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Group pushes Garza to run for county attorney

Friday, July 19, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Council Member Greg Casar and community activists Martha Cotera and Brian McGiverin are leading an effort to encourage Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza to run for Travis County attorney – and to raise campaign funds for her before she officially announces her candidacy.

David Escamilla, the current county attorney, has announced he will not seek another term when his term expires at the end of 2020. Escamilla was appointed in 2003 and ran unopposed in 2004, 08, 12 and 16.

The group supporting Garza has filed a document to appoint a campaign treasurer showing the name of the group as Progressive Justice Now PAC and McGiverin as treasurer. The purpose of the PAC is described as “support potential candidate Delia Garza.”

Garza, who is Mexico on a trade mission with the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, texted the Austin Monitor the following statement:

“I’m grateful and humbled that a coalition of community leaders have come together to encourage me to run. Right now, my focus is serving my constituents and the city as Mayor Pro Tem, but I am seriously considering running for Travis County Attorney. My passion for social justice, advocacy and equity, and my experience as an attorney and in the courtroom would help me be a strong asset to the residents of Travis County, and I am interested in continuing to pursue public service where I can have the biggest positive impact for the community.”

Casar explained the reasoning behind starting an independent political action committee to advocate and raise money for Garza before she announces her candidacy.

“Essentially, the most conservative reading of the law would indicate that a Council member resigns their seat if they announce for another office within 13 months of their term ending,” he said. Since Garza’s term does not end until November 2020, she can announce for another position in December, which is also the deadline for signing up for the March 3, 2020, Democratic primary, without resigning from Council.

If Garza were to announce before December, it would set in motion a number of events, probably including an election to fill her seat next May. But if she makes no such announcement and wins the primary, she can keep her Council job but she couldn’t run for reelection to the District 2 seat. Casar said, “The decision is entirely Delia’s because the draft campaign isn’t coordinating with her in any way.”

In the press release announcing the formation of the committee, McGiverin said, “Travis County should be poised to lead Texas on criminal justice reform. Instead, we’ve fallen behind Dallas County. If Mayor Pro Tem Garza becomes county attorney, I know she’ll fight to ensure her office’s work fully reflects our community’s progressive values.”

Although McGiverin declined to criticize Escamilla specifically, he said, “Travis County officials can exercise a very strong role” in determining whether police decide to file charges for small amounts of controlled substances, for example.

McGiverin worked in Garza’s office when she sponsored a resolution directing Municipal Court judges to more carefully consider whether defendants are indigent before ordering them to pay fines or perform community service.

In her text message, Garza said, “Fighting for reforms and improvements to the justice system would be a natural transition for me after my work to reform most of the systems I’ve been a part of, including fighting for collective bargaining for firefighters and advocating for the 10-1 Council structure for the city.”

As for Cotera, she said Thursday that she acted as an interpreter for non-English speakers at both municipal and county courts for many years. “I know these issues firsthand,” she said. “One thing that always bothered me a lot was the treatment of transgender people when they were incarcerated. I would really love to see some reforms there.”

Although there are no official candidates in the race so far, Travis County judges Elisabeth Earle and Mike Denton have both expressed interest in the job.

Other supporters listed on the group’s press release include Mayor Steve Adler and state Reps. Celia Israel, Sheryl Cole, Eddie Rodriguez, and Gina Hinojosa; Council members Jimmy Flannigan, Paige Ellis, Pio Renteria, Ann Kitchen and Natasha Harper-Madison; Austin Community College trustees Geronimo Rodriguez and Nora Comstock; former Council members Raul Alvarez and Mike Martinez; Austin Firefighters Association President Bob Nicks; Selena Xie, president of the Austin Travis County EMS Employees Association; and Nelson Linder, president of the Austin NAACP.

Currently, Dominic Selvera is the only official candidate for county attorney.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

This story has been updated to include Selvera’s candidacy.

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