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Eckhardt aims to become first woman to serve as Travis County Judge

Thursday, May 2, 2013 by Ramon Ramirez

Precinct 2 Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt says she is counting on hard work, experience and her political heritage in her upcoming run to become Travis County Judge in 2014.

I will run full tilt and full time to lead the county with experience and full heart,” she told a group of supporters on Wednesday.

During a gathering of prominent local liberals at her mother’s South Austin residence that included former State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, Eckhardt made her case.

“A recent poll shows that I have name recognition higher than any other candidate in the field. I lead by nearly 20 points,” she said, “And even though it’s hard to believe, Travis County has never had a woman chief executive.”

“I would like to be the first woman—but not because I’m a woman but because I’m the most qualified candidate to do this job.”

Eckhart cited her service on the commissioner’s court for six years, and 14 prior years in the county attorney’s office.
Barrientos previously endorsed Eckhardt in February, following speculation that he too would be running for judge, and made another appearance for the cause.

“It’ll come down to the basics,” he said, “Look at the opponent’s qualifications and look at our candidate’s.”

Running against Eckhardt will be
Travis County Democratic Party chair Andy Brown, who has a head start of several months and a war chest of almost $72,000, raised through January’s campaign filings.

Former political consultant and Eckhardt supporter Mary Ann Neely says the name recognition that stems from her incumbency could be the difference. In February, local political operative David Butts gave In Fact Daily the same pre-season outlook: “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.”

The announcement also means that Eckhardt will have to leave her post as Precinct 2 County Commissioner and Judge Sam Biscoe will appoint an interim commissioner. 

Other noteworthy rally attendees and supporters included Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Ben Sargent, Bill Bunch of the SOS Alliance, Hill Country Alliance leader Christy Muse and Sierra Club Executive Committee member Roy Waley.

For his part, Barrientos touched on personal history with the Eckhardt family. Attending a segregated elementary school in Bastrop, Barrientos recounted how Sarah’s father, former U.S. Rep. Bob Eckhardt, a co-founder of the Texas Observer, helped file a federal law suit in 1948 that would desegregate district schools in Bastrop, Caldwell and Travis County.

If not for Bob Eckhardt, he said, “I don’t know if I would ever have gotten to serve you.”

Each year, the Travis County Commissioners Court sets the tax rate, establishes the budget and finalizes county-wide policies that affect approximately 1.1 million people, 5000 county employees, nearly 1000 square miles of territory and $800 million in revenue.

Eckhardt stressed that the next judge should work with all of Travis County, including the “several small communities, municipalities and townships which are growing even faster.”

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