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Lehmberg, Montford to vie for District Attorney in runoff

Wednesday, March 5, 2008 by Austin Monitor

It will be a two-woman race in the runoff election for the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. Rosemary Lehmberg and Mindy Montford were the top two vote getters in the four-person race to replace long-time District Attorney Ronnie Earle when he retires at the end of his current term.

 

The Democratic runoff election will be held on April 8, and the winner will be the next district attorney, as there are no Republican or independent challengers in the General Election.

 

Lehmberg took about 36 percent of the vote, while Montford garnered about 31 percent. Challenger Gary Cobb was third with 21 percent, while Rick Reed polled 12 percent. All four are veterans of the District Attorney’s Office.

 

The winner of the runoff will be the first new district attorney in Austin in more than 30 years. The Travis County District Attorney prosecutes local felony cases, and is also in charge of prosecuting misconduct by Texas State officials through the Public Integrity Unit.

 

Lehmberg said the high turnout made the election mean more. “For one thing, it’s exciting. The energy is in the air, it’s a great time to run for office,” she said. “The DA’s race has been interesting because Ronnie has been there so long. He’s a remarkable DA and people are interested in who would succeed him. They’re also interested in who will be running the Public Integrity Unit.”

 

She said she plans to stay on message during the runoff campaign. “I think that I’m always going to be interested in making sure we keep Austin safe and we do that by vigorous enforcement and solving of violent crimes, sexual assault, homicide robbery and the like,” she said. “My primary interest is public safety. After that, I’m interested in stepping up our environmental prosecutions. I’m interested in looking at new alternatives for youthful offenders who are charged with small amounts of drugs.”

 

Lehmberg said she does expect some aspects of the runoff to be different. “Maybe the more politically attuned voters will turn out,” she said. “I think there won’t probably be as many that turn out. But we’re going to be talking to our supporters about getting out the vote, and I think the people in this town are interested in this race.”

 

Montford credits hard work for getting her into the runoff. “We have been working so hard. I do believe we have out-worked our opponents in this race, and I think we’ll continue to do that during the runoff,” she said

 

Montford said she would continue to focus her campaign on making changes to the DA’s office. “One thing about Rosemary (Lehmberg) is that she has been with the DA’s office a long time, so you can’t question her experience. But it’s not a bad thing every 30 years or so to take a look around and take an inventory of what we are doing right, and look at some of the things that need changing.” 

 

Montford said she has laid out several specific programs she would implement.  ”I think time and time again, I’ve been the only candidate in this race that’s been willing to talk about different things, such as an internet crimes unit, a 24/7 intake unit, a street-response prosecutor specifically assigned to officer-involved shootings, or an expedited caseload for family violence cases. I really haven’t heard those kind of specifics from the other candidates,” she said

 

Candidate Gary Cobb, a 17-year veteran of the District Attorney’s Office, missed out on the runoff with third place finish. Cobb said running a campaign is much like presenting a jury trial as a prosecutor. You lay out the evidence and then you depend on the voters to make their choice.

 

“I think the voters of Travis County had a choice to make, and I thank them for coming out,” Cobb said. “Either the voters wanted to go with the way things have been done for the last 30 years, or go with whatever Mindy represented or go with a new direction. And they made a choice.”

 

Cobb said he would prefer to be who he was — authentically — and let the voters make their choice rather than change himself or what he offered.

 

Candidate Rick Reed did not return phone calls seeking a comment on the election.

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