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Garcia undecided about District 10 race

Thursday, January 15, 2004 by

Democrats should fight back, says former Mayor

Just back from a trip to Mexico, former Mayor Gus Garcia is still weighing whether to run for the new Congressional District 10 seat, which meanders from Northeast Austin to the Houston suburb of Katy. “I feel like the Democrats ought to make their voices heard. So many people in Texas are giving up because they’re feeling like they can’t win.” On the other hand, he said, the race would be an uphill battle in a very conservative district that was drawn specifically with a Republican winner in mind. As of yesterday, no Democrats had signed up to take on the winner of the Republican primary, which has drawn at least five contenders.

He said he was concerned that some Republicans—including Rep. Terry Keel, Judge Julie Kocurek and Commissioner Gerald Daugherty—apparently will not face a Democratic opponent in November.

“This being a presidential year, it seems we ought to have a presence,” in every race, he added, but noted that national publications do not list Texas as one of the states that could turn Democratic this year. While Arizona and New Mexico are both seen as states where Hispanic voters could make the difference between a Republican or Democratic victory, Texas has been defined as a safe state for President George Bush.

“I think the Democratic Party—especially (presidential hopeful) Howard Dean—is trying to put the Democratic Party back on track.” Garcia returned to Austin after a short trip to Mexico and found a number of calls on his voicemail, he said. One was from the chair of the Washington County Democratic Party, who asked about the race. But Garcia said he ran for State Board of Education seat in that county, among others, in both 1978 and 1982 “and the name Garcia just doesn’t sell in those counties.” On the other hand, he said he knew that there would be additional support if he got the Democratic nomination for Congress.

Garcia is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging legislatively-drawn congressional maps. After a three-judge federal panel upheld the validity of the maps, plaintiffs appealed to the US Supreme Court and asked the court to order the state not to use the plan, known as 1374C, until the court has approved it. Yesterday, the State, represented by Attorney General Greg Abbott and Solicitor General R. Ted Cruz, filed a brief opposing the stay and asking the court to leave the new maps in place for the March 9 election.

The State argued that enjoining the plan would harm the public by increasing voter confusion and disrupting ongoing election preparations. In addition, they wrote, “those prospective candidates who have substantially relied upon the District Court’s January 6, 2004 order would be harmed. Candidates are already filing and announcing their candidacies under the new district map. Others have resigned from judicial offices or withdrawn from other state-level races so that they can enter their chosen congressional races under the new map. And of course, all candidates have been aggressively campaigning in their new districts, raising public awareness and expectations that the new district lines will be used . . . The balance of harms therefore tilts strongly against such an interim injunction.”

Attorney Renea Hicks, who represents both Austin and Travis County, responded, “That’s hogwash, because the candidates have filed under the old map too. Voters can be confused in many different ways. Certainly in Travis County the voter confusion is going to come from this new plan and in East Austin there are going to be about 8,000 people who will be in new precincts. Where the big changes are occurring are where they had to do the chopping up of minorities. If we keep for this round of elections the plan that was in place for 2001 there’s hardly any disruption.” Hicks said the court could issue its ruling on the requested stay at any time, but he anticipated a decision by Friday, or Monday at the latest. The deadline for congressional candidates to file is 6pm Friday.

In a related political development, the Dallas Morning News reported last night that Congressman Martin Frost of Arlington, the senior Democrat in the Texas delegation, would challenge incumbent Congressman Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, in the 32nd Congressional District. He is expected to make the announcement on Friday.

Capital Metro talks about commuter rail

Rules seem to point against granting of variance

Capital Metro is seeking a transportation option that can win the support of voters, and that option is looking more like commuter rail than light rail.

At an afternoon board retreat on Wednesday, Planning Director Rob Smith laid out an updated 20-year plan for Capital Metro that included rapid and express bus service routes, as well as vanpools, high-occupancy vehicle lanes and a commuter rail line from Leander.

The rail option is far different from the one that went before voters in 2000. The original light rail plan, which failed by a narrow margin, would have moved traffic along a north-south corridor from Howard Lane to Ben White Boulevard. That proposal was fraught with community concerns about cost and disruption.

The commuter rail plan is far more conservative, as well as quicker and cheaper than the ambitious light rail plans. The proposed commuter line would use Capital Metro’s existing Llano to Giddings freight rail line. According to plans outlined by Smith, the line would start in Leander and lead to the Convention Center, with stops at the Northwest Park-and-ride, UT Pickle Campus, Gracy Farms, Highland Mall, Martin Luther King and Saltillo Plaza in East Austin before terminating downtown.

Light rail, while not off the table, was not the focus of yesterday’s discussion. Council Member Daryl Slusher expressed some disappointment that rail options would be so limited, although he acknowledged that the choice was driven by the will of the voters. The rail proposal has gone from moving people around the city to moving people from the outskirts of Travis County into the city.

“That’s a big difference,” Slusher said.

And while light rail might lie somewhere in Austin’s future, it’s not Slusher’s expectation that the light rail proposal will get serious consideration for the upcoming November ballot. Transportation authority measures can only be on the ballot every other year.

Even commuter rail is still a ‘maybe’ in Slusher’s mind. The cost of the rail line won’t be put before the Capital Metro board until next month, and even then board members want to hear serious input from the public before it’s put on the ballot.

“All that’s going to happen is that we’re putting this out there, and there’ll be very, very widespread input before we put it on the ballot,” Slusher said.

Commissioner Margaret Gomez echoed those words. She wants input and she wants it early in the process, but she also added that the region needs to look at serious long-term solutions to the area’s traffic congestion. Austin is an employment center and traffic is becoming a bigger issue for businesses considering relocation, Gomez said.

“Let’s not wait for the debate until later, when it’s closer to the vote,” Gomez said. “Whether people agree with it or not, we need to hear it now.”

Gomez hasn’t totally given up on the concept of light rail. The vote on rail was close and the capacity of local freeways is limited, Gomez said. Capital Metro ought to take the time to break down the light rail proposal and find some consensus in the community on what pieces or components might be an acceptable long-term plan for rail, Gomez said.

The Capital Metro board could decide, at any point, to pull the plug on commuter rail. The board will hear financial figures on the cost of commuter rail next month. That will be followed with a broadcast financial forecast of the entire transportation plan.

Spokesman Rick L’Amie says the Capital Metro board should be making a policy decision on the long-range plans for the transit agency sometime in the next three months. At that point, the agency intends to roll out a full-fledged outreach effort to the community on the agency’s plans. That would still give the board enough time to call a November election, if needed..

Today’s City Council agenda . . . Personnel matters loom large on this week’s agenda, with the possibility that three new Municipal Court judges will be named to replace three veterans. Council Member Raul Alvarez’s Executive Assistant Veronica Briseño said that her boss had not received the information used by Mayor Will Wynn, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Brewster McCracken to make the decision yesterday and wanted time to consider it before the vote. Council offices were receiving emails yesterday urging the Council to retain the current roster . . . Men in blue to be reorganized. . . City Manager Toby Futrell has a plan to eliminate some upper management jobs in the Police Department through attrition, which would save the city money. Council Member Brewster McCracken said yesterday that the change has been part of Futrell’s “budget savings plan for at least a year. There’s also going to be some promotions coming up that will lead to more diversity than they’ve ever had in the Police Department” . . . Going to school again . . . McCracken said he may be absent for a good portion of the meeting today because he is finishing up a course in mediation and is also scheduled to attend his first class in childbirth with his wife, Mindy. They are expecting their first child at the end of February . . . Two more new VPs for firefighters . . . New Vice Presidents Mikel Borg and Dawn Clopton have joined the executive board of the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters. . . Filing day dinner tomorrow . . . Travis County Democrats will gather at 6:01pm Friday night for the 13th Biennial Democratic Party Filing Day Dinner. The time reflects that the deadline for filing is 6pm. The gathering will be at the Austin Music Hall, 208 Nueces St. Entertainment will be provided by Mary Welch y Los Curanderos . . . Design Commission meets today . . . At 11:30am today the Design Commission will have a special called meeting to plan their Jan. 23 retreat and to particpate in an exercise to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the commission, as well as opportunities and threats. The meeting will be in the Second Floor Conference Room at One Texas Center . . . No lottery winner here . . . Tommy Molina, who lives in the Duval County city of San Diego, will not be running in the Congressional District 25 race, even though he has considered it. Molina said yesterday he would not file for the seat unless he won the lottery last night. He promised to call In Fact Daily if that happened—but he didn’t call. Molina is vice president of the Mexican American School Board Members Association (MASBA) and education fuels his interest in politics. He said he sees Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett as the frontrunner in the race. “He’s very well organized and he’s been networking down in South Texas for many years; he has a lot of connections with the old yellow dog network.” Molina added that the race should not be the main consideration in choosing a congressional candidate. “I think regardless of background we should support someone who has the clout to do something for us.” The MASBA is holding its 6th annual conference in San Antonio beginning tomorrow afternoon. The conference will feature workshops on matters such as dispute resolution, how to avoid litigation, public relations and establishing various programs within school districts. For more information, visit the group’s web site at http://www.masbatx.org .

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