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Daugherty welcomes Democratic challenge in November

Thursday, March 6, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Republican incumbent Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said he welcomes a challenge from Democrat Karen Huber in the race to represent Precinct 3, and he actually sounds like he means it. Huber won the right to face Daugherty in the November general election by defeating Albert Gonzales in Tuesday’s primary.


Daugherty has served for nearly six years as the sole Republican on the Commissioners Court. Huber was a key member in the creation of the Southwest Dialog, which explored how Travis County should approach the pressures of development in Western Travis County.


It’s an issue that resonates with voters in the western side of the county, from the big LCRA water rate increases faced out in the Westlake area to the opposition to the expansion of Hamilton Pool Road and extension of Reimers Peacock Road; from long-time homeowners to the silt and soil seeping into Hamilton Pool from new upscale development to the struggle to create an incentive-based conservation subdivision ordinance when the county is strapped to place any restrictions on local development.


Daugherty has devoted a significant portion of the past four years to west side development issues. Huber, a Lick Creek resident, has been a visible high-profile participant on the issue. What it comes down to, says the incumbent Commissioner, is a view of just what the county can do. Huber says the county has not gone far enough.


“I know that’s her angle, and my angle just differs from that,” Daugherty said. “I’m more than happy to sit down with folks and try to come up with some reasonable solutions, but where she and I differ is that I am not out there trying to control growth.”


Huber, on the other hand, wants Travis County to more aggressively tackle growth, using its power under state law to limit new development. In its endorsement of Huber in the Democratic primary, the Austin Chronicle panned Daugherty’s pro-road anti-mass transit views as no way to address the explosive growth to the west.


“We believe environmentalist Karen Huber is the Democrat most likely to undo that mistake,” the Chronicle’s editorial staff wrote in its endorsement. “She has an activist but pragmatic vision for slowing and regulating growth, including exploring the limits of how state health and public safety laws might be applied to new developments. Yet with her background in the real estate industry, she has an understanding of the practical issues rarely found in enviro circles.”


Huber says she finds her concerns about addressing and containing growth to be in sync with many of the voters she’s talked to in Western Travis County. Asked to pinpoint some of the issues where they differ, Huber points to details and priorities noted in the Southwest Dialog plan.


“There was a call for a transportation plan, for more efforts to look at global planning, looking at the environment more,” Huber said, ticking off the priorities. “One of the big ones there was a call for a transportation plan for Travis County. That’s desperately needed because we’re seeing the results of the problem.”


Daugherty has leaned toward roads – especially those approved by voters in recent elections, even in environmentally sensitive areas – but he also says he would entertain some of the growth control concepts being vetted by Envision  Central Texas and CAMPO in terms of pushing infrastructure and roads to those areas where growth is preferred.


Daugherty said his philosophy is pragmatic. He asks whether each new development brought to the Court meets the interim water quality rules. He is happy to sit down with all stakeholders to come up with some reasonable compromises.


“Where she and I differ is that I’m not out there trying to control growth that we know we’re going to have,” Daugherty said. “I want to know, ‘Can we get reasonable buy-in on a solution?’ Frankly, I’m more of a dealmaker. I want to figure out, ‘Can we move this stuff along?’”


Some have suggested that the county can do far more than its empowered to do, Daugherty said. State law and statehouse politics get in the way, he said. Daugherty cites one growth-control proposal brought to him by Rep. Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs). Parts of the proposal were viable; other points, in Daugherty’s mind, overreached the powers of the county.


“He was asking for some things that didn’t have a chance – or very little chance – of passing,” Daugherty said. “I told Patrick, ‘Sit down and let’s get people to the table and decide what in this bill everyone can sign off on and work with. If we’re not going to do that, we’re just fighting windmills, and I quite frankly don’t have the time to go over and fight something at the Capitol that I know is going to fail right out of the chute, that most likely isn’t going to get done.”


Huber says she is looking at the broad picture. The county needs to set the direction on more responsible growth. Now that water quality and water availability are critical in Western Travis County, those issues have gathered an increased urgency.


“We’re not looking at the causes of these problems we’re facing, and that’s growth,” Huber said. “We need to have a growth plan and go ahead and deal with the issue, instead of deciding we’re just going to go ahead and pass it off to the taxpayer in the future.”


The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 4.

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