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Howard and Bolton earn spots in runoff for Precinct 3

Wednesday, March 4, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

Ann Howard, the former executive director of Ending Homelessness Community Coalition, won the most votes on Tuesday night, but there is one more hurdle to clear. A runoff election will determine which Democratic candidate will go against Republican Rebecca Bray this November in the contest to replace Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, the sole Republican on the Commissioners Court.

Howard, who received just under a majority of total votes in the primary with 48.70 percent, will likely compete with former Texas House Rep. Valinda Bolton in a runoff election May 26. Bolton won 30.76 percent of the vote, and earned the right to compete in a runoff election.

After 14 years representing Precinct 3, Daugherty announced his decision in December not to run again and endorsed Bray, an engineer and transportation planner, as his replacement. Bray ran uncontested in Tuesday’s primary.

Anticipating a win in a runoff, Howard told the Austin Monitor she looks forward to “crushing it” in November. She said she is most eager to get to work on wildfire prevention in western Travis County, where residents have expressed concern about an enormous amount of unmanaged brush.

Having traveled the county attending meetings leading up to the election, Howard said she is equally passionate about the county’s transportation constraints and the stress children and parents experience from traffic congestion. “It’s not a healthy way to live,” she said. Howard’s solution is to work across various jurisdictions to provide residents relief, including new options for mass transit.

Howard was hoping not to be faced with a runoff in order to spend her time digging into the details of regional transit plans and begin fighting for innovative context-specific transportation solutions for western Travis County residents as Project Connect develops this year.

In her conversations with elected leaders of communities like Lakeway and the Hills, Howard said their primary concerns are the need for public transportation and affordable housing for teachers, nurses and first responders who cannot afford to live in the towns where they work. “We need the people who need affordable housing,” she said.

As a commissioner, Howard said she would focus on bringing various partners to the table with public-private partnerships and other collaborative structures to address issues like housing, transportation and criminal justice reform. She plans to leverage partnerships to serve the homeless and vulnerable populations by locking up fewer people, securing affordable places to live and improving mental health care.

She said her depth of experience on issues ranging from housing to health care makes her an ideal candidate for county commissioner, specifically noting her extensive work serving underrepresented communities with ECHO. While she would fight to resolve issues facing western Travis County constituents, she said she would also strive to improve the lives of less affluent residents in other precincts.

Valinda Bolton received just over 30 percent of votes to Howard’s almost 49 percent. Currently working as a community affairs liaison at Child Protective Services, addressing child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault are among her top priorities. As a state legislator, she has fought for safe drinking water and road safety improvements and is an affordable housing advocate.

“In a four person race we always expected the path to victory would include a run-off,” Bolton said. “Excited to continue to share our message with voters about my experience and proven track record, and the groundswell of grass roots support this campaign has received.”

Sheri Soltes, former attorney and CEO and founder of Service Dogs, a nonprofit that trains service dogs at no cost, took about 14 percent of total votes. Soltes told the Austin Monitor she is proud of her campaign, which she said “literally did outwork our opponents although we didn’t outspend them.” Going forward, she said she plans to continue serving the community through her nonprofit, which she said may get its ninth Guinness World Record during this month’s Mighty Texas Dog Walk.

Shiloh Newman, who ran on a platform of common sense and getting projects completed on time, got 6.61 percent of the vote. “I worked hard and learned a lot in my first run for public office and I’m inspired to continue serving the residents of Travis County and Austin, as well as my neighbors in Lakeway,” Newman said Tuesday night, adding, “I wish the Democratic nominee for Precinct 3 all the best in the general election.”

This story has been updated. Photo of Ann Howard by Jo Clifton.

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