The Working Families Party will endorse José Garza today for district attorney in Travis County, Texas.
Garza, who is running for the Democratic nomination in the race, is co-executive director of the Workers Defense Project, a labor rights organization in Austin. He has pledged to end money bail, stop prosecuting all nonviolent drug offenses, and adopt a no-call list for prosecutions that involve police officers with credibility issues. Garza’s platform also calls for expanding restorative justice and pretrial diversion programs.
“Our criminal justice system weighs most heavily against working class people and people of color,” he said in a phone interview with The Appeal. “This endorsement is so important because it will be part of what signals to the broader community here that we are building a criminal justice system that centers working class people and lifts them up, not one that locks them up.”
Jorge Contreras, state director of Texas Working Families Party, said in a statement that “Jose will continue his history of fighting—and winning—for Black and brown working people, and will use the power of his office to build racial, social, and economic justice for all.”
Garza, a former federal public defender and former senior policy official in the U.S. Department of Labor during the Obama administration, is challenging incumbent Travis County DA Margaret Moore. She recently defended the county’s bail practices, even though more than 70 percent of people serving time in the Travis County jail system have not been convicted of a crime, according to a November report of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. As of Dec. 5, the jail system, which has an average daily population of 2,221, was 66 percent white and 33 percent Black, a disproportionate incarceration rate considering Black people were an estimated 9 percent of the Travis County population in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Margarent Moore could end the cash bail system right now,” Garza told The Appeal. “There’s a real disconnect between her and where the overwhelming majority of people living in Travis County are, and what they’re seeing and experiencing every single day.”
Moore has also come under fire for her handling of sex crimes, after a group of survivors claimed in 2018 that her office unfairly declined to prosecute their cases. Garza said Moore’s office “has lost the trust of survivors of sexual assault.”
Moore, who did not respond to a request for comment, also faces a challenge from Erin Martinson, who previously worked as a prosecutor in family court while at the Travis County Attorney’s Office, an office that prosecutes misdemeanor offenses. Martinson is currently a managing attorney at Texas Legal Services Center, where she works with crime victims, and has pledged as DA to provide better support for survivors of sexual violence and train assistant DAs who work on their cases.
Garza is the first DA candidate in the 2020 elections to win the party’s official backing. In October, The Appeal reported that the party hired former Queens County DA hopeful Tiffany Cabán as national political organizer to recruit reform-minded candidates—those with decarceral platforms similar to recently elected prosecutors in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, and elsewhere—for upcoming DA and sheriff elections nationwide.
Cabán, a former public defender in New York City, told The Appeal she has been looking for candidates who demonstrate “a commitment to decarceration and getting to the root causes of harm and crime.”
“What stands out about José is the fact that he’s a former federal public defender,” she said. “He shows a true commitment to divesting from our punitive system […] and investing in community supports and services to make sure that people aren’t continuing to touch the system.”
The Democratic primary for Travis County district attorney is set for March 3.