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Ortega Carter holds off challenge to keep County Treasurer post

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Incumbent Dolores Ortega Carter fought off a well-funded challenger in the Democratic Primary Tuesday to win the nomination for Travis County Treasurer. There is no Republican candidate but she will face Libertarian candidate Mike Burris on the November ballot.


Ortega Carter polled almost 54 percent of the votes over Austin attorney Ramey Ko, who entered Election Day with deep pockets and a string of endorsements. But despite being heavily outspent, Ortega Carter used her strong party ties to carry the day.


“We are very pleased with the results,” she said. “We ran a very aggressive campaign that we can be proud of, and we didn’t have to buy anybody to get elected. In the future, I hope to work to be able to update the Treasurer’s office and continue to work with new ideas.”


When asked if she wins in November, would this – her eighth term –be her last, she declined to comment, saying only that she wanted to concentrate on the job at hand.


Ko, a political newcomer, was circumspect about the loss.


“Anytime you take on a 27 year incumbent it’s a big challenge, I think we brought a lot of attention to Travis County government that I think gets ignored a lot,” he said. ”I think people are more educated about what the Travis County Treasurer does.”


Ortega Carter, 63, has held the job since 1987. Despite some sentiment that the position is antiquated – several Texas counties have eliminated the post – she 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. The group has lobbied the Texas Legislature for several sessions to keep the position in the Texas Constitution.


Ortega Carter drew endorsements from former State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos and groups such as Dove Springs Proud, the Circle C Democratic Club, Travis County Mexican American Democrats and the Austin American Statesman.


She said she doesn’t spend a lot on money on campaigns, but that her grassroots approach has always been very effective. As of the last reporting deadline, Ortega Carter had raised about $13,000.


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


Ko, her challenger, raised a significant war chest of about $54.000 and has received key endorsements from Democratic Party clubs and stalwarts.


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.


On the issue of keeping the County Treasurer office, Ko said he would be open to evaluating the position to see if it’s still of value to the taxpayers. “It’s an office that we just know so little about. When you have an office that’s handling so much money for Travis County and really responsible for the care of taxpayer dollars, I feel very strongly that our citizens have a right to know what’s going on,” he said.


He also ran on issues such as investing in Travis County infrastructure, keeping promises to Travis County employees, helping economically challenged taxpayers better understand their options, and providing transparency and accountability in handling county funds.


This story has been updated to reflect a Libertarian candidate on the November ballot.

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