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Challenger adds some interest to usually quiet County Treasurer’s race

Monday, February 10, 2014 by Mark Richardson

The race in the Democratic primary for Travis County Treasurer hasn’t drawn much attention so far in this election season but that could change as the campaigns near the March 4 Election Day.


Incumbent Dolores Ortega Carter, 63, who has held the job since 1987, is being challenged by political newcomer Ramey Ko, 33, who has a significant war chest and is getting key endorsements from Democratic Party clubs and stalwarts. As of the last report two weeks ago, Ko has piled up an $80,000 campaign fund and was actively challenging Ortega Carter, who had less than $1,500 – mostly her own money – to run her campaign.


All this for a job many believe is as antiquated as the Texas Constitution that mandates it. In Travis County, the job pays $95,248 a year. Nine counties, including many of the state’s large urban counties, including Bexar, El Paso and Tarrant, have gone to the Texas Legislature to have the position abolished. In those counties, the treasurer’s duties have been combined with those of other departments.


In Travis County, however, Ortega Carter has led a concentrated effort by the state’s County Treasurers to keep the position. Ortega Carter is the immediate Past President of the County Treasurers Association of Texas, a group that represents the 245 counties that still elect the position.


“I believe that the office of the County Treasurer must be kept in order to provide the necessary effective essential check and balance system that eliminates fraud and dishonest mistakes” said Ortega Carter in an email to the Monitor. “This elected office answers to the taxpayers and voters of the county. I provide the security and safety of the county funds as mandated by the Commissioners Court.”


Her opponent in the race is not openly calling for eliminating the position, but Ko says if he is elected, he would be open to evaluating the position to see if it’s still of value to the taxpayers.


“It’s important to assess whether or not the position is still relevant,” Ko said. “I think we need to get someone into the office that has a different mindset about doing the job. I understand that many of the systems used in the Travis County Treasurer’s office are 10 or 15 years behind current standards. We need to see if the position really benefits the taxpayers.”


Ko adds that even if he does push to eliminate the position, he would make sure that the seven employees in the Treasurer’s office are transferred to other departments.


Ko is a partner at Jung Ko, PLLC in Austin and previously served as an Associate Judge with the City of Austin Municipal Court. He has been active in Democratic politics in Travis County and initially declared he was a candidate for the House District 50 seat vacated by Mark Strama last year. However, just before the filing deadline, he notified his backers that he had decided not to pursue that office. (Note: originally this story said Ko was an active judge.)


He said that a number of people in the community had approached him and asked him to run for the County Treasurer job. He said he is running on a platform of investing in Travis County, taxpayer equity and education, and bringing transparency and accountability to the office.


Ko says he is spending his relatively large campaign fund conservatively.


“We have been doing some social media and phone banking, but mainly I’m just out there knocking on doors,” he said. “I’m planning to produce some campaign signs and some direct mail pieces. We have made a couple of campaign videos that we have posted on YouTube, and we will probably be doing some print ads.”


Ortega Carter says she is running on her 27-year record of being in the job.


“I am the most qualified and experienced candidate for this job,” she said. “I want to be re-elected to continue my track record as a good public servant, as a contributor and member of the community with integrity and ethics.”


Ortega Carter says she doesn’t spend a lot on money on her campaign, but that her grassroots approach has been very effective in past elections.


“I have a cabinet that guides the campaign while I attend to the forums and endorsement meetings,” she said. “Our campaign is a very strong grassroots type. We are in touch with the people who care about good effective county government and support an incumbent that has the experience and the passion to safeguard their hard earned dollars.”


There is no Republican candidate, so the winner of the March 4 Democratic primary will most likely get the job. Early voting for the primary begins Feb. 18.

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