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Democratic activists push for fifth candidate in sheriff’s race

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

Several top local Democrats are seeking to fit one more candidate of their choice in the already crowded race for the party’s nomination for Travis County sheriff.

A professional draft campaign is underway to build buzz for Constable Sally Hernandez’s potential candidacy if she decides to join the four other candidates seeking the office.

“Our purpose is to solicit folks to be public supporters, should she be able to announce in the future to join us as one of the candidates,” Jovita Pardo, the draft campaign manager, told the Austin Monitor last week.

The contest already features Travis County Chief Deputy Jim Sylvester, former Austin Police Department Lt. John Sisson, Travis County Sgt. Don Rios and Lakeway Police Chief Todd Radford.

Hernandez was unavailable to comment on the situation on Monday due to what her office called a family emergency, but she has indicated that the draft campaign is no mere wishful thinking on the part of hopeful supporters.

In a press release announcing the campaign’s formation, Pardo quoted Hernandez as saying that she is “seriously considering running for sheriff.”

Her hesitation to fully commit might be explained by the Texas Constitution, which dictates that an official declaration by a county incumbent for another office is an automatic statement of resignation. The law applies only to officeholders with more than one year and 30 days left in their terms, so Hernandez could officially announce her campaign in December and still keep her current job.

If she does decide to jump in, she will bring with her the support of a murderers’ row of Travis County Democratic stalwarts. Pardo listed dozens of prominent supporters in her press release, including attorneys Richard Cofer and Adam Loewy, restaurateur Hoover Alexander and former County Commissioner Bruce Todd.

The effort to draft Hernandez is being sponsored by the political action committee Making Government Work, which also funded the successful efforts to entice Gary Cobb to run for district attorney as well as former state Sen. Wendy Davis to seek the governor’s mansion last year.

Pardo told the Monitor that she could not yet disclose exactly how much money the PAC is spending on the draft campaign, but documents filed with the Texas Ethics Commission reveal that it spent $1,000 to set up the campaign’s website.

Much more substantial, however, is Hernandez’s own war chest.

According to campaign finance disclosure documents filed with the Travis County Elections Division, Hernandez has raised $33,672 since January, the vast majority of it from individual donors.

That figure is just over half that of the race’s leading fundraiser, Rios, who reported $61,291 in contributions. However, Rios’ haul was goosed by a $45,000 donation from the Travis County Sheriffs’ Law Enforcement Association PAC, and Hernandez’s 64-page filing document – versus Rios’ 17 – could indicate that the veteran official enjoys the advantage of name recognition among both the grass-roots and the party establishment.

Perhaps more difficult than fundraising, however, is how the candidates – real or hoped for – will try to distinguish themselves from one another on the issues.

The Draft Sally Hernandez campaign’s website highlights her opposition to Sheriff Greg Hamilton’s cooperation with requests from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to detain potentially undocumented immigrants at Travis County Jail for further investigation.

That policy has created friction between the Sheriff’s Office and the Commissioners Court, and Hernandez wouldn’t be the lone voice against the practice on the campaign trail. During a speech in South Austin on Monday night, Sisson outlined his strategy for ending the ICE detainers.

Still unclear is Hernandez’s position on video visitation, which is the only means by which inmates at the Travis County Correctional Complex can communicate with family. Her four potential opponents have all told the Monitor that they are interested in exploring alternatives, such as allowing inmates to receive in-person visits from family members or their attorneys.

If Hernandez does decide to run, her addition will only increase the likelihood of an outcome already favored by the abundance of candidates: a May runoff. In deep blue Travis County, the final outcome will all but crown the next sheriff. So far, no Republican has announced a campaign.

Photo by Rama (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 fr], via Wikimedia Commons.

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