Texas House District 46, 459th District Court candidates address North Austin Civic Association

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Six weeks ahead of the primary elections, candidates for Texas House of Representatives District 46 and the 459th District Court spoke to members of the North Austin Civic Association about the most pressing issues in those jurisdictions.

Texas House District 46

Six Democrats are running to represent District 46 in the Texas House, including incumbent Dawnna Dukes.

Two of her primary opponents, Jose “Chito” Vela and Sheryl Cole, spoke at the NACA candidate forum on Jan. 18.

“I know the game,” said Vela, an immigration and criminal defense attorney with counsel experience in both the Texas House and the Texas Attorney General’s office.

The most pressing issues in District 46 are immigration reform and Medicare expansion, according to Vela.

“It’s a tough time to be an immigration lawyer,” he said, citing family separations as a particular challenge of his job. “I’ve seen that in person too much.”

His work as a lawyer, grass-roots activist and Austin ISD PTA president prepares him to address those issues, Vela said.

Cole, former mayor pro tem of Austin City Council, said affordability is District 46’s biggest challenge.

While affordable housing, property taxes and more public transportation are all components of that problem, she said, the main focus of any solution must be education.

Cole’s experience as a parent of AISD students, PTA president and City Council member who has advocated for increased funding for the city’s public schools qualifies her for the job, she said.

“It’s important that we ask ourselves, ‘Are we sending someone to the State House with any experience governing?'” Cole said.

Gabriel Nila is running unopposed as the Republican candidate for District 46. He also spoke at the forum.

His experience as a homeowner in Manor and as an educator who works with students in AISD alternative education programs qualifies him to address what he says is the most important issue in District 46: school finance reform.

Because of the “Robin Hood” system, which allocates property tax revenue to schools across the state according to need rather than location, AISD is set to lose around $500 million to other districts in Texas this year.

“We can use some of that money in East Austin,” Nila said.

459th District Court

All three of the 459th District Court candidates are Democrats and spoke at the NACA meeting.

Maya Guerra Gamble has worked for the Department of Justice on behalf of Travis County children and parents involved in child protective services cases and as a prosecutor of child pornography and child exploitation crimes.

“I am running because it is a time in our government and our country when somebody running who is good enough is not good enough anymore,” she said.

Raised in Austin, Guerra Gamble attended a Head Start preschool before going through the AISD system. She received fee waivers when applying to college and graduated from Yale University and Yale Law School.

“Our courts have to be fair,” she said.

Aurora Martinez Jones, an associate judge for the Travis County District Courts, also has experience working with foster children and sexually exploited youth.

“I’m here to advocate and take a leadership role,” she said. “These are my foster children. These are your foster children.”

After graduating from The University of Texas at Austin School of Law, Martinez Jones passed up a corporate job to open her own practice, where, she said, she represents “everyday people with everyday problems.”

Trying cases before all the district court judges gives her the necessary insight to preside over the 459th District Court, Martinez Jones said.

The final speaker of the evening, Greg Hitt, cited his 25 years of experience as a civil litigator and his board certification in family law as advantages over his opponents.

The 459th District Court, Hitt said, is a general civil jurisdiction court, not one focused exclusively on child welfare or foster children.

“These are the kinds of cases I have been working on my entire career,” he said.

Hitt also mentioned his training as a mediator and his experience finding “creative solutions that will benefit as many people as possible” in his career.

“What we’re getting from the top down is lack of respect,” Hitt said. “I will do my best to make sure that that does not affect my court.”

Dates to know 

The 2018 primary elections are scheduled for March 5. The last day to register to vote is Feb. 5. Early voting runs from Feb. 20-March 2.

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Emma Freer
Emma Freer began covering Central Austin for Community Impact Newspaper in 2017. Her reporting focuses include employment and economic development. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2017.
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