AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County elected José Garza as its new District Attorney on Tuesday night, beating out Republican Martin Harry for the spot as the top felony prosecutor.
Garza received 393,808 (69.8%) votes and Harry had 170,100 (30.2%).
“Voters in Travis County have sent an unmistakable clear message that they expect a criminal justice system that treats every person fairly-regardless of their race, their ethnicity, of their income, of their immigration status,” Garza said in a speech Tuesday night.
A tight Democratic primary race in March led to a runoff between the Garza and incumbent Margaret Moore. Moore, a long-time installation in Travis County leadership, conceded in the July runoff election after early voting totals revealed Garza had garnered 68% of the votes.
Garza is the executive director of the Worker’s Defense Project and has campaigned on platform of “reimagining” the criminal justice system. He said he believes the system weighs an unfairly heavy burden on people of color and the working class.
“We have a lot of work to do to end the gross racial disparities in our criminal justice system, to prioritize dangerous offenses like sexual assault, and to really end the practice of using so many of our resources locking people up who are struggling with substance abuse disorder,” Garza told KXAN on Tuesday.
Harry, who is a local attorney with a background in criminal and civil law, says while there are shortfalls in the system, a stronger enforcement of the law is a better approach.
“If the problem is an unequal enforcement of the law, the proper response is to apply the law equally,” Harry said.
He has called Garza an “ideologue” and a “Democratic socialist.”
The District Attorney’s office prosecutes felonies in the county. Garza said Travis County has one of the “best District Attorney’s offices, when it comes to the people who work there, I believe, in the country.”
As the new D.A., Garza will have to address two cases involving officers who shot suspects. DA Margaret Moore said she would delay bringing the Javier Ambler and Mike Ramos cases to a grand jury to let the next DA be in charge of them.
Garza has told KXAN in the past, he plans to bring every case of allegations of excessive force by an officer to a grand jury within 30 days. He also plans to communicate with the public if there’s a delay and update the public every 15 days on the situation.
KXAN talked to both candidates about how they would respond to any unrest or any arrests related to protests following the election results.
Both Garza and Harry called on voters to demonstrate and express their opinions peacefully.
“I think today is a day to be vigilant, but it is also a day to take a deep breath and be calm,” Garza said. “Have a little bit of faith in the process of our democracy and our government.”
He said it is the “job” of the D.A.’s office to protect the first amendment rights of demonstrators, but that violence “should not and will not be tolerated.”