Wednesday, June 5, 2013 by Charlotte Moore

Big crowd watches Brown kick off campaign for County Judge

Austin Democrat Andy Brown dished up a healthy campaign announcement with a side of GOP hash Tuesday afternoon at Threadgill’s World Headquarters on West Riverside Drive.

In front of more than 500 supporters and attendees, Brown jokingly said “I just want to kill the suspense and let you in on a little secret – I’m  running for Travis County Judge.” With current County Judge Sam Biscoe leaving when his term ends in December 2014, it’s been no secret for some time that Brown would ultimately be facing former Precinct Two Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, who just recently stepped down after serving six years in that post in order to concentrate on her own bid to replace Biscoe.

Brown, a native of Austin, is a community advocate and attorney who from 2008 to last month served as chair of the Travis County Democratic Party. According to his online bio, Brown raised nearly $2 million for the party and has been instrumental in helping Democrats win contested races in Travis County.

With the sun in his eyes, the soft-spoken Brown addressed the crowd which included Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, West Lake Hills Mayor Dave Claunch, retired Texas legislator Wilhelmina Delco, State Representatives Eddie Rodriguez and Dawnna Dukes, as well as Precinct Four Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gómez and East Austin activists Paul Saldaña and Bertha Means.

Candidates vying for seats being vacated by Strama and Eckhardt also showed up to shake hands and greet activists.

“This is really a community campaign; a grassroots campaign,” Brown said, He evoked the memory and work of Liz Carpenter  — journalist and press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson – by saying the Texas icon represents his campaign. Brown went on to acknowledge his “somewhat hippie parents” who raised him on homemade yogurt, homegrown strawberries, and “a little too much tofu.”

“I grew up over conversations about Barbara Jordon’s life, our mistakes in Vietnam, and I was given a world view without ever leaving Austin.” 

As Brown went on, he became more critical of Texas Republicans, blaming Governor Rick Perry, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Senator Ted Cruz and “Tea Party Republicans” for many of the state’s problems. But he assured the crowd that as virtual mayor at the county level, he would work to push the Democratic agenda. “In Travis County, we do things our way, and we don’t apologize for it,” he said to rousing applause.

One of the funnier highlights of the event came from long-time Texas journalist and former Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, who compared Brown to a cat-herder. “Some people say that Austin and Travis County are too diverse, too disparate, too fractionalized (for Democrats) to work together for the common good, that it’s harder than trying to herd cats to get our side together,” he said. “But anyone who ever said you cannot herd cats never tried a can opener. They will come. Andy Brown is our can opener.” Hightower then went on to take a verbal jab at “extremist, right-wing Republican state legislators who put the dumb in dumbfounded” before gifting Brown a 10-gallon cowboy hat identical to his signature own.

Dukes said Brown has her support as well. “He truly cares about the community,” she said. “I had the pleasure of working with Andy when he was Travis County Democratic Party Chair. One of the things I admired about Andy most was that he listened to the concerns of all, and was inclusive of everyone, every concern, regardless of race or gender. Andy won my trust, big time.”

Brown outlined some of the issues he plans to tackle if elected: Transportation, mental health care, first responder support, drought issues, education, and the creation of an ethics commission at the county level.

During his speech, Brown did not mention Eckhardt who last month told a group of supporters at a gathering of prominent local liberals, including former State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, she plans to run “full tilt and full-time to lead the county with experience and full heart.” If elected, Eckhardt would be the first woman to hold the position of Travis County Judge.

Biscoe’s term ends December 2014. He will have served as county judge for 16 years. Before that, for nine years, Biscoe served as Precinct 1 commissioner.

“I want to thank (Biscoe) for his over 20 years of service to Travis County,” Brown said. “What he’s leaving behind is a Travis County with a strong economy, a strong quality of life and we’re headed in the right direction. But it’s time for someone else to pick up the torch, and with you by my side, I’m ready to do that.”

Brown’s campaign manager is Jim Wick.

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