The Primary Colors: Part I

Races to watch amid the players to be named later

So many elections, so little time. Although both major parties are holding their 2006 primaries March 7 – and early voting begins Tuesday, Feb. 21 – the truth is many of the seats are uncontested or the races are perfunctory. Elsewhere in this issue, we cover the Democratic race for governor ("Who Are These Guys?"), and continue our coverage of the hotly contested special election in state House District 48 (p.22).

Below, beginning with contested statewide positions, we begin to consider other races of particular interest to Central Texans. Next week, we'll look further downballot, and also glance at those uncontested races that may produce more interparty interest in November. We'll be watching these and several others as the weeks go by. Michael King

Barbara Ann Radnofsky
Barbara Ann Radnofsky (Photo By Jana Birchum)

U.S. Senate: Climbing Mount Hutchison

The mountain that Houston lawyer Barbara Ann Radnofsky must climb can be defined by what her campaign considers good news: A recent press release trumpeted a January Zogby poll showing that the Democratic Senate hopeful now leads incumbent Kay Bailey Hutchison among "moderates," 45%-38%. Unfortunately, the hard news was buried in the last sentence: Overall, KBH still leads 57%-32% among likely voters. Setting aside the vexed question of name recognition, this is Texas, after all, and moderates haven't exactly determined the last few statewide elections.

Kay Bailey Hutchison
Kay Bailey Hutchison

The silver lining is that Radnofsky's poll numbers appear to be showing some improvement as she campaigns. Can she continue those gains? It appears that she will have seven more months to try – her only opponents in the Democratic primary are two low-profile perennials, Darrel Reece Hunter, an Amarillo man whose campaign Web site is (at best) inscrutable, and Gene Kelly, San Antonio's answer to Jennifer Gale, whose only claim to fame (and votes) remains his increasingly fading movie-marquee name.

Yet time may not be enough to take down the popular Hutchison. Usually a Dem can at least counterattack the GOP candidate on the abortion issue, but Hutchison has actually managed to balance her (extremely quiet) pro-choice stance against more traditional conservative positions, including unwavering loyalty to President Bush, and has established a mighty daunting target, routinely in demand to run for governor on the Anybody-but-Perry ticket.

That leaves Radnofsky with education issues (a hot topic this year but more at the Lege than in federal races), the environment (Hutchison's record is appalling, but a tree-hugger candidacy won't help much outside of Austin), and the war (Radnofsky's against it, but most Texans still appear willing to follow Bush over the cliff).

Perhaps Radnofsky can smear KBH with the stench of Tom DeLay, but Dems are only going to get so much mileage out of that. Ultimately, it's the corruption that has soured Texans on DeLay, not the conservatism. It's early yet, but Radnofsky has her work cut out for her. – Lee Nichols

 Ted Ankrum
Ted Ankrum

U.S. House District 10: Looking for a handhold

The Democrats are already doing better in the race for CD 10 than they were two years ago – this time, they'll actually have a candidate on the ballot. Whether that will make a real difference, however, remains doubtful.

Michael McCaul
Michael McCaul (Photo By John Anderson)

In 2004, the Tom DeLay-designed CD 10 was so overwhelmingly tilted toward the GOP that no Dem from North Austin to the suburbs of Houston even bothered to file in the primary. For the general election, Democrat and UT math Prof. Lorenzo Sadun made a valiant write-in effort to get the donkeys back in the game, but the result was brutal – he took only 6% of the vote, finishing even behind the (listed) Libertarian candidate. Austinite Michael McCaul, the least reactionary of a nine-way GOP primary field, joined Congress in a 79% landslide.

The prospect of unseating McCaul, even tainted with the stench of Tom DeLay, is dim. All four of the Dem hopefuls are political novices, and none has the kind of campaign machine needed for this race. The biggest fundraisers, as of Dec. 31, were retired NASA official Ted Ankrum of Cypress, who reported collecting $6,181, mostly from himself, followed by retired nurse Pat Mynatt of Spring with $5,982, again mostly from her own checkbook. Austinites Paul Foreman and 95-year-old Sid Smith have yet to file a finance report. In interviews, the first three admitted they would be relying more on face-to-face campaigning and word-of-mouth than advertising.

By contrast, McCaul has nearly half a million raised, with $151,165 still in the bank. And as he's son-in-law to Clear Channel CEO Lowry Mays' broadcasting fortune, one suspects landing advertising won't be an obstacle. Heck, the Dems could even run behind the Libertarian again: This time, the third party will be represented by Michael Badnarik, the Austinite who ran for president in 2004. Badnarik has raised $85,598, although he only has $8,090 on hand.

But it's all about the issues, right? If so, the Dems are roughly similar – hatred of Tom DeLay tops their list, followed by an inability to name one thing McCaul has done for their district (or in Smith's case, to even name McCaul). After that, Ankrum, Mynatt, and Foreman are all appalled by the war, and propose following Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha's proposal that we set a deadline for withdrawal from Iraq (the Chronicle has yet to interview Smith, but the war wasn't mentioned in an interview with the Statesman's John Kelso last month). At this point, their main differences appear to be age (Ankrum and Foreman are 63 and 62, respectively; Mynatt and Smith are older, Mynatt at 68, and Smith a grand old 95), and Ankrum is the only military vet of the bunch, having served in Vietnam and belonging to the Band of Brothers, the group of vets who defended John Kerry from the scurrilous Swift Boat Veterans attacks in 2004. – Lee Nichols

*Oops! The following correction ran in the February 17, 2006 issue: Due to mathematical incompetence, last week's article "The Primary Colors" incorrectly stated that Congressional District 10 candidates Ted Ankrum and Paul Foreman are in their "mid-40s." Actually, they were born in the mid-1940s – which, obviously, makes them 63 and 62, respectively. The Chronicle regrets the error.

SBOE: Unintelligent designers

The State Board of Education does many useful things, but the one that tends to get folks most riled is when they decide on curriculum standards and the factual accuracy of Texas textbooks. Lively affairs all, these debates center on where facts end and opinions – either lefty political correctness or righty free market-Bible-abstinence correctness – begin. Over the next four years, SBOE members will deal with math, language arts, and (hoo-boy!) biology. Whoever gets onto the SBOE will help shape whether "intelligent design" is deemed the kind of fact that belongs in science class.

If you're a rational voter, you may therefore be somewhat less than pleased at your choice of candidates, which include various tantalizing flavors of Republican with nary a Dem in the bunch. Let's start with District 5 (South Austin): On the right we have incumbent and lifelong educator Dan Montgomery, your run-of-the-mill voucher-lovin', tax-reducing, performance pay-supporting conservative. He likes spanking, too. (Okay, make that corporal punishment.) And, on the right we have Ken Mercer, who describes himself as a "real" Republican, although if he finds a way to inch any farther right than Montgomery we fear he may fall clear off the edge of the known world. Mercer has been endorsed by some prominent leaders of the religious right, as has Terri Leo, the Bible-thumpin' SBOE bombshell you love to hate. Less to the right we have Mark Loewe, who as a physicist may actually know a thing or two about scientific accuracy, but he's the long shot.

In District 10 (North Austin), the race to replace vacating member Cynthia Thornton includes Cynthia Dunbar, who has the backing of the religious right, and Tony Dale who does not, despite being plenty conservative. If you're voting in the GOP primary, pick your poison.

– Rachel Proctor May

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elections, Barbara Ann Radnofsky, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Michael McCaul, Lorenzo Sadun, Tom DeLay, Ted Ankrum, Pat Mynatt, Paul Foreman, Sid Smith, Michael Badnarik, Dan Montgomery, Cynthia Thornton, Tony Dale, Bill Welch, Alex Castano, Terry Dill, Rich Phillips, Dick Reynolds, Sal Costello

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