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In, out and on the fence: Changes roil race for sheriff

Friday, September 11, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

With less than six months until the party primary elections in March, the race for Travis County sheriff is still fitfully taking shape, with one candidate joining the field, another leaving and one major surprise headline developing that could completely alter the stakes.

On Wednesday night, the Austin American-Statesman broke the news that Sheriff Greg Hamilton is reconsidering his decision not to seek re-election. Hamilton announced in May that he would step down at the end of his third term. If he ends up reversing himself and seeking the Democratic nomination, he would join former Austin Police Lt. John Sisson, Travis County Deputy Don Rios, and Lakeway Police Chief Todd Radford. A draft campaign is currently raising awareness for Precinct 3 Constable Sally Hernandez, who until December can’t legally declare her candidacy without automatically resigning her current position.

Hamilton’s presence in the field would also fill the void left by Travis County Chief Deputy Jim Sylvester, who told the Austin Monitor on Thursday that he had decided to quit the race in order to spend more time with his ailing father. Sylvester said he did not know whether his decision to drop out had any effect on Hamilton’s possible change of heart. (Hamilton was out of town on Thursday and did not respond to requests to comment on this story.)

Sylvester did say, however, that Hamilton had supported his now-defunct campaign partly because Sylvester was the only candidate who believes the Sheriff’s Office should maintain a working relationship with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, a policy that Hamilton has also championed much to the criticism of his potential replacements.

Meanwhile, Republican voters have their first countywide candidate to consider. Retired Travis County Deputy Joe Martinez made it official this week by filing a campaign treasurer appointment form with the County Clerk’s Office. When reached by phone, Martinez told the Monitor that he was on a business trip and had time only to confirm his entry into the sheriff’s race.

This will not be Martinez’s first run for sheriff. He also sought the GOP nomination back in 2004 but came in third place in the four-person primary.

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