This article is part of a series of profiles on contested Democratic primaries around Austin and across the state of Texas. These articles do not constitute an endorsement. They are for informational purposes.
Voters who live in southern Travis County neighborhoods like Mustang Ridge, Creedmoor and Garfield have been under Precinct 4 Constable Maria Canchola's leadership since 2001. A constable is a peace officer whose role is to serve civil process papers like subpoenas and warrants as well as to direct crime-fighting forces within their precinct.
Maria Canchola has served as Constable in Precinct 4 since 2001. Canchola points to her approach as her main asset and the source of her success. “I'm not heavy-handed with the public,” Canchola told BOR in an interview. “My office treats everyone with respect.” She presents her office as economically efficient, pointing to reaching 112% of their expected revenue from civil process papers last year, and being at 119% of expected revenue three months into this year. Canchola says that in addition to crime-fighting and executing warrants, it is the unique role of the constable to be an educational force in the precinct. Once a week, Canchola tutors immigrant parents at Travis High School, answering questions about civil courts, tickets, going to jail. “I try to teach them the American way,” Canchola said.
Canchola's challenger is Ernest Pedraza, an army veteran and a police officer who has served in the Austin Police Department since 1985. Pedraza also served as vice president of the Austin Police Association as well as on two public safety task forces for the city. Pedraza told BOR that he's been planning to run for constable since 2009, claiming that Canchola told him she wasn't planning to run again. Even though he says he doesn't consider himself to be “running against” Canchola, he says the office needs a change of leadership. “There have been over twenty-seven employees in and out of that office in eleven years – three chief deputies in past three years – and this high turnover rate has concerned many people,” Pedraza states.
Aside from more consistency, Pedraza says he plans to bring more policing to the precinct, arguing that too many warrants have been sent to other precincts for execution during Canchola's tenure. He conveys himself as a law enforcer who will bring that emphasis and experience to the office while engaging the community by building working relationships with local neighborhood associations and reaching out to youth. Canchola also believes the role of the constable is nuanced: “I believe that law enforcement should be 50% social work and 50% crime-fighting,” she told BOR. Pedraza sees Canchola's tenure as ultimately ineffective constable leadership, and pledges to bring new energy to the office if elected.
It's up to the voters to decide whether it's time to turn over the constable's office or whether they like its current direction. To do that, they will need to weigh Pedraza's background against Canchola's record, since their philosophies both emphasize a combination of policing and community engagement.
Ed.: After Ernest Pedraza clarified his position, the final paragraph of this post has been changed.