COMMENTARY by BRAD ROLLINS
It’s hardly a secret that Jeff Barton wants to be county judge and might already have the job had he not talked himself out of running against Jim Powers in 2006.
Instead, Barton successfully ran against Pct. 2 Commissioner Susie Carter winning back a seat he lost to her in 1998. On the same ticket, dark horse Elizabeth Sumter, a Wimberley resident with a history of voting in the Republican Party primary, managed a small-scale political earthquake with her upset of Powers in an election that transformed the court overnight from four Republicans and one Democrat to one Republican and four Democrats.
Now Barton is widely assumed to be preparing a primary challenge to Sumter and this week unofficially kicked off campaign season by taking part of the credit for $9 million in federal money flowing this way for transportation projects.
Barton’s office issued a press release this week heralding Hays County’s haul of a disproportionate share of $29.1 million being dispensed by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization in mobility money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly called the stimulus package. Barton and company brought home $7,250,000 for the Cement Plant Road interstate overpass in Buda; $1.7 million will go toward shoulders, left turn lanes and a deceleration lane on Ranch Road 12, between Pioneer Trail and San Marcos Academy; and the city of Kyle got $60,000 to restripe bike lanes on Spring Branch.
Hays County, Barton noted, has about 10 percent of the population of Hays, Travis and Williamson counties but is getting nearly a third of the money.
“This doesn’t happen by accident. A lot of people deserve credit,” Barton said, chalking the appropriation up to “a little old-fashioned hard work and persuasion on our part.”
By Barton’s telling, it is clear who does not deserve credit: Sumter, who skipped an afternoon workshop when the CAMPO board was winnowing funding priorities and then arrived an hour late for the regular meeting “before leaving town for a conference on South Padre,” a reference to the South Texas Judges and Commissioners Association attended by several court members.
“Board members had a number of questions about the county’s projects, its matching funds and why Hays should receive such a significant share of the funding. Barton was present to answer questions,” the press release said, also noting that Kyle Mayor Mike Gonzalez and San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz, who both sit on the CAMPO board, also made all the meetings. (None of San Marcos’ priorities, including moving an interstate off-ramp at River Ridge Parkway, made the cut).
Barton and his one-person staff have been neck-deep in stimulus funding since President Obama first started talking about the massive spending program before taking office. “We burned the candle and the phone lines late through the weekend. This is why you build regional relationships. It’s why you do your homework well in advance,” Barton said.
When Barton and Sumter were sworn to their offices in January 2007, one of the court’s first tasks was choosing who would represent Hays County on the CAMPO board. Both Barton and Sumter wanted the high-profile position and at the time it was seen as the first test of their public relationship.
Ultimately, in the name of unity, Barton nominated Sumter, saying, “As we fall into the habits that will govern us over the next two years as we work together, it’s important that we make choices that are going to work well for the county. I think it’s wonderful that we’ve got a judge that’s interested in serving on CAMPO and coming up to speed on those regional and transportation issues.”
Sumter didn’t accept the olive branch, nor has she been able to play at the level her job requires. The county has suffered as a result. So it seems appropriate from where I sit that Barton should stake his claim to the judgeship with a reminder of the opportunities Sumter couldn’t see or didn’t have the sense to seize.Email | Print