Andy Brown Sworn in as Travis County Judge, Lays Out Bold Agenda
Andy Brown, a former Travis County Democratic Party chairman and advisor to Beto O’Rourke, became the Travis County Judge (chief executive) November 17.
In a brief speech after his swearing-in at the county commissioners court, Brown indicated that his priorities in office would include tackling COVID-19, criminal justice reform, and battling climate change, which he said could be done by tackling traffic congestion in the county.
Brown, a Democrat, won the party’s nomination in August by a vote of county precinct chairs, which is the method used to select a candidate when there isn’t enough time to hold a primary vote before the general election.
He won the general election against Republican Michael Lovins with 70% of the votes.
Brown was sworn in by Sam Biscoe, his immediate predecessor in the role, who took the position in a caretaker capacity for just a few months, from May 12 through today.
Biscoe had a 26 year career in public office, first as county commissioner from 1989 through 1997, then as county judge from 1998 to 2014. He returned this year on an interim basis, by appointment, after County Judge Sarah Eckhardt stepped down to run for state senate.
Brown said in his speech, “Together we can rise to any challenge, and together we can meet the needs of our community as we respond to COVID and the movement of this moment that calls for racial justice. I believe in a Travis County that works for everyone.”
“I’m confident that together we can meet the challenges that lie ahead as we respond to the impact of COVID on our community and invest in working people and communities of color.”
He said he would oppose plans to build a new jail and vowed to work with the newly elected County Attorney Delia Garza, District Attorney José Garza, the Public Defender’s Office, and Sheriff Sally Hernandez.
“Together we can make these fundamental changes,” he said, referring to plans to invest more in mental health and substance abuse services “rather than $100 million in a new jail.”
Sheriff Hernandez has advocated for building a 350-bed jail for women because the existing facilities for women are inadequate. She says female inmates are housed across three different buildings “designed for men” and that the county could provide better services for women, such as health care and “trauma-informed care,” at the proposed jail.
Brown, who is opposed to the plan, vowed to work toward “dismantling the structures of systemic racism.” He believes that expanding social services will reduce the burden on the criminal justice system. He pointed to the role that he had played in creating the Austin Sobering Center in 2014, which he said had helped divert people from the criminal justice system. “We’re in a unique time to reimagine what an equitable justice system looks like.”
Brown also revealed plans for an environmental agenda, which had been a hallmark of Eckhardt’s time in office. He said, “We need to develop a Travis County Green New Deal for watershed stabilization, transportation improvements, trails to connect people, land preservation, and prevention of wildfires and flooding.”
“We need to implement solutions here and work with other Texas cities and counties to meet the emissions goals of the Paris Climate Accord and ensure equitable solutions to climate change. We need immediate improvements to traffic congestion and safety.”
Brown will serve out the last two years of Eckhardt’s term. He had sought the position of judge once before, in 2014, but lost in the Democratic primary that year to Eckhardt.
Eckhardt continues to serve Travis County as a volunteer advisor, while also representing Travis and Bastrop counties in the Texas Senate.
Brown’s win in August came at the expense of Travis County Democratic Party Chair Dyana Limon-Mercado and Travis County Precinct 1 Commissioner Jeff Travillion, whom Brown thanked in his speech today, calling him a long-time friend.
Travillion and Brown will now sit together on the five-member commissioners court, which oversees the budget for county courts, the jail, emergency services, and other county programs.
The commissioners court is effectively the governing body of the county, at least in terms of rulemaking and budgeting. However, numerous other county officials are directly elected, including judges, the sheriff, and the tax-assessor, giving them independent discretion.
Originally published at https://www.honestaustin.com on November 18, 2020.