Meet the candidates running for District Judge in Travis

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County residents will find two candidates on their ballots in this county judge election: incumbent Circuit Judge Andy Brown and political newcomer Rupal Chaudhary.

Stay up-to-date by going to KXAN’s election page for coverage leading up to Election Day, Nov. 8, and the results.

KXAN spoke with both 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 Commissioners Court

The Travis County Commissioners Court consists of four other county commissioners. Despite the name, the court is not judicial. He oversees the county’s $1.4 billion annual budget.

The district judge acts as Travis County’s chief administrator and is the director of emergency management.

Here are the basic duties of the court, taken from the Travis County website:

  • Setup of tax rate and adoption of county budgetwhich:
  • Approval of areas for housing development in unincorporated areas;
  • Monitoring and supporting environmental regulation and enforcement in the county;
  • Lease agreements and authorization for payment of all county bills;
  • Establishing polling stations, appointing district judges and calling county elections (including bond elections);
  • Appointment of certain county officers and hiring of county executive staff;
  • Appointing county residents to represent Travis County on various boards and commissions; and
  • Filling many vacancies by choice and appointment.

Candidates (listed alphabetically)

Judge Andy Brown

Judge Andy Brown (Photo courtesy: traviscountytx.gov) is running for Travis County Judge in 2022.

Judge Andy Brown is the current District Judge in Travis County. He grew up in Austin. Prior to his current job, he worked as an attorney, community organizer, emergency medical technician, and was chairman of the Travis County Democratic Party.

Brown served in the role during the COVID-19 pandemic. When asked about his time in that position, he said he was most proud of his initiative to introduce vaccinations.

Through a bipartisan effort, he coordinated with other neighboring district judges to acquire more vaccines for people living in lower-income areas.

“By the end of (the initiative), it was the largest non-FEMA site mass vaccination in the state of Texas.” We were able to vaccinate teachers first, people who were first responders, people who were essential workers and people who were Community Care members,” he said.

“We vaccinated a few out of 100,000 people in addition to what we would have done otherwise,” he continued.

On the questions

Brown said he hopes to focus on housing affordability issues and increasing mental health services in his next term, if elected.

“Affordability is a huge issue here,” Brown said.

To help address affordability issues, he said he is currently working on a plan to move 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 that’s) causing a lot of problems,” Brown said.

He said the county jail is currently the largest mental health facility, which is “unacceptable.”

“There were about 21% of people in prison before COVID who had unmet mental health needs according to our measures. Today it’s about 45%,” Brown said.

Brown said there are aspirations to create a mental health evaluation facility — modeled after one in Nashville — where people brought in by APD or EMS can be evaluated. If a person is determined to have a low-level offense and significant mental health needs, they may be offered a 30-day mental health stabilization program instead of being committed to the county jail.

Learn more about Brown here.

Why voters should choose Brown

“I make sure I stand up for democratic values.” I stand up for civil rights like abortion care, election integrity, and making sure our community is safer by meeting people’s mental health needs, providing affordable housing and good jobs,” he told KXAN.

Rupal Chaudhary

Rupal Chaudhary is running for Travis County Judge in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Rupal Chaudhary)
Rupal Chaudhary is running for Travis County Judge in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Rupal Chaudhary)

Rupal Chaudhary is an immigration attorney and mother of two. She said she never aspired to run for political office or live a public life until the city of Austin decided to buy 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 close to schools and businesses and far from essential services.

She launched the Stop Candlewood campaign to increase fairness and transparency in local government, her campaign said.

“I really got into the process of learning about homelessness [and] public safety. I have learned from my own experience that we are facing real problems today,” Chaudhary said.

“I say that we change the government not with slogans, but with real actions. My action is that I am running for district judge in Travis,” she said.

On the questions

If elected, Chaudhary will focus on addressing homelessness, affordability and public safety.

She said the city’s efforts to reduce homelessness have been ineffective.

“Buying hotels (or) just building housing will not solve the problem,” Chaudhary said. “There are a lot of people who are mentally ill and have substance abuse problems. So we have to address the issues,” she continued.

To tackle these issues, her campaign page said local authorities should adopt a “tough love concept and make no excuses for relocation [people experiencing homelessness] outside 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 reads.

She said community-based models such as A haven of hopethat use private and public funding and provide essential services on the ground would be a solution she would advocate for in this position.

Chaudhary also said Austin is seeing an increase in crime while APD and the 911 call center are understaffed.

To address the shortage, Chaudhary said he would try to raise wages to retain current employees and attract new employees.

In regards to rising crime rates, Chaudhary thinks Austin-Travis County needs to be tougher on crime. On her website, she said that instead of placing people convicted of crimes in “diversion programs or on extended probation,” they should remain in prison.

“[This] the revolving door model accomplishes little except to contribute to the growing reputation that Austin Travis County is soft on crime,” her campaign page reads.

Why voters should choose Rupal Chaudhary

“I am not a career politician. I look at the world differently,” Chaudhary 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 Chaudhary here.

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