Judge, Commissioners Face Token Opposition

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Sam Biscoe
Sam Biscoe

Travis County Judge, Commissioners Face Token, Underfunded Opposition

Research Provides Detailed Background Information on All Eight Candidates

Editor’s Introduction:  As we did with our investigative research for Hays County candidates published October 19, The Austin Bulldog is again stepping off the beaten path of how to cover an election. We point you to some of the stories written by other publications, but we also provide detailed information that journalists seldom take the time to dig up and assemble.

Rather than selectively quote from our background research, our approach is to use an extensive, organized plan to find, copy, and publish source documents that you can explore to form your own conclusions about people seeking elective office.

We’ve dug into the public records and published what was found, to include voter registration and voter history; personal financial statements, campaign finance reports, business records, property records, service on boards, key staff, spouses, web pages, and links to news stories. For some candidates we also found track records for previous bids for public office, State Bar profiles for attorneys, and real estate broker and mortgage broker licenses.

Incumbents face weak opposition

What becomes glaringly obvious in reviewing all the documents assembled by The Austin Bulldog is that the three incumbent Democrats on the Travis County Commissioners Court will apparently have little to fear when the polls close on November 2.

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, who has held this position since 1999, is being challenged by Republican Mike McNamara, who has raised a single $100 contribution and spent a total of $1,308 on his campaign. Most of that, $1,250, was to pay his filing fee. Libertarian Mark Tippetts, also running for county judge, has raised nothing and spent nothing.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, who won her post in 2006, is opposed by Libertarian Matthew Finkel, who has neither raised nor spent any money on his campaign. Also running against Eckhardt is Republican David A. Buttross II, who vowed to raise no more than $500.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez has held this office since 1995. She staved off a strong challenge from former Austin City Council Member Raul Alvarez to win this year’s Democratic Primary. Since then, she has missed months of meetings due to open heart surgery and hasn’t attended a full meeting since April, according to a report in the Austin American-Statesman. In the general election, she faces only Libertarian David Dreesen, who hasn’t raised or spent any money.

Buttross a political anomaly

Most rich folks who vie for public office spend sizeable chunks of their own money doing so. Farouk Shami, a Palestine-born Houston businessman, pledged to spend $10 million of his own money in the 2010 Democratic Primary. Tony Sanchez, the West Texas businessman, paid out-of-pocket a reported $60 million for his doomed 2002 Democratic gubernatorial bid, in which he got 40 percent of the vote in losing to Rick Perry.

Buttross is wealthy, too. How wealthy is questionable, but one of his websites claims he owns a $50 million real estate portfolio, with $20 million in real estate notes and $30 million in real estate consisting of office buildings, apartment complexes, residential properties, grocery stories, warehouses, hospitals, hotels, and churches.

Our research connected him and his family to 19 separate businesses and 33 properties, most in Travis County, but also in Bastrop, Bexar and Williamson counties, with a total market valuation of $17.4 million, according to appraisal district records.

His home in West Austin, according to the Travis Central Appraisal District, is valued at nearly $1.9 million.

Yet Buttross does not risk his personal funds to further his political ambitions, or even bother to raise much.

When Buttross ran for mayor of Austin last year, one of his businesses, BDC-REO Inc., loaned his campaign $30,000. But he did not follow through by using much of the loan. He spent less than $6,000 for the campaign, and less than $2,000 of that came out of his own pocket.

His bid for Travis County judge is rock-bottom cheap. He signed the pledge (formally known as a “modified reporting declaration”) to accept contributions of no more than $500 or spend more than that. He’s kept his word, having raised $485 and spent less than $13, as of his last report filed July 15.

Libertarian politics a family affair

Of three Libertarians running for county judge or commissioner, two of them have family members who are also Libertarians contending for elective office.

Matthew Finkel’s wife, Jaclyn “Jax” Finkel, is running for Travis County Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace—the same job that Matthew Finkel ran for unsuccessfully in 2006.

David Dreesen’s mother, Gillian Dreesen, is a candidate for Travis County Clerk, while his sister, Jessica Dreesen, is running for the State Board of Education District 10.

The lowdown on the candidates

Other than a federal lawsuit recently filed against Buttross by two female former employees for alleged “severe and pervasive verbal and psychological abuse,” we did not find anything that points to specific problems with any of these candidates, but you can read the numerous documents we’ve posted and let us know if there are implications we didn’t fathom, more reporting that needs to be done. We invite your comments.

Candidates for Travis County Judge

Sam BiscoeSam Biscoe: (Democrat-Incumbent)

Office sought:Travis County Judge

Office salary: $111,038

E-mail: [email protected]

Telephone: 512-854-9555

Current Office: Travis County Judge incumbent since 1999

Previous Office: Travis County Commissioner Precinct 1

Texas Voter Registration Application and Voter History

Campaign Finance Reports

Personal Financial Statement

Business Records (None located)

Property Records

Attorney Records

Current boards:

Capital Health Facilities Development Corporation, President

Capital Industrial Development Corporation, Director

Envision Central Texas

Northwest Travis County Road District 3, President

Travis County Capitol Industrial Development Corporation, President

Travis County Cultural Education Facilities Finance Corporation, President

Travis County Development Authority, President

Travis County Housing Finance Corporation, President

Travis County Health Facilities Development, President

Past boards:

Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America

State Farm Aid Corporation

Key Campaign Staff:

Campaign Treasurer: Daniel R. Smith 512-854-9555

Consultant and Fundraiser: Susan Harry

Travis County Staff:

Executive Assistant 
Cheryl Brown
 512-854-9556

Executive Assistant 
Melissa Velasquez
 512-854-9557

Executive Assistant 
Cheryl Aker
 512-854-9558

Executive Assistant 
Josie Zavala 512-854-9555

Spouse: Donalyn Thompson-Biscoe, DTB Management

Web pages: http://www.co.travis.tx.us/commissioners_court/co_judge.asp

Links to stories: Biographical sketch

Austin American-Statesman article on DWI arrest: http://tinyurl.com/35ej7lk

Mike McNamaraMike McNamara: (Republican)

Office sought:Travis County Judge

Office salary: $111,038

E-mail: [email protected]

Telephone: 512-632-5424

Current Office: None

Texas Voter Registration Application and Voter History

Campaign Finance Reports

Personal Financial Statement

Business:

SCCI, business development for state accounts

Senior Technical Writer, Southeastern Computer Consultants

Property Records

Current boards: None found

Past boards: None found

Key Staff: None

Campaign Treasurer: Julia McNamara, 512-926-1186

Spouse: Julia McNamara

Web pages: http://votemcnamara.com/

Campaign: http://tinyurl.com/2dajdn9

Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/2fawgvf

LinkedIn: http://tinyurl.com/24cxn2e

Links to stories: None found

Mark TippettsMark Tippetts: (Libetarian)

Office sought:Travis County Judge

Office salary: $111,038

E-mail: None found

Telephone: 512-249-8756

Current Office:

Texas Voter Registration Application and Voter History

Campaign Finance Reports

Personal Financial Statement

Business Records: None found

Property Records

Current boards: None found

Past boards: None found

Key Staff: None

Campaign Treasurer: Mark Tippetts 512-249-8756

Spouse: Jeri Tippetts

Web pages:

Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/39ww8fm

Links to stories:

Austin American-Statesman reports Libertarian candidates: http://tinyurl.com/32cgqff

Candidates for Travis County Commissioner Precinct 2

Sarah EckhardtSarah Eckhardt: (Democrat-Incumbent)

Office sought: Travis County Commissioner Precinct 2

Office salary: $92,362 authorized, $88,812 accepted

E-mail: [email protected]

Telephone: 512-854-9222

Current Office: Precinct 2 Commissioner since 2007

Texas Voter Registration Application and Voter History

Campaign Finance Reports

Personal Financial Statement

Business Records: None found

Property Records

Attorney Records

Current boards:

Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board

Capital Health Facilities Development Corporation, Vice President

Capital Industrial Development Corporation, Vice President

Community Action Network, Vice Chair

Conference of Urban Counties Policy Committee

Downtown Austin Alliance

Texas Freedom Network

Travis County Cultural Educational Facilities Financial Corporation, Vice President

Travis County Development Authority, Vice President

Travis County Housing Finance Corp, Vice President

Past boards: None found

Key Staff:

Peter Einhorn 512-854-9229 [email protected]

Joe Hon 512-854-9222 [email protected]

Loretta Farb 512-854-9230 [email protected]

Susan Harry, consultant and fundraiser

Net Victories

Campaign Treasurer: Carol Hatfield 512-459-5841

Spouse: Kurt Sauer

Web pages:

Travis County Commissioner site: http://tinyurl.com/3xbdvs3

Blog: http://www.saraheckhardt.com/

Links to stories:

Link to 46 stories in the Austin American-Statesman: http://tinyurl.com/28g3d96

Links to 84 stories in The Austin Chronicle: http://tinyurl.com/26vuhs7

 

David ButtrossDavid Buttross: (Republican)

Office sought: Travis County Commissioner Precinct 2

Office salary: $92,362

E-mail: [email protected]

Telephone: 512-970-8932

Current Office: None

Previous office sought: Mayor of Austin 2009, placed fourth with 3.83 percent

Texas Voter Registration Application and Voter History

Campaign Finance Reports

Personal Financial Statement

Business Records (19 businesses)

Property Records (35 properties)

Mortgage Broker Licenses

Real Estate Broker Licenses

Current boards: None found outside business interests

Past boards:

Austin Social Ventures Partners

Medi-USA

The Rensselaerville Institute

Southern Federation of Syrian Lebanese American Clubs, State Vice President

Key Staff: Campaign Treasurer: Betsy Buttross 512-300-7919

Spouse: Betsy Buttross

Web pages:

Campaign: http://votebuttross.com/home/

Buttross Realty: http://www.buttross.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/buttross

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Buttross

One Cameron Place: http://www.7901cameron.com/

Links to stories:

Links to 24 stories in the Austin American-Statesman: http://tinyurl.com/23gxh3g

Links to 29 stories in The Austin Chronicle: http://tinyurl.com/23oa23d

City Hall Hustle video interview when Buttross ran for mayor in 2009: http://tinyurl.com/25ornqe

Austin Business Journal: Buttross Savings Association gets into banking business: http://tinyurl.com/25cn6pg

Texas Department of Savings and Mortgage Lending: The application for Buttross Savings Association was withdrawn on July 13, 2010: http://tinyurl.com/23vhvmf

Austin Business Journal Oct. 15, 2010: Buttross Group sued amidst abuse charges: http://tinyurl.com/2892qdt

Matthew FinkelMatthew Finkel (Libertarian)

Office sought: Travis County Commissioner Precinct 2

Office salary: $92,362

E-mail: [email protected]

Telephone: 512-740-6836

Current Office: None

Prevous offices sought:

Justice of the Peace 2006

2008 U.S. House Texas Congressional District 10: Distant third with 2.96 percent

Texas Voter Registration Application and Voter History

Campaign Finance Reports

Personal Financial Statement: None found

Business Records: None found

Property Records

Current boards: The Libertarian Party of Texas: Finkel is one of two state board members from Texas Senate District 14

Past boards: None found

Key Staff: Campaign Treasurer: Self

Spouse: Jaclyn “Jax” Finkel, a candidate for Travis County Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace (Libertarian)

Web pages:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TXMattFinkel

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/mattfinkel

Links to stories:

Austin American-Statesman reports Libertarian candidates: http://tinyurl.com/32cgqff

The Austin Chronicle profiled Finkel when he ran for Congress: http://tinyurl.com/26tankv

Texas NORML video: http://tinyurl.com/2avq2zw

Candidates for Travis County Commissioner Precinct 4

Margaret GomezMagaret Gomez (Democrat-Incumbent)

Office sought: Travis County Commissioner Precinct 4

Office salary: $92,362

E-mail: [email protected]

Telephone: 512-350-9840, 512-762-7016, Campaign: 512-474-0204

Current Office: Precinct 4 commissioner since 1995

Texas Voter Registration Application and Voter History

Campaign Finance Reports

Personal Financial Statement

Business Records: None found

Property Records

Current boards:

Capital Health Facilities Development Corporation, Secretary

Capital Industrial Development Corporation, Secretary

Travis County Cultural Education Facilities Finance Corporation, Secretary

Travis County Development Authority, Secretary

Travis County Housing Finance Corporation, Secretary

Travis County Health Facilities Development Corporation, Secretary

Past boards:

Deyo Enterprises Inc., Secretary Treasurer

Mexican American Resources In Action (MARIA) Leadership Development, Director

Ponciana Park Community Garden Inc., Registered Agent

Texas Hispanic County Judges and County Commissioners Inc., Registered Agent

Key Staff:

Senior Executive Assistant: Edith Moreida 512-854-9280 [email protected]

Executive Assistant: Norma Guerra 512-854-4444 [email protected]

Campaign Treasurer: Walter Timberlake 512-442-6688

Campaign Manager: Estella French 512-474-0204 [email protected]

Spouse: None found

Web pages:

Travis County Commissioner site: http://tinyurl.com/2urv67z

Campaign: http://www.reelectmargaretgomez.com/

Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/2esyq6c

LinkedIn: http://tinyurl.com/2euqw6b

Twitter: http://twitter.com/margaretgomez4

Flickr: http://tinyurl.com/2fm9rug

Links to stories:

Austin American-Statesman PolitiFact: http://tinyurl.com/23kme6m

Austin American-Statesman search results for 18 stories: http://tinyurl.com/23vafsx

Austin American-Statesman Oct. 17, 2010: Commissioner Gomez hasn’t attended a full meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court since April due to open heart surgery: http://tinyurl.com/2vjs5t7

The Austin Chronicle search results for 104 stories: http://tinyurl.com/24hmlup

 

David DreesenDavid Dreesen (Libetarian)

Office sought: Travis County Commissioner Precinct 4

Office salary: $92,362

E-mail: [email protected]

Telephone: 512-422-4557

Current Office: None

Texas Voter Registration Application and Voter History

Campaign Finance Reports

Personal Financial Statement: None found

Business Records: None found

Property Records

Current boards: None found

Past boards: None found

Key Staff:

Campaign Treasurer: Self

Spouse: Laurie Dreesen

Mother: Gillian Dreesen, who appraisal district records show is the owner of the home that David Dreesen lists as his home address, is a candidate for Travis County Clerk (Libertarian)

Sister: Jessica Dreesen is a candidate for the State Board of Education District 10 (Libertarian)

Web pages:

Austin Libertarian Meetup Group: http://tinyurl.com/39aympj

Facebook for campaign: http://tinyurl.com/3yfn3hr

LinkedIn: http://tinyurl.com/3ay8eky

MySpace: http://tinyurl.com/33yldhv

Links to stories:

Austin American-Statesman reports Libertarian candidates: http://tinyurl.com/32cgqff

Austin American-Statesman Oct. 17, 2010, challenger to Margaret Gomez: http://tinyurl.com/2vjs5t7

This Investigative Report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The Austin Bulldog has many other investigative projects waiting to be funded. You can bring these investigations to life by making a tax-deductible contribution.