Campaigns Respond to Pandemic Crisis (Continued)

Candidates steadily re-adjust and reduce public campaigning

Mike Siegel
Mike Siegel (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Public officials and political campaigns continue to react to the coronavirus outbreak and the increasing restrictions on public meetings and other activities. A few more campaigns have made announcements about procedures going forward over the next few weeks.

On Friday, the Mike Siegel campaign (contesting for the TX-10 Congressional run-off, May 26) issued a statement announcing new campaign practices. “In response to the escalation of COVID-19,” it read in part, “we are implementing several precautions to protect our staff and the public at large.” The announcement said the Siegel campaign would be “suspending all door-to-door canvassing operations and transitioning to digital efforts … and converting our in-person events into remote events where individuals may access a live feed.”

The statement continued, “Our staff has paid sick leave to allow for self quarantine if they are feeling ill or have come into contact with any presumptive cases.”

In addition to the immediate response to the crisis, the campaign used the release to address the implications of the pandemic and to criticize the slow response of the federal government and TX-10 incumbent Rep. Michael McCaul. “Public safety is paramount and this lack of leadership at the federal level makes our campaign even more important. … When our healthcare system doesn’t support everyone, we are all at risk. …

“Michael McCaul was slow to act and downplayed the severity of this outbreak — and now we are in a pandemic. … I hope that Rep. McCaul will put the needs of his constituents over his political ambitions.”

Locally, incumbent Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore — in the May 26 run-off against challenger José Garza – told the Chronicle that her immediate focus is on protecting campaign staff from infection. “At the moment, the situation is fluid,” Moore said via email, “and [we] are making every accommodation to ensure the safety of our campaign staff. This includes working remotely and imposing a paid sick leave policy in case anyone becomes sick throughout this time.” A subsequent press release said the campaign would also be rescheduling upcoming fundraisers — a step made more urgent by recent official orders and recommendations urging no gatherings of 10 or more people.

Garza’s campaign sent a letter to local officials – D.A. Moore, Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, Sheriff Sally Hernandez, Mayor Steve Adler and others – requesting changes in law enforcement procedures aimed at further reducing the number of people arrested or jailed while the pandemic persists. In the letter and a subsequent Facebook Live post, Garza recommended ending arrests for misdemeanors and state jail felonies, and other steps aimed at reducing the jail population.

In the Facebook post, Garza also announced that the campaign would be ending all “in-person” campaigning. He the campaign would be organizing a “call-team” to contact voters by phone from their homes, maintaining a “texting team” already in place, hosting “virtual meetings,” and similar online efforts.

In brief phone conversations with the Chronicle, Moore and Escamilla responded that several of the mitigating steps that Garza is requesting have already been taking place, including recommendations to local law enforcement to reduce, where possible, arrests for minor offenses, as well as working with defense attorneys to settle pending cases more quickly. They noted as well the recent decision of the district judges to postpone all jury trials at least until May 8.

The responses follow similar or related actions taken earlier by campaigns. Last week the Pritesh Gandhi campaign (contending against Siegel for the Democratic nomination in TX-10) announced Gandhi would be “suspending all public events” to help reduce the risk of coronavirus contagion. In TX-17, Democratic candidate Rick Kennedy, announced he would be running “an entirely virtual campaign until further notice.”

In the few days since those announcements, the warnings from local, state, and federal officials have increasingly made it clear that all upcoming campaigns would be similarly constrained, until the crisis begins to fade — which might take weeks, if not months.

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Coronavirus, Primary Election 2020, March 2020 Primary, May 2020 Run-offs, Pritesh Gandhi, Mike Siegel, Rick Kennedy, Margaret Moore, José Garza

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