By Jaden Jarmel-Schneider
AUSTIN—After a contentious primary run-off election in the Austin District Attorney race, José Garza, a former public defender, defeated incumbent District Attorney Margaret Moore, surging to a 36-point lead and 68 percent of the vote, as reported by The Statesmen, Austin’s daily newspaper.
Garza will now have to defeat Republican opponent Martin Harry in the November general election, but in the predominantly Democratic county, his chances of serving as the next district attorney are high, according to local media pundits.
If he wins in November, Garza will join the growing cohort of progressive district attorneys nationwide, including San Francisco’s Chesa Boudin and Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner, both of whom also served as public defenders before their prosecutorial victories.
After a close count in the mail-in ballots—Garza had outpolled Moore 9,731 to 8,816—the election was called last Tuesday night when Garza, a Democratic Socialist, jumped out to a huge and quick lead.
Garza attributes his victory to the national movement calling for criminal justice reform following the police killing of George Floyd in May.
“The incredible energy we’ve seen is because people have been outraged for a long time,” he told the press after his overwhelming victory.
As an outpouring of support followed Garza’s win, activists hopeful for change publicly criticized the incumbent for her lax approach to police accountability and austere approach to drug-related crimes
As tensions around socioeconomic inequality continue to escalate, Garza is a beacon of hope for the police reform movement, signifying that organized masses can overcome the inertia of incumbency.
“Garza’s victory was won by the broad working class coalition that has cohered around demands to defund the police and radically transform our criminal justice system,” said supporters.
Much in line with this sentiment, Garza sees the possibility of harnessing the power of the District Attorney’s office to reshape a broken system.
“We have the power to fix this. And we have a right and a responsibility to demand that it be fixed,” he said
Although ambitious, Garza’s goals for his tenure—ending prosecutions of low-level drug offenses, bringing all police shooting cases in front of grand juries, and ending cash bail, to name a few—are just the newest developments in a long career dedicated to bringing justice to communities at the margins of civic and economic life.
Garza, who worked as an assistant public defender at the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) before becoming an assistant federal public defender in the Western District of Texas, also serves as the director of the Workers Defense Project, according to his website.
As Executive Director of the Workers Defense Project, Garza sought to end arrests of low-level crimes, advocated for paid sick leave, and fought to create a Public Defenders Office in Travis County.
Among his more controversial promises is a guarantee to never seek the death penalty, a promise that sharply contrasts with the culture of prosecutions during Moore’s term.
He also promised voters that his office would review all post-conviction death penalty cases for “forensic, evidentiary, or legal issues that should cause the conviction to be called into question.
“The death penalty is morally and ethically wrong, does not serve as a deterrent, has proven to be applied arbitrarily at best, and comes at tremendous financial costs,” he writes in the platform posted on his campaign site.
Leading up to the election, Garza gained national attention with endorsements from major players in Washington, including Bernie Sanders and other Democratic Socialists, local unions and criminal justice-oriented politicians, and even from singer John Legend, who tweeted “I hope to see @JosePGarza #reimaginejustice as the next DA of Travis County” to his 13.5 million followers.
Garza is optimistic about achieving his campaign goals, with this message written in large text at the top of his website: “José P. Garza has a unique view into how our broken criminal justice system works and how it impacts our communities. He believes we can fix it together.”
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