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South Texas judge to battle Doggett for Congress

Friday, January 9, 2004 by

Doggett releases names of numerous elected officials supporting his candidacy

Yesterday, in Austin for her second announcement of the day, District Judge Leticia Hinojosa told a small group of mostly Hispanic supporters—and some who were not yet convinced—that she would run for Congress in District 25 against Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett. She made the same announcement earlier in the day in McAllen. Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, who had eyed the race himself, introduced Hinojosa to the crowd at the Nuevo Leon Restaurant. Barrientos hosted a breakfast earlier in the day for Hispanic business owners to ask them to listen to Hinojosa and held a press conference announcing his support for the 46-year-old judge. He was the only elected official at the mid-afternoon announcement.

At approximately the same time, the Doggett campaign released endorsement statements from Commissioner Margaret Gomez and State Representative Dawnna Dukes as well as a lengthy list of local officials who endorse his candidacy. That list includes Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, Council Members Raul Alvarez, Jackie Goodman, Daryl Slusher and Brewster McCracken, Sheriff Margo Frasier and ACC Trustees John Hernandez and Beverly Silas. Also endorsing Doggett are Del Valle Independent School District Board Members Joe Vela, Gus Guerrero and Paul Gonzalez and Hector Gonzalez, Mayor of Webberville.

In her statement, Dukes said, “This mid-decade Congressional redistricting battle led by Tom DeLay has certainly served its purpose. It has created havoc and confusion in the election process. And among Tom DeLay’s highest priorities as he attempts to complete his partisan power-grab . . . is to defeat Congressman Lloyd Doggett. The reason is obvious: Lloyd Doggett is a champion for mainstream families and a leader in the fight against special interests. From his days as a state senator to his time as a respected Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, and most recently his effectiveness in the United States Congress, Lloyd Doggett has been a thorn in the side of those who would turn their backs on mainstream Texans, and who instead choose to forward their right-wing agenda.” She closed by urging District 25 voters to support Doggett.

Gomez said, “ In the thirty years I have known and trusted Lloyd, I know he works for us. I urge my neighbors not to become complacent about losing our voice in Washington. He has always stood with us. Now, we have to pull together for Lloyd so he can continue working for all of District 25. This election is not about geography, gender, or race; it is about who can do the most for our families from the Colorado to the Rio Grande. His seniority, his character and his track record show he will achieve the most for all of us. We have too many important issues to lose his voice. Losing Doggett is what DeLay wants. We must show that we are too smart to allow that.”

Capital Metro Board Member John Treviño was among those apparently supporting Hinojosa. Paul Saldaña of Martin & Salinas Public Affairs was in the crowd too but said he had not yet made up his mind on the race. Saldaña said he had been committed to Barrientos and that Barrientos asked him and others to attend Hinojosa’s announcement without making a commitment. Angie Barrientos, the Senator’s daughter, made the same point when she hid a list of those who had signed it at the event after she saw a reporter copying the names.

Hinojosa stressed that she had lived in Austin for 10 years, including time in college and at the UT Law School. After receiving her license, Hinojosa worked for Legal Aid representing low-income residents in Austin and surrounding communities. She returned to the Valley in 1984 and was appointed to the bench in 1989 and then elected to two judicial positions.

Asked what she could offer as a freshman representative in Congress that Doggett could not offer, Hinojosa said, “I’m not comparing myself to him in that regard.” She did not criticize Doggett but said that the Valley and the part of Austin that is in District 25 have more similarities than differences and that her experiences were more like those of the voters of the district. She said she would be looking to people within the district to tell her what is important to them

“I plan to look to you to decide what is important—what is important to El Concilio, what is important to Senator Barrientos—what is important to you.” At the point when she referred to El Concilio political organization, Hinojosa gestured to a table near the podium where El Concilio leaders Gavino Fernandez and Paul Hernandez were seated with former ZAP Commissioner Diana Casteñada.

Hinojosa declared, “Race is not an issue,” in the primary battle, but that is not true for all of her supporters. Fernandez told the Quorum Report he was thrilled that Hinojosa had offered her candidacy. “In a district that is so heavily Hispanic, we now feel we have a common bond,” Fernandez said in the online newsletter.

Although she has not been in the race long, Hinojosa has already set up her campaign machinery, hiring James Aldrete and Charlie Gustin of Message, Audience & Presentation as well as get-out-the-vote specialists Peck Young and Bill Emory. Doggett has reportedly raised more than $2 million for the race, which Hinojosa said she does not need to match. However, she declined to estimate the amount she would need to beat the veteran congressman.

Also yesterday, Congressman Chet Edwards of Waco, another Democratic incumbent facing a difficult choice, decided to run in District 17. The Waco Herald-Tribune reported that Edwards made the decision to give up Fort Hood, which he currently represents, so he could retain his home county of McClennan. Congressman Tom DeLay has also targeted Edwards for elimination from Congress.

Barrientos not running, endorses Hinojosa

Senator Gonzalo Barrientos has chosen to endorse Judge Leticia Hinojosa for the Democratic nomination in District 25 rather than attempt a run for the position himself. He made his announcement at the Capitol Thursday morning before appearing with Hinojosa at Nuevo Leon that afternoon. Earlier in the day, Barrientos met with longtime supporters to give them a preview of his decision.

Although he’s only known Hinojosa for a short time, Barrientos said he felt confident she would be up to the task of representing a constituency that stretches from Austin to the Rio Grande Valley. “I realize that to adequately and fairly represent such a district would require someone who had intimate, first-hand experience working and living in both population centers of the district,” he said. “It would also require someone who had sensitivity to the needs of the rural areas in between Austin and the Valley.”

The two met while Barrientos, considering his own possible campaign in the Hispanic-opportunity district, was meeting with local elected officials in South Texas. “Like myself, Leticia Hinojosa of Hidalgo County has lived and worked in both Travis County and the Valley. She is well versed in the culture and needs of South Texas. Judge Hinojosa is a new generation for a new district with a personal history in the two most heavily populated areas of the district. The fact that a qualified candidate has emerged from the most-populated southern part of this district has made my decision (not to run) easier.”

There had been some public speculation that Barrientos would seek the party’s nomination himself, challenging incumbent Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who finds himself in District 25 now that the Republican-drawn district boundaries have been found legal by a three-judge federal panel. Barrientos and Doggett had both expressed an interest in the District 10 seat in the early 1990’s, with Doggett eventually becoming the party’s nominee and winning the opportunity to represent Austin in Washington, D.C.

Barrientos said that disagreement played no part in his decision to support Hinojosa instead of Doggett. “That was ten years ago. That’s water under the bridge,” he said. “I chose to keep this community together. I have worked all of my life to bring people together. That’s what’s important here.”

While he did concede that Doggett had served Austin well in Congress, Barrientos noted that the new District 25 covered much more territory that just Travis County. Hinojosa’s experience attending UT and her time as a Legal Aid worker, he said, give her an understanding of the needs of the Travis County portion of the district even though she does not live here. “We need somebody in actuality who has the interest of the people at heart,” Barrientos said. And he moved to downplay any notion that the race would shape up to be a battle between Hispanic Democrats and Anglos. “It’s my belief that in elections, race should not play a part,” he said. “I, for example, for many years have represented a majority Anglo district. I think the issue that all of us in Texas should keep in mind is the abilities of the person . . . and the knowledge they have of the people in the district, from Austin to the Valley.”

For news from last year:

Council meeting . . . The City Council took care of routine business in less than 20 minutes Thursday morning, then spent most of the rest of the day in executive session. Only one zoning case and one Austin Energy matter required public hearings and discussion later in the day . . . Redistricting suit moves forward . . . Attorney Renea Hicks, who is representing both Travis County and the City of Austin in the redistricting lawsuit, reported to the City Council during their executive session yesterday. Following the meeting, Council Member Daryl Slusher said they would be appealing the decision. City Attorney David Smith said the Council did not need to vote on the matter, adding that the original vote to pursue the matter was the only action the Council was required to take. He said Hicks had already requested a stay—which would have the effect of putting off changes to the congressional districts until after the US Supreme Court rules on the issues raised in the lawsuit. However, no one expects the district court to grant the stay. The next step will be to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case and to grant a stay . . . Water plan progressing . . . Reynaldo Cantu with the City of Austin Water Utility told members of the Water and Wastewater Commission Wednesday night that things are progressing well with the Austin Clean Water Program ( http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/acwp). That’s the wide-ranging and expensive effort to repair and improve Austin’s aging sewer lines to prevent sewage overflows, as required by the EPA. The federal agency has agreed to allow the city some flexibility on some of the deadlines for certain phases of the project. That will allow utility repairs to be scheduled so as to minimize inconvenience to drivers. The federal government is also coming through with more financial help for the city. Initially, Cantu said, the city was hoping for a total of $1.4 million in the latest round of federal grant funding. “We were quite surprised that when the listing finally came out, the city was able to garner $2.15 million in grants,” he said. “That is before Congress at this time . . . so hopefully this week or next we will have that finalized” . . . Retiring with kind words . . . Mayor Will Wynn presented a Distinguished Service Award to Jody Hamilton of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department. She’s leaving the city after 24 years with several different city departments. “I have had a fabulous career with the City of Austin,” she said. “I’ve met some of the most intelligent, dedicated, hard-working people who really care about the City of Austin . . . who care how it is and how it will be in the future. It’s been my privilege to help with a little of that” . . . Israel wins law enforcement endorsement . . . The Travis County Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Association (TCSLEA) has endorsed Celia Israel, who is challenging Commissioner Ron Davis for the Precinct 1 seat in the Democratic primary. Brett Spicer, chairman of the group’s political action committee, said Israel would work cooperatively with union and community leaders to achieve future public safety goals. Arthur Sampson and Kathy Bedford Smith have also filed for the Democratic nomination for Precinct 1 Commissioner . . . New Green Choice rates approved . . . The next group of customers of Austin Energy’s Green Choice Program will pay slightly more for their energy from environmentally friendly sources. The City Council approved a measure to allow the utility to pass on rising costs to customers. Those costs include new fees from ERCOT and transmission congestion costs associated with getting the electricity generated by wind turbines in West Texas to Austin. Amanda Bueller with Public Citizen praised the city for its committment to renewable energy, and also asked the Council to periodically review the costs associated with wind power to see if rates could be lowered in the future. “The congestion costs we understand should be fixed by 2005,” she said. “We’re big supporters of Green Choice and want to do what’s best for the program” . . . Appointments. . . The City Council appointedmembers to the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan Citizens Advisory Committee yesterday. Mary Ruth Holder of the Environmental Board, Glen Coleman of the Water & Wastewater Commission and Linda Guerrero of the Parks and Recreation Board were all appointed by consensus. The county will also have representatives on the committee . . . Other appointments. . . Edna Yang was appointed by consensus to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs and William Kuykendall was reappointed to the Federally Qualified Health Center Board. Developer Robert Knight will join the Downtown Commission as a representative of the Urban Land Institute. Joan Ternus was reappointed to the commission as a representative of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Both appointments were by consensus. Mayor Will Wynn appointed Charles Bailey and Carl Richie to the Housing Authority board. Wynn also appointed Laura Raun to the Water and Wastewater Commission.

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