Once Again, Sarah Eckhardt Earns the Endorsement of the Austin Chronicle

Blog Post: Posted October 20, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Once again, Sarah Eckhardt has received the endorsement of the Austin Chronicle a in the race for Travis County Judge — this time for the 2014 November General Election!

From the Austin Chronicle:

After a sometimes bitter primary battle, Eckhardt has begun to mend fences across the county and also look forward to next year’s policy matters. She has, for example, suggested a potential compromise on the city’s dispute with the Travis County Sheriff’s Secure Communities program; it likely won’t satisfy S­-Comm enthusiasts, but it could mean saving money for the city if it moves forward on an alternative booking procedure that would magistrate non­-felony arrests in separate (but not newly constructed) facility. And she has prioritized affordability and environmental issues important to county voters. We’re waiting to see how all this will work in practice in the county’s notoriously hidebound procedures, ­­but as a candidate, Eckhardt is a far better choice than her Republican and Libertarian rivals.

The Austin Chronicle Endorses Sarah Eckhardt for Travis County Judge!

Blog Post: Posted February 17, 2014 at 10:57 am

Austin Chronicle Endorses Sarah EckhardtThe Austin Chronicle endorses Sarah Eckhardt for Travis County Judge! From their editorial:

Eckhardt’s greatest strength is that she has been knee-deep in county work for many years, first as an assistant county attorney, and then for six years as Pct. 2 Commissioner, working on all kinds of initiatives to improve quality of life and making the county more “efficient, just, healthy, mobile, and green,” as her campaign material states. She has also clearly articulated progressive goals for the whole region on matters like transportation and the environment, and she’s done good spadework on CAMPO, building regional partnerships where a great deal of time and energy must be spent to make very slow progress.

An endorsement of Eckhardt is not to disparage her opponent, Andy Brown. There are solid reasons why Brown has garnered the lion’s share of endorsements from Demo­cratic public officials and local political organizations. He has a long history in the local party, beginning as a fieldworker in Travis County campaigns stretching back to Ann Richards (and notably in 2004 as Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s campaign manager). As chair of the county Democratic Party, he helped revitalize a placid operation, and was instrumental in increasing fundraising and turnout, especially in the county’s eastern precincts. That success has carried over to his ability to amass a sizable war chest and to run a smooth campaign with an impressive field operation. His broad support, including visible minority support (his fluency in Spanish is a bonus) reflects that he’s clearly able to win friends and influence people.

Nevertheless, there are hard questions raised about both Brown’s experience and his insider managerial style. He hasn’t worked at the county itself, and he would take time to understand and use the available levers of action, or evoke cooperation from county staff (and county attorneys) long used to doing things in a fairly unimaginative way. On that score, a commissioner’s seat would have been a better place for Brown to learn the ropes before making a run for county judge. Our sense is that he’s been coming up to speed on current policy issues as the campaign progresses.

The main criticism we’ve heard against Eckhardt is that she would rather be right on principle than successful in practice, making it difficult to build consensus either among her constituents or on the court. But that’s not an entirely true or fair representation. During her tenure on the court she helped secure a majority vote, if not unanimous support, on several seismic changes in county policy, including stricter groundwater regulations, a more inclusive economic development policy, and a means of improving the county’s lackluster record of awarding contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses. Should she become our next county judge, Eckhardt would do well to temper her leadership style. At the same time, we recognize and applaud Eck­hardt’s abilities as a skilled, tough negotiator who would work in the best interest of the entire county. We believe the current court is often too easily swayed by monied interests, and voters would be wise to elect a county judge with a backbone.



Austin American Statesman: Eckhardt is our choice for Travis County judge

Blog Post: Posted February 8, 2014 at 8:44 pm

Sarah Eckhardt has been endorsed by the Austin American Statesman!

In the Democratic primary race for Travis County judge, voters would be wise to look past popularity to experience. If they do, they will reach the same conclusion we have: Sarah Eckhardt is the best person for the job.

Eckhardt has a tough contest against the affable Andy Brown, who has garnered the lion’s share of endorsements from Democratic organizations. Brown, former chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, has ties to key Democratic officeholders, such as U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett and state Sen. Kirk Watson. He has used that network to his advantage, besting Eckhardt in campaign fundraising by more than $100,000. But when it comes to knowledge of county government and the challenges the county faces from rapid growth and urbanization, Eckhardt, former Precinct 2 county commissioner, has the clear advantage.

With the departure of retiring Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, there is for the first time since 1998 a competitive race for this open seat. The job, a four-year term that pays $118,373 annually, is one of five positions on the policy-making Travis County Commissioners Court, where officials decide on everything from building roads outside city limits to setting the county’s annual $857 million budget. Only the county judge is elected at-large by all Travis County voters.

Throughout this campaign, Eckhardt has demonstrated a superior knowledge of a county with a population that now exceeds 1 million. Eckhardt handily discusses Travis County’s challenges in managing diminishing resources, such as water, building infrastructure to accommodate growth and spurring economic development in the county’s blighted and less-affluent areas.

As a commissioner and candidate, Eckhardt, 49, did her homework and has accurately been described as a policy wonk. Those characteristics made her the best prepared commissioner on the court. As such, she helped write county policy for awarding tax rebates to businesses that move to or expand in Travis County. The policy requires construction workers be paid at least $11 an hour. We appreciate that Eckhardt has focused on affordability issues and helped expand the homestead exemption for seniors and people with disabilities. All homeowners receive a 20 percent exemption, but seniors and people with disabilities receive a $70,000 exemption on top of that. On budget matters, Eckhardt has taken a balanced approach. She has supported pay raises for county employees but voted against the outrageous 10.5 percent pay raises three of her colleagues approved for county peace officers.

Brown, by contrast, comes across as a nice guy, but far less prepared about the workings of county government. Brown, 41, has a good idea in establishing a sobriety center in Travis County that would prioritize treatment over jail time for people who are charged with public intoxication. But he has been vague on how to pay for that except to say that the approach would ultimately generate a savings for the county in the way of jail expenses. Brown also wants the county to “keep up with the market” in paying county employees, even, he told us, if it means continually raising property taxes to keep up with the Joneses. That is worrisome. Two commissioners – Margaret Gomez and Ron Davis – have rarely, if ever, met a pay raise they didn’t like, including the one they gave to county peace officers. Brown likely would be a third vote for such political favors. We’re not against pay raises, but they must be balanced against the public’s ability to pay for them.

If elected, Eckhardt would be wise to mend fences with some in the business community who feel alienated by some of her rhetoric. A good county judge seeks to build consensus. Eckhardt should do more of that and use the skills she employed to bring together the county’s 14 autonomous emergency services districts to improve the county’s patchwork system for providing fire and emergency medical services. The limits of that system were on display when the 2011 Labor Day weekend wildfires broke out within hours of one another in Pflugerville, Pedernales Bend and Steiner Ranch. When other county officials gave up on breaking down turf barriers among emergency service districts, Eckhardt rolled up her sleeves and went to work. That too, is how she approaches transportation matters, one of the toughest problems facing county commissioners.

With Biscoe’s departure, the county commission loses a moderating voice that has kept the court from sliding too far left. Biscoe’s institutional knowledge of the county’s many diverse functions, including running a jail, will be missed. Eckhardt is prepared to fill that void.

Remember early voting starts Feb. 18