Final: Democrats Jose Garza and Margaret Moore heading to primary runoff in Travis County district attorney race

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore greets a supporter at her election night watch party at Shoal Creek Saloon. Emma Freer/Community Impact Newspaper
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore greets a supporter at her election night watch party at Shoal Creek Saloon. Emma Freer/Community Impact Newspaper

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore greets a supporter at her election night watch party at Shoal Creek Saloon. Emma Freer/Community Impact Newspaper

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Jose Garza, co-executive director of the Austin-based membership organization Workers Defense Project, hosted his election night watch party at Mi Madre's restaurant on Manor Road. Emma Freer/Community Impact Newspaper
Jose Garza and incumbent Margaret Moore will head to a May 26 runoff election to determine the Democratic candidate for Travis County district attorney.

Garza received 44.27% of the vote, and Moore received 41.67%, with all early voting and election day ballots tallied.

Erin Martinson also ran as a Democratic candidate and received 14% of votes.

The winner of the runoff election will go up against the sole Republican candidate, Martin Harry, in the general election this November.

Travis County district attorney: Democratic primary

Travis County district attorney: Republican primary

Moore was elected district attorney in November 2016 and previously served as Travis County’s juvenile public defender, assistant district attorney, county attorney and Precinct 3 commissioner.

“Four years ago, I was definitely not expected to win,” Moore said at her election night watch party at Shoal Creek Saloon. “This campaign has been much more competitive.”

She campaigned on what she calls her record of reform, including the creation of a civil rights division that investigates officer-involved shootings and use-of-force incidents, a new family violence unit that tackles domestic violence cases and an adult sexual assault unit; helping to limit incarceration through diversion programs; and supporting bail reform.

“We have done the work of reform, not just the talk of reform,” Moore said.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt supported Moore’s campaign and called her “an outstanding reform D.A.” in a Feb. 4 statement, adding: “She’s gotten more done in the last three years than I have seen in the previous 19.”

Garza is a former public defender and co-executive director of the Austin-based membership organization Workers Defense Project.

His platform includes ending cash bail in Travis County, which he and other advocates argue criminalizes being poor; ending prosecution of the sale or possession of a gram or less of narcotics; expanding diversion programs; opposing the transfer of juvenile defendants into the adult criminal justice system; and ending disparities in charges and convictions for immigrant defendants.

“What I see every day is a criminal justice system that is broken, that weighs most heavily on working class people and people of color,” Garza said in a Feb. 27 Facebook post.

Garza received endorsements from presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

He hosted a watch party at Mi Madre’s restaurant.

The issues

Moore was up against Democratic candidates who attacked her record as not being reform-minded enough, with criticism focused on her handling of sexual assault cases in particular.

In an Aug. 11 complaint filed to a U.S. District Court, plaintiff Emily Borchardt alleged that Moore and an Assistant District Attorney Mindy Montford lied about Borchardt to her friends, family and the public “in an attempt to undermine her character and credibility in her loved ones’ eyes and to prevent or dissuade Emily from pursuing her claims in the Class-Action Lawsuit.”

Borchardt is one of eight women who sought redress for “the DA’s Office’s pattern of failing to properly investigate and prosecute reported sexual assaults that are perpetrated upon women,” per the complaint, as well as mistreatment by the Austin Police Department.

Judge Lee Yeakel of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas dismissed the class-action lawsuit on Feb. 10.

“We appreciate the Judge’s thoughtful and thorough deliberation in this matter, and agree that the case should be dismissed,” a city of Austin spokesperson said following the ruling. “Regardless of the court’s ruling, though, the City of Austin remains committed to treating all sexual assault survivors with dignity and respect, and will ensure our officers have the appropriate resources and training to investigate all such cases appropriately.”

Martinson, an adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Law with twenty years’ experience representing victims of violent crimes, said she was moved to run by the lack of prosecutorial leadership around sexual assault in Travis County.

“I have finally reached the point of exhaustion and heartache about the issues that I am seeing in the District Attorney’s office and I’m ready to do something about it,” Martinson said in a July 2 statement.

Harry, the Republican candidate, has a private practice where he represents clients with claims for benefits before state and federal agencies.

Harry’s campaign website states that Travis County “is experiencing a crisis in public safety as city and county elected officials pursue policies exacerbating homelessness and crime.” It also mentions the class action lawsuit against Moore’s office as a reason for a new district attorney.

The next steps

The runoff election on May 26 will likely have a much lower turn-out than the primary.

Nearly 102,000 Democrats voted early in this year's primary elections, according to the Travis County clerk's office. As of 6:10 p.m., more than 117,000 voted on election day.

In 2016, 145,195 people voted in the March Democratic primary elections in Travis County, compared to 9,602 in the May Democratic primary run-off.

“Starting tomorrow, we will begin plans to identify voters and make sure they get back to the polls,” Moore said. “Also this gives the team more time to get across to voters all of the things we’ve done about criminal justice reform, about keeping the community safe—the work of the DA’s office.”

Garza could not be reached for comment.

Emma Freer


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