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Travis County commissioner’s race begins to simmer

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 by Michael Kanin

The race for Travis County Precinct Three Commissioner is heating up.


Since late August, challenger and former Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty has picked up the pace with at least one of his social media platforms, Facebook, to spread his message of dissatisfaction with traffic issues and county spending.


Daugherty is challenging incumbent Travis County Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber, who  defeated Daugherty in 2008 to land her first term on the Travis County Commissioners Court. Daugherty is a Republican, Huber a Democrat. The Precinct 3 seat might well be the only current seat in local government where a Republican could threaten a Democrat’s hold on elected office. 


Daugherty’s focus appears centered on congestion issues and road construction, specifically that of the long-debated State Highway 45 Southwest project. Huber has tried to turn the discussion more toward the county’s water issues.


This all comes less than eight weeks before Election Day and against the backdrop of a renewed debate over the need for SH45 SW. Daugherty has championed the construction of the highway over the concerns of the local environmental community and despite the fact that the City of Austin removed it from its recently completed comprehensive planning effort.


A Friday Facebook post found Daugherty leveling general criticism, though it was flavored with a note of Road Warrior concern. “County government isn’t about politics,” he wrote. “It’s about providing services and infrastructure to citizens at a price that everyone can afford. In just 4 years the incumbent spent $123 million new dollars, increased the tax rate 21%, incurred on behalf of taxpayers $93 million in new debt and blocked voter-approved roads.”


Daugherty seemed initially hesitant about content that may have appeared on social media channels. However, he told In Fact Daily that he stood by Friday’s statement. Daugherty said the figures came from Travis County’s Planning and Budget office.


Huber fired back Monday morning in the latest edition of a monthly column distributed via email, touching on the issue of a pending Travis County tax increase for 2013. In defense of the tax increase, Huber cited a shrinking state budget that she says has the county stepping in to fill gaps, and the county’s lack of authority to manage growth responsibly. “One result is deplorable traffic congestion, made worse by the state’s failure to do its job and improve its highway system,” Huber added.


Huber also referenced the county’s high bond rating in what could be interpreted as a return volley at Daugherty. “Travis County’s AAA bond rating is probably the best gauge of good fiscal management (including its bond indebtedness),” she wrote.


The current members of Travis County’s Commissioners Court voted against the SH45 project in a 2010 question that asked for the removal of it from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s 2035 plan. That brought a flurry of accusations directed at Huber from residents of the Shady Hollow neighborhood who are in favor of the project (see In Fact Daily, May 12, 2010).


Some Shady Hollow residents maintain that Huber promised, as part of her 2008 campaign, that she would vote for the road. Huber has denied this and, at least publicly, has remained open to the idea, depending on the results of a traffic study designed to examine whether the proposed roadway would relieve area congestion.


Last Thursday, In Fact Daily reported that a new traffic study was flawed and that the information would not be ready before a scheduled CAMPO vote on Oct. 8 (see In Fact Daily, Sept. 13, 2012).


As for the race, Daugherty told us that his campaign planned to buy radio and television time for his political ads. It has already purchased online advertisements through the Internet marketing firm AdChoice.


As of a July 15 campaign finance report, Huber had more than $103,000 on hand. Daugherty had just more than $25,000, including a $10,000 loan. The candidates are due to report again 30 days before the election.

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