Travis County will pick a new county judge this year. The county judge is like the mayor of a county, presiding over and votes in meetings of the county commissioners, where county policies and budgets are set.
With longtime County Judge Sam Biscoe retiring, Democratic candidates Andy Brown and Sarah Eckhardt will face off in the March primary to replace him on the Democratic ticket.
When you see the candidates for Travis County Judge in action – that is – debating each other – one thing is clear – both Sarah Eckhardt and Andy Brown realize each is facing a strong contender.
On Friday, the Austin Environmental Democrats hosted a debate where Brown touted his experience as a party organizer. Eckhardt responded by touting her years in local government.
“I really respect my opponents 20 years worth of experience in campaigning," she said. "But what this job really needs is experience in governance.”
Eckhardt, an attorney, has been a Commissioner in the Travis County Court and has vice chair of the Austin region’s mobility authority. For his part, Brown, also an attorney, has worked in the campaigns of top state Democrats and is the former chair of the county’s Democratic party.
Friday’s debate dynamic was fast paced. Each candidate had only 30 seconds per question – that made it possible for many to have a chance to ask questions. It also meant the candidates were fierce in their jabs – something you don’t often see in local politics. But Andy Brown clearly noticed:
"From the outside, everybody thinks that the democratic party that we are a cohesive group," Brown said. "That the Environmental Democrats and the Tejano Democrats – we all love each other and we all get along. Let me tell you a little secret: that’s not the case”
Both Brown and Eckhardt scored some points with the audience. But so far, it’s been almost impossible to predict which of them will be the next judge.
As 24 year-old law student Michael Hurta says – the candidates face two challenges. One, few people pay attention to county politics and two, the candidates are very similar in their beliefs.
“Those of us who are thinking about it, in the first place, I think are happy about both candidates in that there will finally be a dynamic judge regardless of who that is," Hurta says.
Jim McNabb believes there’s much more riding on these candidates’ than just the challenge to make county politics more dynamic. McNabb is a retired news director in Austin.
“We need to turn Texas blue. We need a change at the top and that is one thing that’s going to change this election. There may not be too much emphasis on the primary – I hope there is – but when we get to November there is a real difference there," McNabb says. "You talk about very little difference between the 2 county judge candidates other than perhaps that of leadership. But there are big differences when you get to who’s going to be the governor of Texas.”
And that’s the Democratic party’s main concern on this election year. The Primary will be held March 4th. Whoever wins will face Mike McNamara in November – who is unopposed for the Republican party’s nomination for Travis County Judge.