Three Democrats vying for Travis County judge — the most powerful executive office in the county — gathered via Zoom on Wednesday evening to discuss their ideas in a virtual forum hosted by Blue Action Democrats Southwest Austin.
The trio of candidates are familiar faces for those who follow Austin politics: Precinct One Commissioner Jeff Travillion, Travis County Democratic Party Chair Dyana Limon-Mercado, and attorney and Beto O’Rourke advisor Andy Brown.
Brown, who chaired the Travis County Democrats prior to Limon-Mercado, has been seeking the county judge position since 2014. He competed against Sarah Eckhardt in the Democratic primary that year and lost with 45 percent of the vote. Eckhardt won the county judgeship but resigned from her position in March of this year when she announced she would be running for a Senate seat in the Texas Legislature.
Now trying to pitch voters on who best to fill the interim position filled by Sam Biscoe, the candidates on Wednesday promised criminal justice reform, more resources to fight the pandemic, and solutions to tackling housing and food insecurity.
When asked about how the county should continue fighting the pandemic, Limon-Mercado said the shortage of testing for low-income families and lack of information for how to get tested needed to be addressed.
Brown promised to fight for Medicare-for-All at the state-level and tackle racial disparities in COVID-19 hospitalizations by funding more health clinics in Latino-majority areas of the county.
“Before COVID, we had 200,000 uninsured people in Travis County and we know that number has skyrocketed since then,” Brown said.
Travillion touted his work on commissioners court, like working with food banks and school districts to help food-insecure children who were home because of the pandemic, and promised to fight Donald Trump’s agenda by counting everyone for the 2020 Census.
When the discussion turned to criminal justice reform and police accountability, Travillion said it was important to work with the local sheriff’s office to strengthen and fund community policing.
Limon-Mercado spoke to her experience as a courtroom clerk working side-by-side with magistrate judges to review probable cause affidavits.
“I read probable cause affidavits on a daily basis that were quite blatantly people being arrested for walking while Black and driving while Brown,” Limon-Mercado said. She said she would direct the county attorney’s office to require prosecutorial review of probable cause affidavits before they’re filed and make sure public defenders are available to help defendants earlier.
Brown said the county should reduce its jail population and spend more money on healthcare, work on housing people instead of jailing them for trespassing, and shift mental health 9/11 calls to medical professionals.
As the forum came to a close, candidates gave their closing statements. If elected, Limon-Mercado said she would continue to build winning coalitions and be a reformer as she’s demonstrated leading the county party and Planned Parenthood Texas.
Travillion spoke to his experience with local county decision-making and his education from the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs. “When we talk about the county judge, what we’re talking about is an administrator,” he said.
Brown promised progressive change and also spoke to his experience in Travis County, like leading the county party for five years and serving on local commissions and boards.
The three candidates will face off in a vote among Travis County Democratic Party precinct chairs, which is likely to be held Aug. 16. The winner will replace Eckhardt as Democratic nominee on the November ballot.
Photo: Larry D. Moore/ Wikimedia Commons
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the election for Travis County Judge will be held on November 3rd. This story has been updated to clarify that the Democratic nominee for Travis County Judge will be determined by a vote of the county party’s executive committee in August.