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County commissioners race gets Koch-ed up

Thursday, February 25, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

The five-man race for Travis County Commissioners Court Precinct 1 has taken a turn for the negative in the final days of early voting. This week, James Nortey’s campaign sent out mailers warning voters that one of his opponents, Jeff Travillion, had taken a large contribution from a lobbyist linked to Charles and David Koch, the infamous industrialists and conservative mega-donors. The mailer points out that Travillion reported a $5,000 donation from Bill Miller, who is registered in the state of Texas as a lobbyist on behalf of several Koch Industries subsidiaries. When Travillion reported the donation, it was the single highest among a total haul of nearly $40,000. On Wednesday afternoon, in an email sent by his campaign to supporters, Travillion dismissed Nortey’s mailer as a “shameful, last-minute attack.” He wrote: “I am the last person the Koch brothers want on the Commissioners Court. That’s why our campaign is proud to have been endorsed by the three leading environmental groups in Travis County: Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club, and the Austin Environmental Democrats.” All of those endorsements were made before the revelations about Travillion’s donor were made (and the AED split its endorsement between Nortey and Travillion). When reached by phone on Wednesday evening, the Sierra Club’s Roy Waley vigorously defended Travillion and explained that the candidate and Miller are both old friends and predicted that Travillion would recuse himself from any conflicts of interest that could arise if he were elected to the Commissioners Court. And while the Koch brothers have become boogeymen with no real bearing for local Democrats in recent years, there is precedent to believe that actual Koch-related activities could appear before the court. In 2011, the county sued a Koch company in order to build a railroad spur over its pipeline operation in Precinct 1. The federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ended up ruling against the county in that case.

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