AUSTIN (KXAN) – Travis County residents will find two candidates on their ballots this election for county judge: incumbent County Judge Andy Brown and political newcomer Rupal Chaudhari.
Keep up-to-date by going to KXAN’s election page for coverage ahead of election day Nov. 8 and results.
KXAN talked to the two candidates to learn more about why voters should choose them to preside over the Travis County Commissioners Court for the next four years.
Travis county judge and the Commissioners Court
The Travis County Commissioners Court consists of four other precinct commissioners. Despite the name, the court is not judicial. It oversees the county’s $1.4 billion annual budget.
The county judge acts as Travis County’s chief administrator and is the director of emergency management.
Here are the court’s primary duties pulled from the Travis County website:
- Setting the tax rate and adopting a County budget, which:
- Assists the other elected or appointed officials at Travis County to carry out their statutory duties;
- Builds and maintains County roads and bridges;
- Develops and maintains open space for use by the public;
- Preserves endangered species habitat under the County and City of Austin’s habitat conservation plan, the Balcones Canyonland Conservation Plan;
- Builds, maintains and improves County facilities (including jails and court space);
- Provides IT infrastructure for all County elected officials to be able to efficiently provide mandated services;
- Approving plats for residential development in unincorporated areas;
- Monitoring and supporting environmental regulation and enforcement in the County;
- Letting contracts and authorizing payment of all County bills;
- Establishing voting precincts, appointing precinct judges and calling County elections (including bond elections);
- Appointing certain county officials and hiring County Executive personnel;
- Appointing County residents to represent Travis County on various Boards and Committees; and
- Filling many elective and appointive vacancies.
Candidates (listed alphabetically)
Judge Andy Brown
Judge Andy Brown is Travis County’s current county judge. He grew up in Austin. Before his current job, he worked as a lawyer, community organizer, an emergency medical technician and was chair of the Travis County Democratic Party.
Brown served in the role through the COVID-19 pandemic. When asked about his time in the position, he said the thing he is most proud of is his initiative on the vaccination rollout.
Through a bipartisan effort, he coordinated with other nearby county judges to acquire more vaccines for people living in lower-income areas.
“By the end of (the initiative), it was the largest mass vaccination that was not at a FEMA site in the state of Texas. We were able to first vaccinate teachers, first responders, people who were essential workers, and people who were members of Community Care,” he said.
“We had vaccinated a couple of 100,000 people on top of what we would have done otherwise,” he continued.
On the issues
Brown said he hopes to focus on issues of housing affordability and increasing mental services in his next term if elected.
”Affordability is a huge issue here,” Brown said.
To help address affordability problems, he said he is currently working on a plan to get people through the affordable housing process more quickly.
“We don’t have enough mental health services in the county or behavioral health services in the county (and it) is causing a lot of problems,” Brown said.
He said the county jail is currently the largest mental health facility, which is “unacceptable.”
“There was about 21% of the people in the jail pre-COVID who had unmet mental health needs by our measure. Today, that’s up to about 45%,” Brown said.
Brown said he has aspirations of setting up a mental health care assessment facility – modeled off of one in Nashville – where people brought in by APD or EMS can be assessed. If a person is determined to have a low-level crime and significant mental health care needs, they can be offered a 30-day mental health stabilization program rather than taken to the county jail.
Learn more about Brown here.
Why voters should choose Brown
“I make sure that I’m standing up for democratic values. I’m standing up for civil rights like abortion care, election integrity, and making sure that our community is safer by meeting people’s mental health needs, by providing affordable housing and good jobs,” he told KXAN.
Rupal Chaudhari is an immigration attorney and mother of two. She said she never aspired to run for a political office or live a public life until the City of Austin decided to purchase a hotel to use as a homeless shelter in the same parking lot as one of her businesses.
Her campaign said the location didn’t make sense for housing homeless people because it was near schools and businesses and far away from essential services.
She started the Stop Candlewood campaign to increase fairness and transparency in local government, her campaign said.
“I really got involved in the process of learning about homelessness [and] public safety. I learned through my own experience that we are facing real problems today,” Chaudhari said.
“I say we change government, not with slogans, but we do it with real action. My action is that I’m running for Travis county judge,” she said.
On the issues
If elected, Chaudhari would focus on addressing homelessness, affordability and public safety.
She said the efforts the city has made to reduce homelessness have been ineffective.
“Buying hotels (or) just building housing is not going to solve the problem,” Chaudhari said. “There are a lot of people that are mentally ill and have substance abuse issues. So we do need to address the issues,” she continued.
To address these issues, her campaign page said that local government needs to adopt a “tough-love concept and not apologize for moving [people experiencing homelessness] off public spaces, such as parks, sidewalks, and nature trails. [They should not be allowed] to impede entry or endanger private homes or businesses,” her campaign page read.
She said community-based models, like Haven for Hope, that use private and public funding and provide essential services on-site would be a solution she would advocate for in the position.
Chaudhari also said Austin is seeing an increase in crime while APD and the 911 call center are experiencing staff shortages.
To address shortages, Chaudhari said she would try to increase wages to retain current staff members and attract new hires.
In terms of increasing crime rates, Chaudhari thinks Austin-Travis County needs to be tougher on crime. On her website, she said instead of putting people convicted of crimes into “diversion programs or on extended probation,” they should stay in jail.
“[This] ‘revolving door’ model is not achieving much other than contributing to the growing reputation that Austin Travis County is soft on crime,” her campaign page read.
Why voters should choose Rupal Chaudhari
“I’m not a career politician. I look at the world differently,” Chaudhari said. “I got into politics because I want to bring more accountability and transparency, and I want a government that listens,” she continued.
You can learn more about Chaudhari here.