A Progressive D.A. Up Against Big Bucks

A Progressive D.A. Up Against Big Bucks
Photo by Element5 Digital / Unsplash

On Tuesday, Texas will officially hold its Primary Election. While there are many intriguing races up and down the ballot (though the presidential contenders appear locked in with Biden and Trump), there is another race that many political observers will be eyeing: the Democratic primary for Travis County District Attorney.

Current incumbent José Garza appears likely to secure a victory so he can remain on the ballot in November. But his challenger Jeremy Sylestine, who was a former prosecutor in the D.A.’s office, has received an outpouring of money in the final weeks of the race.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that Sylestine’s latest campaign finance report showed he took in over $1.2 million in contributions between the end of January to the end of February. That lopsided cash advantage has flowed to the airwaves, where Sylestine is running ads accusing Garza of neglecting public safety.

While Sylestine is running in the Democratic primary against Garza, the attacks he’s leveling have a familiar rightwing echo. Republicans in Texas have held Garza as a target since he came into office. Garza, who was the Executive Director of the Workers Defense Project, is unabashedly progressive and ousted the former District Attorney Margaret Moore in 2020. During that race, Moore faced an avalanche of criticism for her office’s failure to prosecute rape and sexual assault cases in Travis County.

Garza is relying on a big progressive coalition to defeat a heavily-financed opponent

Four years later, it’s now Garza facing down a heavily financed opponent in a primary. The Austin Chronicle noted that several of Sylestine’s top backers are some of the biggest Republican donors in Austin. Garza has even incurred the wrath of recent Texas transplant Elon Musk.

Still, Garza is confident that he will prevail on Tuesday. Speaking with the Texas Signal over the weekend he said that he was “proud of the coalition that we have built.” He pointed to his strong support from several constituencies including working class families, young people, people of color, and the LGBTQ community as proof of that large coalition. He also proudly declared his campaign received an endorsement from legendary singer Willie Nelson.

Despite that broad support, he was frank about the challenges that come with being outspent nearly three to one. “Our fight is far from over,” he acknowledged.

As for the ads that Sylestine is running, Garza concedes that they are ubiquitous, but that they contain “false Republican talking points.” Garza says he is proud of the work his office has done. He also points out that Austin has a lower violent crime rate than Lubbock and Amarillo. “It’s an old Republican past time to bash Austin and to create fear in our community,” said Garza.

Heading into the final stretch of the election, Garza feels confident that his support from some of the largest progressive groups in Travis County will boost the campaign. But he doesn’t want to concede anything. “We have work to do.”