Austin Area Elections Roundup

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As we all await a decision from Wendy Davis, posturing for other elections — ones that are more favorable for Democrats — continues. Here in Austin, there are plenty of those, and the Democratic Primary is usually the game. Primary elections are in March, so the timeline is already much shorter than that for a November general election. Now that Labor Day 2013 has passed, 2014 campaigns are surging ahead.

And it looks like Travis County already has a new contested election. Well, sort of. Rumor has it that Judge John Dietz of the 250th District Court will retire after this term. It's not certain, yet, but candidates feel like they can't wait around anymore. Last Monday, Karin Crump announced through an email that she will run for judge this March, already trotting out the support of local heavy-hitters, too: Kirk Watson, Dawnna Dukes, and Eddie Rodriguez, among others. However, if one peruses her website, nowhere does it say what court for which she's running.

But insiders know that Dietz's seat is the goal, if he resigns. A potential opponent puts it more clearly. Later last week, the Burnt Orange Report received a press release that opened with this line: “Former Third Court of Appeals Justice Diane Henson announced today that if Judge John Dietz decides to retire, she will run for his seat on the 250th District Court in Travis County Democratic primary to be held in March 2014.” She also noted key supporters, including Sheriff Greg Hamilton.

So, if Judge Dietz retires (which is still an if — politics is never certain), it will likely be Karin Crump v. Diane Henson, with still a possibility of a third candidate. Both have strong Democratic credentials, so a highly competitive race is expected. In 2010, Crump ran for Justice of the Peace, Place 2, which at the time was the only Republican-held seat in Travis County. Diane Henson was a Democrat on the 3rd Court of Appeals, until she lost reelection in the 2012 election. And, of course, both have strong reputations in the legal community.

But the potential race for the 250th District Court is only one local election. Read on to see what's going on with the rest.Even closer than March is November, when the special election to replace Mark Strama will occur. Running in that race are Democrats Celia Israel, Jade Chang Sheppard, and Rico Reyes. As we previously wrote, Ramey Ko won't be running in the special election, although he plans to still run in the primary. We also noted a report that a Republican, Donald Dean, would enter the race and spend a lot of money. Dean still has not filed a campaign treasurer report, however, but Mike Vandewalle and Sherry Prestine Cherry each filed treasurer papers with the Texas Ethics Commission for District 50. Cherry is unknown, and a google search reveals little, but Vandewalle's Facebook page already promises to fight Obamacare. Great.

Of course, the three Democrats are still the most active campaigners, and their special session fundraising reports continue to show that. Since we last discussed this election, Celia Israel won in a big endorsement in that of the Victory Fund, a national organization to help elect openly LGBT leaders. It's not an endorsement that will win too many votes because voters value the endorsement, but the Victory Fund will likely give the Israel campaign some extra political punch. But Reyes and Sheppard each have strong teams, too. The Democrat with the best field game will likely end up in a runoff, and the second-best field game might follow, too.

Travis County will also have yet another open seat election, for District Clerk. Clerk Amalia Rodriguez-Mendoza has announced that she will not seek reelection after over two decades of service. The District Clerk is in charge of record-keeping services for the county's many District Courts. And in 2014, hopefully Travis County voters may look to elect someone who can keep pace with the advances of technology, especially in a city like Austin.

Already lining up to replace her is local attorney and Democratic activist Velva Price. A second candidate has yet to declare, but knowing Austin politics, it won't be a surprise to see another politico join the fray.

And finally, I'll give a few thoughts on the County Judge race. There's no news to report, but it's the biggest race in town, so I can't not talk about it.

I did a quick search through the emails I received from the two campaigns, and while most of the emails try to get money or volunteer hours, it's noticeable which issues the campaigns have spent the most energy promoting lately. Andy Brown has talked a lot about Education, and he worked with Save Texas Schools, Lloyd Doggett, and Kirk Watson for a Back to School Supply Drive. This isn't a new phenomenon, as the one featured video on his website is about schools. Eckhardt has been talking about the environment, and she released a video a month ago entitled Our Green Future.

It remains to be seen if the issues will gain either candidate much traction, or if both serve — politically speaking — just as something to talk about. Of course, the County Judge can only do so much about education, though environmental values can go a long away. And it's still early. Brown may have been talking about education simply to take advantage of the beginning school year, for instance.

At either rate, both campaigns are running strong. There's nothing hard-hitting from one against the other yet, but this election might be too close and too scrutinized for political attacks to be avoided.  

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