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Chad Swiatecki is a 20-year journalist who relocated to Austin from his home state of Michigan in 2008. He most enjoys covering the intersection of arts, business and local/state politics. He has written for Rolling Stone, Spin, New York Daily News, Texas Monthly, Austin American-Statesman and many other regional and national outlets.
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Garza captures county attorney post, with plans to reform criminal cases
Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza will take over the position of Travis County attorney after defeating longtime city and county attorney Laurie Eiserloh in Tuesday’s primary election. Garza captured 56.7 percent of the more than 113,000 votes cast and tabulated as of Tuesday evening.
No Republican is running for the office, which means that Garza, who was drafted to run for the position last summer by supporters ahead of her formal announcement in December, will be the successor to longtime county attorney David Escamilla following his decision not to seek reelection.
Throughout the campaign Garza focused on the criminal justice responsibilities of the role and changes she hopes to make, including not prosecuting drug offenses, lessening prosecutions for other misdemeanors and looking for ways to reallocate resources normally spent on criminal cases.
In an interview following an online meeting with supporters, Garza said soon after taking office she plans to release a memo outlining her priorities in the position. She said she will also start working soon to build her knowledge of the civil responsibilities of the attorney’s office since most of her attention has been focused on the criminal side.
“Too many times in the criminal justice system we think we’re going to lock someone up and throw away the key, and don’t even think about the fiscal part of it and how when we use this system to ‘solve’ these issues it takes away money from other things like affordable housing and mental health,” she said.
“When a prosecutor decides to prosecute somebody we need to think about what that means in dollars. It would be so much more affordable to invest more in affordable housing, mental health and the Sobering Center. When we start thinking about things differently we’ll be going down a better path.”
Garza said her primary focus for her remaining time on City Council will be making changes to the proposed 2021 budget submitted on Monday. The budget, she said, needs to include larger cuts to the Austin Police Department following a series of protests and calls for criminal justice reforms in Austin and across the country.
“I was a little disappointed, even though I know city staff have put in a lot of work in recent months with no idea there’d be these uprisings and protests for a truly transformative change in the way we do our budget and the way we budget our public safety,” she said. “I’m still looking for a dramatic shift in how we respond in a criminal justice way as a city and that means the budget is still a big one.”
When asked in her online session with supporters what motivated her to run for the office, Garza said she wanted to make positive changes in the office and take on critics who charged she was inexperienced and underqualified for the job.
“A lot of times as Latinas we’re used to being the underdog, and not letting that stop us from doing good work,” she said. “When I was an Austin firefighter there were people who doubted I could do that job. And when I went to law school there were people who doubted I could do that. It builds resilience when you’re used to being down all the time.”
In a prepared statement, Eiserloh thanked her supporters and congratulated Garza.
“I congratulate Delia Garza on her victory in the Travis County Attorney’s race. I wish her all the best in serving in this important county office. I also extend my sincere gratitude to the Travis County community for their support and engagement during the campaign. It has been a great honor to work with so many amazing people and create a shared vision for Travis County. Although these may be difficult times for so many in our community, I have great faith that we will get through these times and emerge even stronger,” she wrote.
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