If history is any indication, when it comes to Travis County’s northeastern quadrant, the winner of the Democratic primary for Travis County commissioner is likely to win and hold office for quite some time.
The seat is open for the first time since 1998 after incumbent Democrat Ron Davis chose not to run. That leaves five candidates in the Democratic primary vying to replace Davis. In this race, we endorse city of Austin division manager and community activist Jeff Travillion. We believe he has the energy, experience and temperament to be an effective representative for a portion of the county that faces huge challenges that come with the county’s explosive growth, shifting demographics and a history of being systematically underserved.
We were also impressed with attorney James Nortey, who has staked much of his campaign platform on finding solutions to the county’s affordability crisis. Voters would do well to look at his campaign closely — but while Nortey is impressive in his own right, Travillion remains a notch above the rest.
As former president of the Austin Chapter of the NAACP, Travillion has strong Travis County roots and community connections. The Precinct 1 seat has been held by an African-American commissioner since 1980 — and the fact that all five candidates in this race are African-American is no accident. While the black population in the city of Austin has been decreasing, the numbers of black families in the county and in surrounding cities such as Pflugerville, where Travillion lives, have increased. It’s a dynamic driven in large part by affordability, which is also a significant factor in this race, as well as Travillion’s platform.
Travillion has worked on a variety of issues in official and unofficial capacities, ranging from county transportation projects to health care to juvenile justice. During his meeting with the editorial board, Travillion reiterated his pledge to work to remove tolls from Texas 130 as a way to improve mobility and likened his style and politics to those of former county judge and commissioner Sam Biscoe, who is known for his ability to build consensus across the county while representing the real needs of his district.
Despite the crowded nature of this race, the quality of the candidate pool is high. Perennial candidates Richard Franklin and Arthur Sampson, whom we endorsed for this seat in 2012, are more prepared and knowledgeable than ever. But in the end, Travillion is the clear pick this time around.
Voters should also beware: One of the five names on the ballot is likely ineligible to hold the office he seeks. Marc Hoskins, who has a 2000 federal felony conviction for cocaine distribution and has already been removed from the Galveston City Council because of his criminal record, is trying his luck in Travis County.
He explained to Statesman reporter Sean Collins Walsh that he’s hoping to receive a pardon for his conviction before the general election in November. Democrats interested in holding on to what should be a reliably Democratic seat should steer clear.
Former Pflugerville City Council member Pat McCord is running unopposed for the Republican nomination in the March 1 primary and will face the Democratic victor.
Just as Travis County’s northeast corner leans heavily Democratic, its southwestern Precinct 3 has been increasingly red. Incumbent commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who held the seat from 2002 to 2008 and then returned in 2013, has drawn an able challenger in attorney Jason Nassour. Nassour is now managing partner with former State Rep. Terry Keel — also a former Travis County sheriff — of the law firm Keel & Nassour.
Although Nassour comes with a knowledge of county government beyond most first-time candidates, Republican voters would do well to stick with Daugherty. There is little daylight on policy matters between the two candidates, including health care and transportation. But Daugherty has proven to be an important compass for the commissioners court on matters of fiscal responsibility and has shown an ability to prod his predictably blue colleagues to the right despite his minority status. He can rightly take credit for pushing the region forward on Texas 45 Southwest as a member of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, as well helping move the county to more financially modest proposals on everything from the tax rate to the proposed new Travis County courthouse.
Daugherty is pragmatic about the county’s defeat last November on the referendum for a new civil courthouse. He concedes that some of the current courthouse facilities could be used more efficiently, but given the county’s growth and caseloads, officials will still need to eventually present something to the voters that is cheaper and located elsewhere. He also notes that he was off the commissioners court and would have opposed the decision in 2010 to use certificates of obligation that don’t require voter approval to buy the property on Lavaca Street, which became a source of contention and ultimately killed the project.
Nassour’s take on the future of courthouse operations is colored by his experience as an attorney. He has some interesting ideas about ways to operate more efficiently, but he may be too quick to withhold funds for necessary criminal justice services to make other elected officials see his point of view. He also underestimates the expense of building mass transit infrastructure to build court facilities in southeastern Travis County as an exchange for cheaper land.
Republicans should stick with the incumbent in this race.
The winner of the Republican primary will face former Legislative staffer and Democrat David Holmes in November. Early voting begins Feb. 16.