A new era of law and order in Travis County is in place with the election of two new Democrats, Sally Hernandez to sheriff and Margaret Moore to district attorney.
The party’s lengthy hold on the D.A.’s office continues with Moore’s decisive win over Maura Phelan, 66 percent to 34 percent. Hernandez also easily trounced her Republican rival, Joe Martinez, with 60 percent of the vote.
Moore is the 20th straight D.A. candidate from her party to prevail in the dark blue county with early results showing her with a 2-1 advantage over Phelan. A Republican hasn’t won a D.A. race in Travis County since 1873.
Surrounded by friends and family, including her 98-year-old father, Moore told the media: “We’re going to be the best district attorney’s office in the state of Texas. Bar none.”
Moore, a former assistant district attorney and Travis County commissioner, ended a brief retirement this year when she jumped into the primary at the last minute. Earning almost 60 percent of the vote, she cruised to victory over fellow Democrats Gary Cobb and Rick Reed.
Hernandez will take the reins of the sheriff’s office after one term as the constable for Precinct 3. She previously was an investigator at the Travis County district attorney’s office for about 20 years, including several years as the office’s chief investigator.
Moore had stronger backing than Phelan, raising $201,586 to her opponent’s $57,715. Moore spent $144,130; Phelan spent $26,936.
Moore will succeed Rosemary Lehmberg, who is retiring at the end of the year after eight years in office. Moore had proceeded for months as if election day was a formality, tapping several members of the legal community for conditional positions, including respected attorney Mindy Montford to be her top assistant and Dexter Gilford to lead a revamped Civil Rights Unit.
Phelan accused her opponent of creating ethical violations by offering the conditional positions.
Attention now shifts to Moore’s shaping of the office. Starting next week, she says she will make all 90-some employees reapply for their jobs. She said her transition plan gets underway Wednesday and that she hopes to “have everything ready to go” by mid-December.
Hernandez will succeed Greg Hamilton, who is retiring from the sheriff’s office after winning election 12 years ago.
Her election could mean that Austin will become the only “sanctuary city” in all of Texas. Hernandez had vowed to end all cooperation with federal immigration officials at the Travis County Jail, ending one of Hamilton’s signature policies that became the dominant issue of the race.
Hernandez has since backed away from tossing agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement completely from the jail. But she has said she will limit cooperation with ICE requests to hold certain undocumented immigrants at the jail after they are cleared for release.
Her Republican opponent Joe Martinez, a local private investigator, campaigned that he would keep Hamilton’s policy intact. Progressives have long derided Hamilton’s policy as one that breaks up families.
The two winners come from progressive camps that were at odds with each other during the Spring primary. Hernandez has been a longtime friend and co-worker of Cobb’s, while Moore was seen as the outsider candidate.
However, since the primary, the two have been in communication about how their offices will interact once they take office.
“I feel excited and I’m very happy that Travis County residents overwhelmingly got out and voted for a more progressive Travis County sheriff’s office,” Hernandez said.