your comments. Remember to disclose if you work for any of the campaigns or candidates involved!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!


About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.


  1. Precinct 2 and Precint 3 Constable Races
      As a 40-year plus Travis County resident, I have been involved in local Democratic Party politics off and on since 1972, and I personally know both incumbent constables in the Precinct 2 and 3 races and their impacts on their communities.  

    Adan Ballesteros, though an imperfect candidate, deserves to be re-elected in Precinct 2.  He's a good Democrat running against a “fake” Democrat, as the B.O.R. has pointed out. Also, when he's off duty, he volunteers with non-profits that help local communities and individuals; he “walks” the “talk” of public service.  I have worked with him in the non-profit area and have been impressed with his zeal for the “public good.”

    In Precinct 3, Richard McCain also deserves re-election. I have lived in this precinct since '72 and have watched constables and commissioners come and go. Mr. McCain, after years of party activism, ran as constable in 2004 when the Democrats did not even bother to put up a county commissioner candidate.  He worked hard to connect with likely Democratic Party voters and won that election, even though the precinct leaned Republican.

    The main reason that Sally Hernandez is the “frontrunner” and received the public safety endorsements is because Sally is the handpicked candidate of D.A. Rosemary Lehmburg.  The D.A.'s office has let the “word” out to EMS, the sheriff organizations, attorneys and judges,  and local police that Sally is “her candidate” and if you want to get along with the D.A., your organization needs to go along with the D.A. crowd's and endorse Sally Hernandez. The reason that the D.A.'s office is running their own candidate against Richard McCain is because some in his Precinct 3 office, including Richard himself,  have publicly questioned certain prosecutions Ms. Lehmberg has undertaken (so questionable that even the Austin Chronicle has written about some). In short, Richard McCain is an “independent” voice and not a rubber stamp. He's kind of a constable “Charlie Baird”; he tries to put justice first, ahead of politics. He hasn't kissed the right rings.

    And that incident with the 72-year old grandmother being tasered, that the County paid a settlement on and Sally Hernandez crows about, deserves further review. Most people do not know that this “grandmother” had a previous record of physically attacking police after traffic stops; she also has a record of attacking non-police. When ALL information is viewed on the taser incident, the officer looks much more reasonable. The County could have easily won, in my opinion, that lawsuit the “grandmother” filed.

     Also, Richard McCain has worked for 8 years to meet constituents of all political stripes and address their needs and has planted deep grassroots and built relationships with neighborhood associations and other voting groups;  he can beat any Republican candidate for constable.  Many people endorsing his opponent do not even live in Precinct 3 and cannot vote for Sally. If Sally Hernandez is nominated for Constable Precinct 3, she will not have time to “reinvent the political wheel” that McCain has and  will lose the seat. Is this what Travis County Democrats want?  

    David Terrell


        • Plenty
          This is an issue that the UDems, Democratic groups, UT non-partisan campus groups, faculty, staff, and Democratic elected officials all lobbied against.

          Cargill's support for guns on campus is out of keeping with how members of endorsing organizations and much of the community — much of Texas, actually, as only 33% of Texas voters support guns on campus — and speaks to his judgment.

          Especially since he's running for a law-enforcement position, it's important to recognize that his theory of safety seems to rely heavily on providing easy access to guns and removing sensible gun controls that improve community safety. That's not in keeping with our community values, and our party values, either.

          Finally, his temperament is problematic. If that's how he acts when challenged at an endorsement meeting, how will he behave as an elected peace officer?  

  2. We need to support Democrats.
     I agree that we need to support Constable Adan Ballesteros. Mike Cargill has no idea what a Constable does, they can not just teach CHL classes and sale guns to kids. Ballesteros redistricted his precinct we need to support him, by doing this he is willing to take the attacks by republicans and now we repay him by not endorsing him and question what he put to rest in 2008.Will he have to explain again in 2016.

    I am proud of the Central Austin Democrats for endorsing Ballesteros. Lets remember Ballesteros also has a strong community support in the entire precint 2 area, this was proven by all the community awards he has recieved. Adan will not lose in November, let us not forget he beat the republican Vann who tried the same tactic in 2008. Constable Ballesteros has proven that he runs a great office, supports democrats, is involved in the community, we should judge him by his work and dedication to the people. I applaud his efforts.

    Adan is putting himself in the line of fire for the best interest of the party and the people. It is amazing, let me be the first to say “Thank You Constable Ballesteros for all your hard work”. I think we as a party need to prove that we dont just throw away good democrats. Ballesteros has earned his office and democrat support.

    Thanks to all the candidates that showed up saturday.


  3. Sally Hernandez

    Sally Hernandez is a highly qualified, competent, law enforcement administrator.  Mrs. Hernandez obtained the Travis County Sheriff's Law Enforcement Association endorsement on her own merit by committing to placing the public's safety first.  Mrs. Hernandez said she'll work to execute and fund the Office's “core duties” which are Civil and Criminal Process and to serve as the Bailiff of JP.  This will ensure that the county tax payers are not footing the bill for duplicate law enforcement services.  

    Brett Spicer

    TCSLEA PAC Chairman

    • I get that Hernandez is qualified, but
      what is the problem that people have with Richard McCain? You don't throw out an 8-year incumbent in a tough district without a strong reason, yet Sally Hernandez has been sweeping the endorsements.

      So what's the back story? Who did Richard piss off, and how?  

  4. No New News with Sheriff Hamilton and ICE
    Sorry, there's NO new story.  When Sheriff Hamilton took office, he continued a practice or policy implemented by former Sheriff  Margo Fraiser to provide any law enforcement office, agency, or department access to our jail records to further enforcement efforts.  Sheriff Hamilton has merely continued a fifteen year old policy of working with law enforcement groups for legitimate public safety interests.  Yes, it is true that people are deported from our County because they are here undocumented and/or illegally, and are in fact, arrested for a separate offense.  The same practice happens all over our nation.  The writer requests the Sheriff publicly address this group.  Well, Sheriff Hamilton has met publicly and privately with this group and I believe the old adage applies; “I can explain it to you but I can't make you understand it”.   Thankfully, Austin elects professional law enforcement administrators who cooperate and collaborate with their colleagues to keep our community safe.  

    Brett Spicer

    TCSLEA PAC Chairman

    • With all due respect
      Brett, Hamilton did not directly address the ICE issue in his stump speech at the forum on Saturday, and there was no opportunity for questions. He did not attend a previous forum due to a legitimate absence.

      The concerns I have are shared by many other Democratic activists. Please don't dismiss or demean our concerns. I hear these questions about Sheriff Hamilton frequently, and to date he has not been able to satisfy them.

      Your suggestion seems to be that we're unable to understand? I politely disagree. We haven't had a chance to adequately ask Hamilton about these issues in a forum where he must respond.

      I'd suggest it's his duty as our sheriff to adequately address these questions in an open public forum.  

      • Katherine, just FYI
        I've heard Greg address this at Lake Travis Democrats and the Tejano Democrats, and he's talked about it at other clubs. At CAD/UDems, the clock simply ran out while he was talking about the accomplishments of TCSO under his leadership

        There's certainly a lot for him to talk about including improved labor relations with the sheriff's officers' unions and AFSCME, an unprecedented level of counseling and job-skills programs for people in the jail; and law enforcement innovations such as the cite-and-release law which results in fewer arrests for certain class A and B misdemeanors, such as possession of a small amount of marijuana. (Members of the Travis County Sheriff's Office developed the law with Sen. Watson and Rep. Naishtat during the 80th Legislature.)

        At the same time, I hope folks will recognize that the budget, staffing and policies of Immigration and Customs Enforcement are set at the federal level, and that there is not, nor has there ever been, an ICE office in the Travis County Jail.

  5. Cargill on the other issues?
    I don't agree with his stance on guns but if he is good on the other issues.  I wouldn't completely rule him out, or consider him not to be a Democrat, just because of his stance on one issue.

    However the story Katherine gives about his approach to her is enough to seriously turn me off.  That would be the time to say “this is where we have an honest disagreement, here are other issues we probably agree on….”.  That suggests to me that he doesn't have those other issues to highlight.  An honest, respectful disagreement on one issue is unforgivable.  A hostile one is not.

    • I saw the shouting match
      I have been at a lot of APC endorsement meetings over the years and it is rare to see the amount of chest thumping, finger jabbing, raised voices, and shouting past each other in the lobby that I saw this weekend.

      If temperament is an issue to be considered, then I can see why people have serious questions about Cargill beyond just his atrocious stance on an issue that way outside the mainstream of our Party, not to mention the Democratic establishment that will ultimately dominate the voting in this primary.  

  6. Thank you fellow CAD members
    I'm sorry to have missed last Saturday's endorsement meeting. (I got back home after midnight that morning following three days defending public employee pensions and health care in Lubbock. But I didn't even have time to see the prairie dogs.)

    As usual, I can count on your judgement. In those races that I know and care most about, y'all went the way I would have.

    I'm probably going to support Wahlberg in the 167th court race based on feedback from a criminal defense attorney in whom I place great trust. (No, he hasn't had to defend me . . . YET.) I can certainly understand support for de la Fuente. He has a great story, seems reasonably qualified, and is campaigning hard. (I've had two volunteers at the door and two calls from the candidate.)

    I look forward to more information about the Precinct 3 constable race, although I'm inclined to support the incumbent. I can't vote in that election but am interested in ensuring that governors with expensive hair-do's are required to following the speed limit like the rest of us.

    Finally: Who is this Blue Elephant guy??!!

    (Sorry Bruce–couldn't help myself. I'll pay for that with a modest contribution.)

  7. Precinct 3 Constable Race, Part 2
    Earlier,  I posted about the Constable Pct. 3 race and how Sally Hernandez is the “hand-picked” candidate of the D.A.'s office; I now retract that claim.

    In the interest of accuracy and fairness, Rosemary Lehmburg has not helped, endorsed, or implicitly supported either candidate in the Constable Pct. 3 race, and I had relied on the opinions of others to make a faulty claim, which I now regret.

    Still, Richard McCain deserves to be re-elected based on his performance as Constable and his hard work as member of the Travis County Democratic Party. He has almost single-handedley turned swing voters and some Republicans into supporters, and that support is unlikely to go to a “new” Democratic candidate. I still feel that it is unwise to try and replace a two-term Democrat in a district that leans Republican for reasons that have nothing to do with his performance.  

  8. wow
    “A better way to prevent rape is to teach men not to attack women.”

    This is jaw-droppingly naive.  I can't imagine a more inane approach to self-defense.  

    Thanks for pointing Cargill out to me… I wasn't aware of his positions until I read them here.  It's refreshing to have a democrat take a more sensible position on guns, instead of the same-old-same-old paranoia that doesn't work any better than the “war on drugs.”  (Do you like that cause, too?  It makes as much sense as banning guns, and for the same reasons.)

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