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Ahead of the Primary, Democratic Sheriff Hopefuls Get Out Their Messages

Kevin Opp
Travis County resident Sue Ellen Jackson gets a visit from Sheriff candidate John Sisson.

Democrats running for the nomination to be Travis County Sheriff are in their final days of campaigning before the March 1 primary, and the contenders are pushing hard to stand out to voters.

John Sisson was knocking on doors in the Spicewood Springs neighborhood in Pflugerville this week. The Precinct One Sergeant is one of four democrats running for Travis County Sheriff.

“The reason I’m running for Sheriff is, I want to put an end to our voluntary participation with immigration officials, and stop the detainer program once and for all and let the judicial system do its job,” Sisson said.

He’s referring to the Priority Enforcement Program, which used to be called Secure Communities. The federal program flags people booked into the Travis County Jail who may be in the country illegally – potentially leading to deportation. The county’s participation in the federal program has become a central issue in this election. Sisson wants the county to opt out and leave that work to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

His competitors are proposing similar policies.

“ICE has their own mission, their own employees, their own issues to deal with, and I don’t think those issues are what the taxpayers of Travis County need to be involved in,” said Todd Radford.

Radford is currently Lakeway’s Police chief and another democratic candidate for sheriff. Radford is touting his years of leadership experience, and his success in equipping Lakeway patrol officers with body cameras. He hopes to do the same in Travis County.

“I’m the only one that’s done this, so I know the hurdles it took for me to get over this particular issue in the City of Lakeway, and how we could get over that at a larger agency,” he said.

Other candidates are turning their attention to improving community relations. Sergeant Don Rios has been with the Travis County Sheriff’s Office for more than 20 years. He said he wants to earn the public’s trust by holding regular town halls and creating a sheriff’s advisory board led by community members. Rios is also pushing for more officer accountability.

“Part of that is on who we hire, who we promote and who we retain. I feel very strongly that we should not be hiring officers that have demonstrated poor behavior, poor choices at other agencies,” he said.

In this crowded field of candidates, the Democratic primary could simply come down to who voters like best. Precinct 3 Constable Sally Hernandez is the only woman in the race. She’s quick to point out that she’s running on experience, not gender. But, if elected, Hernandez says she wants to see more diversity in the department’s ranks.

“I mean one of the reasons that I ran for constable was the fact that they did not hire women as officers. And, yes, I believe it’s very important to have diversity and for us to represent the community that we serve,” she said.

A runoff is likely, with the top two candidates facing off in a May 24 election. The winner will take on the sole Republican candidate, Joe Martinez, in November.

Syeda Hasan is a senior editor at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @syedareports.
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