Austin Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza will be the next Travis County Attorney after her runoff opponent, Laurie Eiserloh, conceded the race on election night.
With early voting totals in, Garza led Eiserloh by a margin of a little over 8,300 votes – 55% to 45% of early votes and mail-in ballots. By 1 a.m. Wednesday, unofficial county results put that lead at more than 16,000 votes. Eiserloh's concession came shortly after 11:30 p.m on Tuesday.
The race for the office, long-held by retiring County Attorney David Escamilla, has come to the fore as Austin reconsiders both its policing and criminal justice philosophies in the wake of a national uprising against police violence and racism. There is no Republican candidate, so Garza will take over the office Escamilla's held for the last 17 years.
The office prosecutes misdemeanor cases for the county, which account for the lion's share of jail bookings. Both candidates have pledged reform to the office in light of a national uprising against police violence and systemic racism. Over the past five years, the highest charge for two-thirds of people booked into the Travis County Jail was a misdemeanor, according to county records.
In a statement to KUT after Eiserloh's concession, Garza said she plans on enacting changes to the office that "will have a lasting impact."
"Our community and our country are hungry for much overdue reforms and social justice transformations that I believe we can make a reality," she said. "I am proud of my service to this community as an Austin Firefighter and the first Latina City Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem, and I am so grateful to continue my journey in public service as your next County Attorney after our election in November."
Garza has said she hopes to address racial disparities in misdemeanor cases in Travis County – which are particularly prevalent among Black Austinites accused of minor offenses.
As of July 14, 33% of inmates in the Travis County Jail were Black, according to Travis County, while Austin's Black population is 8%. On top of that, last fiscal year, Black defendants accounted for roughly a quarter of jail bookings in which a misdemeanor was the highest charge.
Garza has also pledged to reduce the number of misdemeanor cases for nonviolent offenses tried by the office, and supports steps to speed up the release process for people booked into the Travis County Jail for misdemeanors.
Like Eiserloh, Garza also believes defense attorneys should be available around the clock for magistration hearings – where defendants are read their charges by a judge and given the opportunity to be released on bond before booking. That process – specifically the mandatory presence of attorneys – was a bone of contention in the effort to set up Travis County's first public defender office last year.
Garza's office will ultimately be tasked with figuring out how it functions in tandem with that untested public defender office, while also finalize the framework for how to require magistration hearings in city courts – and find the money to pay attorneys to appear at these hearings.
Garza has also pledged to expand diversion programs that would keep people out of jail and, ultimately, save money in the face of a state law that could shrink future county budgets.
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