Here’s Why Travis County D.A. José Garza Seeking Re-Election Matters

Travis County District Attorney José Garza announces his re-election campaign Aug. 8, 2023 (photo by Jana Birchum)

Flanked by a cast of prominent progressive justice and labor activists, as well as a number of liberal elected officials, progressive prosecutor José Garza announced Tuesday morning that he would seek a second term as Travis County District Attorney, the top criminal prosecutor in the county.

From inside the headquarters of the Texas AFL-CIO, Garza described local efforts to revolutionize the justice system in Travis County as a “conversation” on reforming criminal justice and public safety. That conversation, Garza continued, “has become polarized, lines have been drawn … and facts have been distorted.” Garza is at the center of that polarization, having led many of the county’s criminal justice reform efforts since his landslide run-off victory over establishment Democrat and incumbent D.A. Margaret Moore in the 2020 primary.

Fox News and high-profile Republicans have positioned Garza as a poster boy for the “soft on crime” prosecutors they almost always refer to as “Soros-backed” – an antisemitic dog whistle that connects progressive prosecutors to liberal billionaire and Holocaust survivor George Soros, whose foundation funds progressive causes throughout the nation.

In reality, one of Garza’s aims – and one of the aims of the progressive prosecutor movement more broadly – is to counteract the mass incarceration that exploded in America following enactment of tough-on-crime policies throughout the Eighties and Nineties. But Garza, like other leaders in the progressive prosecutor movement, insists that decarceration efforts have not meant he is soft on violent crime. At the press conference, he shared a range of statistics on prosecutorial successes within his office: increases in the conviction rate for violent offenses, including family violence assault, and improvements to the way the D.A.’s office responds to victims of sexual assault – which addressed failures in Moore’s administration that dogged the final years of her tenure and played a prominent role in her defeat.

The double symbolism of Garza hosting his re-election announcement at the Texas AFL-CIO headquarters soon became apparent. First, of course, it emphasized his roots as a labor leader; before winning election to the D.A.’s office, Garza served as Executive Director of Workers Defense Project, Texas’ preeminent immigrant and low-wage worker advocacy organization. But, the proximity of the announcement site to the Texas Capitol – whose Republican lawmakers represent the greatest threat to Garza’s progressive transformation of the D.A.’s office – could not be escaped.

“Earlier this year, statewide leadership gathered across the street,” Garza said, gesturing toward the pink dome, located about a block away, “and we became one of their favorite political targets. They like to target our community and office, because it’s so much easier to play politics with our public safety than it is to find real solutions.” Texas Republicans landed a blow on their new favorite leftist enemy (now that Greg Casar is busy in D.C.) by passing into law House Bill 17, known as the “rogue prosecutors bill” because it was designed to disempower Texas D.A.s, who have historically enjoyed broad discretion to prosecute or drop cases as they see fit. The full effect of the law is still unknown, but its existence will loom as a specter over the rest of Garza’s term and his next one, should he win re-election.

Garza has continued to irritate right-wingers by making good on his campaign promise to prioritize community-based solutions to violence prevention rather than rely solely on punishment via the court system. That has included partnering with the Austin Police Department, whose leaders have a fraught relationship, on gun violence prevention programs.

To the ire of his critics, he has also made good on a campaign commitment to bring before a grand jury every law enforcement officer accused of causing death or serious bodily injury while on duty – a commitment that has resulted in more than two dozen Austin police officers falling under criminal indictments for on-duty use of force, including some officers being charged with murder, a level of accountability that was unimaginable before Garza’s election.

Garza’s commitment to law enforcement accountability (what his opponents – including attorneys defending office clients – characterize as “political prosecutions”) has been the driving force behind resistance to his administration. That resistance is almost certain to manifest in the form of a candidate challenging Garza from the right in the 2024 Democratic primary – with support from the groups, like the Austin Police Association, that have opposed Garza since he was just a candidate. Some well-known names from Travis County’s courthouse establishment have been floated as potential challengers, but thus far, no one has stepped forward.

Despite that opposition, Garza told the array of TV cameras assembled before him, he would continue the fight to transform Travis County’s justice system. “Sometimes it feels impossible to make progress,” the D.A. said. “But I have seen the power that regular people have to change their community. I have seen the power of the people behind me and that the change we seek is happening all around us. But only if we are willing to fight for it.”

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at


Sign up to receive the latest local, national & international Criminal Justice News in your inbox, everyday.

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

Sign up today to receive the latest local, national & international Criminal Justice News in your inbox, everyday.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

This post was originally published on this site be sure to check out more of their content.