Welcome to the Primaries

Chapter 2: Congressional and State Legislative races

Lulu Flores
Lulu Flores

This year, Republicans hope to score an unprecedented hat trick: control of both the Texas House and Senate and the U.S. Congressional delegation. Thanks to open statehouse and congressional seats, Central Texans -- though mostly outside of Austin -- may be able to do their little part.

Texas House, District 51

The main statehouse event in Austin is the six-way Democratic primary battle to succeed retiring Rep. Glen Maxey in Dist. 51, covering Southeast Travis County. The winner takes it all, since there's no Republican opposition come November. During last year's GOP-dictated redistricting, this district got shorn of the high-turnout Birkenstock Belt boxes in South Central -- like Maxey's own -- that helped an openly gay Anglo carry a majority-Latino district for a decade. It's unlikely that either former Del Valle school board member Julia Diggs or career educator Bill Pool has the resources, or can find the votes, to duplicate Maxey's performance.
Eddie Rodriguez
Eddie Rodriguez

In a normal city in a normal year, that might leave former Travis County Commissioner Marcos De Leon and businessman and community leader Sam Guzman to battle for the seat. The two are high-profile figures in the opposing camps -- El Concilio vs. El Clique, if you will -- that have contested Eastside Hispanic political power for decades, and both can point to a long list of supporters and a long record of activism. But since this isn't a normal city or a normal year, De Leon and Guzman are instead, likely, fighting for spoiler honors, as they force the two leading contenders, Lulu Flores and Eddie Rodriguez, into a near-inevitable runoff.

Rodriguez is running to fill Maxey's shoes; as Maxey's longtime aide and as the former director of the Travis County Democratic Party, he has the appropriate résumé, and he has the backing of Maxey and the enviros and center-city Dems for whom Maxey is an idol. Lulu Flores, who lost to Maxey in 1992, is likewise a larger-than-the-district figure; her résumé as a policymaker and state official (at the State Bar and the Railroad Commission) is longer than that of the 31-year-old Rodriguez, and she likewise commands strong fealty among Dem activists in the district, particularly women.

Fidel Acevedo
Fidel Acevedo

Rodriguez's campaign literature talks about needing "a bulldog in the House," who, like Maxey, will use tenacity and parliamentary savvy to keep the worst Republican retrogressions from becoming law. Flores' pitch is a little more explicitly ethnic -- for example, talking about the need for more Latinas in the house. But most districts would be lucky to choose from one candidate, let alone two, of such quality. The runoff will be instructive.

Other House Races

No other Travis County incumbent -- Dem Reps. Ann Kitchen, Dawnna Dukes, and Elliott Naishtat, GOP Rep. Terry Keel, Dem Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos -- faces a primary challenge, and only Kitchen and Barrientos face notable opposition come November. That turns a lot of eyes toward the new District 50 -- centered on Pflugerville, majority Anglo, expected to lean Republican but with plenty of swing voters.

On the Dem side, Fidel "Ace" Acevedo brings years of loyal Dem activism, which though impressive, may be a liability in this district. His opponent, Jim Sylvester, is a Travis Co. sheriff's deputy who's led the local Family Violence Task Force and worked at the Capitol on various bills related to domestic violence and abuse -- a combination that may be appealing to Today's Texas Suburban Voter.

Jim Sylvester
Jim Sylvester

On the GOP side, the edge on name-ID alone may belong to former state Rep. Bob Richardson, although voters in this boom-belt district may know Richardson less as a former legislator than as a TV-ad personal injury attorney. His opponent Jerry Mikus -- a former GOP candidate for Congress -- claims the grass-roots edge, with the endorsement of 22 of 28 GOP precinct chairs in the district. Attorney and former prosecutor Jack Stick and business consultant Kris Gillespie (an African-American woman, still a rarity in Republican primaries) round out the ballot.

Elsewhere in the metro area, the newly drawn District 20, which relieves GOP Rep. Mike Krusee of half of Williamson County, features a four-way GOP primary and no Democrat come November. The establishment choice is assistant DA Dan Gattis, the square-jawed scion of one of the county's oldest families, but former Cedar Park official Dustin Little and Round Rock ISD trustee Kathi Seay may force a runoff. Georgetown engineer John Whitworth rounds out the pack.

On the south side, Republican Rick Green of Dripping Springs, the former representative of the old District 46, is now vying for the new District 45, which removed Travis County entirely from his constituency and comprises Hays, Blanco, and Caldwell counties. He has the dubious honor of drawing a serious primary challenger, Randy Robinson -- a testament to the performance that has made Green one of the least respected members of the House. Given the increasing concerns about growth and its downsides in Hays County, Robinson -- whose platform centers on maintaining quality of life -- may peel real support from the absurdly developer-friendly Green.

Texas Senate

In the upper house, not only Barrientos but GOP Sen. Steve Ogden and Dem Sen. Ken Armbrister get to sit out the primary. However, GOP Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, whose post-redistricting District 25 covers Hays County and South Austin all the way up into Travis Heights, faces a primary challenge from state Rep. John Shields, who got drawn out of his House district and decided to move up instead of out. Shields is running to the right of the moderate Wentworth, and the shift of Dist. 25's center of gravity north toward Austin may give Wentworth an edge.

Congressional Races

At the federal level, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, whose District 10 became even more invulnerably Democratic after redistricting, faces no GOP opponent in November and primary opposition only from the redoubtable Jennifer Gale -- who's already filed to run for Austin City Council in May. San Antonio Republican Rep. Lamar Smith and Waco Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards, whose districts now include much of Metro Austin, face no primary challenge, though there's a three-way race on the GOP side to challenge Edwards. Meanwhile, GOP (but really Libertarian) Rep. Ron Paul, who now represents much less of the Austin area, will be challenged in November by either San Marcos lawyer Corby Windham or retired state investigator Sergio Martinez.

The real action is in the new District 31, an open seat stretching from Cedar Park to Harris County by way of College Station. With both Steve Ogden and Mike Krusee having sat this race out, surprising many observers, the six-way GOP primary is really a three-way race between a homeboy and two carpetbaggers. The homeboy is John Carter, for 20 years a district judge in Williamson County, but likely to lag behind the 'baggers, both with family connections. Brad Barton, formerly of Dallas, is the son of Dallas-area U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, while businessman Peter Wareing, formerly of Houston, is the son-in-law of philanthropist Jack Blanton (as in UT's art museum). Both moved to Bryan to run in "the Aggie district," which the 32-year-old Barton -- an actual Aggie -- believes works to his benefit. Wareing ran hard and spent a lot of money but lost two years ago to John Culberson for the Houston congressional seat vacated by Bill Archer.

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