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Barrientos says he’s not running, endorses Eckhardt for Judge

Thursday, February 21, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Former State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos will not run for Travis County Judge after all. Barrientos made that announcement Wednesday morning from the steps of the gazebo at Plaza Saltillo.


“I thank you for letting me serve, and for asking me to run again. Your confidence and your support is humbling,” he said. “But I chose not to run for County Judge in 2014.”


Instead, Barrientos urged his supporters to get behind a still likely run by Travis County Precinct 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt. “I cannot think of anyone more qualified,” Barrientos said, before listing her long history of public service.


Eckhardt is limited by state regulations. Should she announce her candidacy before January 2014, she would have to resign her current post.


Still, Barrientos called on Eckhardt – who was present – to make some remarks. She obliged. “I am a little overwhelmed,” she said. “I’m deeply, deeply honored by this expression of support from Senator Barrientos and the community.”


Eckhardt said of Barrientos. “(He) has brought this community to great things and continues to set a standard for us that makes us better as a people.”


Barrientos’ decision to step aside leaves Eckhardt – should she run, as it appears she will — facing Travis County Democratic Party chair Andy Brown in these very early stages of the campaign. Longtime Judge Sam Biscoe announced in late 2011 his intention to vacate the seat at the end of his current term. 


Veteran local political operative David Butts told In Fact Daily that the day’s events would have minimal impact on the race. “Certainly, with people who are real close to (the Senator) it will probably have real impact, but as far as the thousands of people who are going to make up the Democratic primary in the 2014 election cycle, it will have minimal impact,” Butts explained. “Not none, but minimal.”


As for early handicapping, Butts put Eckhardt out in front. “I would say, based on the pattern that we’ve seen in previous elections, that the incumbent commissioner — who happens to be a woman — would be the obvious frontrunner just based on recognition, and service,” he continued.


However, Butts was not ready to write Brown off. “I think Andy is going to be a very formidable opponent, and he has quite a list of supporters…While Sarah probably has an advantage, it’s not a big advantage,” he continued.


Barrientos’ name initially appeared in conjunction with the Travis County Judge race late last year. Wednesday, he suggested that his participation in the City of Austin’s Charter Revision Commission and his subsequent support of a change to single member Austin City Council representation may have stoked the fires. “Perhaps because of my involvement in that issue, people have approached me to run for County Judge in the hope that I could bring some change to county government,” he said.


The Senator’s support of Eckhardt was not the only attention-grabbing portion of the press conference. Shortly after Barrientos made clear his intention to sit out the 2014 County Judge race – but not before the end of his remarks – a woman began shouting “racist pig” at Eckhardt.


The insult continued to rain down as Barrientos finished his remarks, and Eckhardt began to speak. The woman slowly left the press conference shouting at Eckhardt as she went. She then made one last pass with her car windows rolled down, continuing to yell “racist pig” as she went.


Eckhardt did her best to ignore, and then work with the interruption. “Public service demands a level of personal sacrifice that I think part of this is illustrative of,” she said. “It’s important to listen to all in the community, including those who disagree with you with honesty and with respect. And it’s also important to have the fortitude to say ‘no’ to people who have agreed with you in the past, but asked for more than their share.”


Observers who know her said the name caller was former Travis County head of Administrative Operations Alicia Perez. Perez was fired after she and former county human resources director Linda Moore Smith were involved in a prolonged dispute.


Perez then sued the county over the matter. The parties eventually settled for $90,000. Eckhardt voted against the settlement agreement.


Perez reportedly considered a primary run against Biscoe in 2010.

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