AUSTIN--The race to replace Rosemary Lehmberg has four candidates in all. The Travis County District Attorney is not seeking a third term after a rough past few years. Three Democrats are running for the seat.
Restoring Public Integrity Unit Funding
Until recently, it was viewed as the most powerful District Attorney in Texas. That's because Travis County is home to the state's Public Integrity Unit. State lawmakers last session stripped funding and limited the unit's power, so it can only investigate crimes that occur within Travis County. It followed Lehmberg’s DWI conviction and a fight over funding with former Gov. Rick Perry.
Candidates say they will do what they can to restore trust in the District Attorney's office.
"We need a district attorney in Travis County who has credibility with that Republican leadership,” Margaret Moore said. “There's not any question that I do have that kind of reputation."
"Since we have statewide jurisdiction still over a lot of cases, we still need to get that funding so we can prosecute those cases," Gary Cobb said.
"We need to, number one, elect a district attorney that the state representatives and state senators will respect," Rick Reed said.
Moore retired in 2014 from the Attorney General's Office. She said she can restore the image of the District Attorney's Office. For starters, she plans to bring in outside help to investigate officer-involved shootings.
"I am willing to begin a dialog in this community about whether or not the appointment of special prosecutors in those situations would actually build greater confidence in the fairness of the system," she said.
Reed has been a defense attorney for the past eight years. Prior to that, he served as a prosecutor in Travis County and Dallas County for more than 20 years. Reed said his time in private practice have shown him several cases where innocent people are held in jail for months.
"Simply because the cases were not properly investigated by the police department,” Reed said. “When they were referred to the District Attorney's Office, they weren't carefully reviewed."
Cobb has been an assistant prosecutor in the DA's office for 25 years. He said approaches to drug crimes created in the 1980s and 1990s are doing little more than crowding jails and prisons.
"They're being put in prison on nonviolent offenses--often drug offenses,” Cobb said. “We have to realize that we've lost this war on drugs; we are not going to win it by putting more people in prison. We have to find more alternative solutions to prison."
All three candidates said drunk drivers need to face harsher punishments in Travis County, especially for their assistant prosecutors. Whoever wins the Democratic Primary will face Republican Maura Phelan in November.
Lehmberg has held the office since 2009. Democrat Ronnie Earle was Travis County District Attorney from 1977 to 2009.
Here's a look at information from campaign finance reports including contributions, loans and personal funds used for the campaign for the two latest reporting periods, which ended Dec. 31, 2015 and Jan. 21, 2016:
- Gary Cobb: Raised $64,383, no loans, no expenditures from personal funds
- Margaret Moore: Raised $42,926, no loans, no expenditures from personal funds
- Rick Reed: Raised $1,350, no loans, spent $2,127.04 from personal funds