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Huber assesses her term as Travis County commissioner

Tuesday, December 18, 2012 by Michael Kanin

On election night last month, Travis County Commissioner Karen Huber blamed her loss of a rematch against Gerald Daugherty on the county’s heated redistricting effort.


“I concede this race but add that the fate of this race was sealed last fall in redistricting, when that process took away valuable Democratic base from Precinct 3,” Huber said at the time. “It will be very difficult for the Democrats to win back the commissioner seat in this precinct for many years,”


In an exit interview with In Fact Daily weeks after her Nov. 6 defeat, Huber did not back down from her statement. “No question that redistricting was probably the death-knell,” Huber said. “I lost critical, strong Democratic-support precincts along the Precinct 3 border with Precinct 4. Supposedly, those were replaced – or at least mitigated – by putting the two downtown precincts and one of the West Campus precincts in.


“Well guess what?” Huber offered. “The downtown precincts are trending Republican, strongly.”


Even so, she looked back on her single four-year term as a county commissioner and saw successes in several areas with regard to Travis County: real estate acquisitions, water policy and the general disposition of the county.


Serving in county government left Huber with a more global picture of a county’s position in Texas politics. “In my opinion, Travis County is a second-rate entity and the reason is not because of our wonderful employees or the county commissioners or the judge,” Huber said. “It’s because the structure of county government in Texas – it’s the same in all counties – is an archaic structure that does not lend itself to current-day needs and issues.”


Huber’s loss to Daugherty – whom she beat in 2008 for the same Pct. 3 seat the pair fought over this time around — came by a scant 2,400 votes. She said she was surprised she kept the race that close.


In a race post-mortem conducted by Democratic Party officials, Huber said a few items were clear: For starters, she warned against the belief that SH-45 SW (or, rather, a lack thereof) cost her the election. Huber noted that her campaign won each of the precinct boxes it set out to win – and even collected 300 votes from the Shady Hollow neighborhood that has been so pro-SH45 (and anti-Huber).


In the end, the culprit of her defeat may have been growth, which brought more presumably conservative residents to precinct 3, which encompasses a large portion of West Travis County. “We had 10,000 new Republican straight-ticket voters in this campaign over the 2008 campaign,” she said. 


As for her time in office, Huber immediately pointed to three key moments, in no particular order. The first was the county’s purchase of its new headquarters building at 700 Lavaca Street. Huber said the county got the property at “65 cents on the dollar.” It “a coup,” she said.


Huber is also proud of the work that she did on water issues during her time as commissioner. Her work included a much-watched initiative that brought restrictions on groundwater use for newly platted subdivisions. They also resulted in the formation of a water issues group that Huber hopes would continue to function in the future. She said she hopes to stay involved in water issues after her term expires.


While discussing her take on this past election, Huber suggested that November might not be the best time to elect local officials. “I personally feel like we need to separate the local races from the Presidential races,” she says. “Our race, for example and some of the others – the judicial races – the issues never got in to the media because of the concentration on the Presidential race.”


City of Austin voters disagreed. On the November ballot, a majority decided that to move municipal elections to November from May, joining the usually crowded general election ballot in hopes of bringing more voters to the polls.


Either way, it appears that Huber is done with electoral politics, though she urged others to get involved. “People need to get involved in their local governments,” she said.


“We see the same people over and over and over and over again on all boards,” Huber continued. “God love ‘em, that they’re willing. But there’s room for new talent and expertise.”

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