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.
As we approach the May 29 elections (less than three weeks away!), Travis County Democrats have a duty to evaluate the local races that affect their lives, whether the candidates are vying for the U.S. Congress or a constable's office. There are several Democratic constable primaries, with often stark differences between our options.
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. Voters who live in northwestern Travis County neighborhoods like Jonestown have been under Precinct 2 Constable Adan Ballesteros' leadership since 2009. Ballesteros faces two Democratic challengers, Paul Labuda and Michael Cargill, who want to bring change to the office.
Adan Ballesteros has served as constable for three years and has been with the constable's office for 14 years. He boasts 32 total years of law enforcement experience and has been awarded Constable of the Year by the Central Texas Justice of the Peace and Constables Association. Ballesteros told BOR that since being elected, his office has exceeded expectations of revenue from civil process papers by 7%. “I attribute that success to our deputies and their work ethic that I impose. We do a great job in the civil process,” Ballesteros told BOR. If re-elected, Ballesteros says he will keep his focus on “making the office more effective and efficient.” Ballesteros also believes that the office needs to develop a focus on the youth in the community to ensure they have necessary support. He founded the Constable's Outreach Program in which he goes out into the community and teaches at-risk youth about their opportunities and challenges, and the means for improving their circumstances.
Michael Cargill is challenging the incumbent despite his own lack of law enforcement experience. His campaign seems to center on his CHL training business and general opposition to gun control. He operates a concealed handgun license training facility in South Austin where he teaches area residents about gun safety and self-protection. Cargill boasts that he's taught “a majority of attorneys and prosecutors for the last 5 years the Texas penal code on the concealed handgun.” If elected, Cargill promises to continue running safety courses in his capacity as constable and pledges to give free pepper spray (paid for by Cargill himself) to all women who attend.
Cargill's undying dedication to guns is not be underestimated. He has publicly advocated for Ron Paul's gun positions, including (1) forcing the FAA to allow commercial airline pilots to carry guns, (2) repealing the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, and (3) repealing the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (which instituted federal background checks). Cargill has also publicly stated that he voted for extremist Republican Debra Medina in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary. Cargill is heavily involved in Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, and his campaign manager/treasurer is the head of that group. Cargill talks about his business incessantly, blurring the line between his role as a candidate and a businessman promoting his CHL training course business.
The candidate has accused Constable Ballesteros of getting fired from the Department of Public Safety fifteen years ago for allegedly “allowing over 200kg of cocaine to enter the U.S.” Ballesteros counters that he was never formally charged, and that, though he was fired by DPS, the Texas Workforce Commission later found no evidence that he committed any of these crimes. The race heated up when Ballesteros sued Cargill for defamation in an attempt to get him to stop making these cocaine allegations. The Statesman reports that “[a]ccording to the lawsuit, Cargill and his associates have attended Ballesteros' speaking engagements and placed placards calling him 'the cocaine constable' on people's cars, and have posted Tweets saying Ballesteros has allowed the importation of drugs into the country.”
Paul Labuda is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and currently a police officer in Florence, Texas, who ran for the office in 2008. “I intend to use my qualifications as a certified crime prevention specialist to increase the safety of the residents of northern Travis County,” Labuda told BOR. He argues that there has been “too much of a focus placed on law enforcement functions and not enough on crime prevention” in the last few years. Labuda says aside from serving civil process papers and warrants for the courts, he would not conduct investigations into specific civil process cases that he says are a waste of the constable's time. “I will focus instead on improving lives through crime prevention and community policing,” he said. “I would like to get grants to resume truancy enforcement,” Labuda said of his plans to make sure more kids stay enrolled in school. Truancy money has been taken away from the constable's office in recent years. In Florence, Labuda goes out and talks to youth about the dangers of alcohol abuse. Labuda is also a very active Democrat here in Austin: he has also been the president of the North by Northwest Democrats since 2010 and is deeply engaged with local activists.
If Precinct 2 voters are happy with the direction of their local civil law enforcement, they have an incumbent intent of continuing to serve. If they are dissatisfied with Ballesteros or concerned about the criminal allegations that continue to dog him on the campaign trail, they have to weigh Cargill's gun-centric approach and background against LaBuda's community-based vision for the office as well as his background.