Election 2006: Local Results

Democrats score a shutout in Travis and Hays

HD 47: Turning Travis Blue

It took until nearly midnight, but with all 46 precincts finally reported by the Travis Co. clerk, Democrat Valinda Bolton beat out Bill Welch in state House District 47, at one stroke replacing retiring incumbent GOP Rep. Terry Keel and turning the Travis Co. House delegation Democratic solid blue. "People are so hungry for change," Bolton told the Chronicle a few hours earlier at the Democratic Party election celebration at the Stephen F. Austin hotel. Reached again by phone just after the final returns were released at about 11:30pm, Bolton said, "I'm excited, I'm enthusiastic, and I'm just beginning to realize that a whole new phase of my life is about to begin."

Bolton credited her message of "bringing a positive change" for her victory and her emphasis on the importance of public education. But she immediately added, referring to the national electoral shift to the Democrats, "I'm also aware that a current of change is in the air that's way larger than this district."

By the numbers, Bolton entered the day with an early-vote lead of 50.0% to Welch's 46.9%; she stayed steadily ahead and by evening's end had increased that percentage slightly. But her margin had lengthened because Welch's percentage actually dropped to 45.55% – the difference being the 2,263 votes garnered by Libertarian candidate Yvonne Schick, who ended the night with 4.22% of the overall vote. Bolton acknowledged that the Libertarian vote likely helped her because "the Libertarian votes do tend to come from disaffected Republicans or from people who would otherwise not vote at all."

Earlier in the day, Welch campaign manager Ryan Bohls told the Chronicle that while he was optimistic about the "broad-based support" Welch had received across the district, he would not venture a prediction. Late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning, the Welch campaign did not return calls requesting comment on election outcome.

The HD 47 campaign turned angry in the last days, as Bolton charged that the state GOP and San Antonio tycoon James Leininger were pouring cash into the Welch campaign – which denied that Leininger, who has fiercely promoted private-school vouchers, was funding their effort. But last week, Bolton supporters from teachers' organizations noted that shortly after Leininger gave a total of $493,000 to House Speaker Tom Craddick's Stars Over Texas PAC and Texans for Lawsuit Reform, those two PACs donated $505,000 to the Welch campaign. In all, Welch got more than $675,000 during the last month of the campaign, including large donations from Houston GOP deep-pocket Bob Perry and the Texas Association of Realtors. In the end, the late stealth funding still wasn't enough to put Welch over the top. "I really feel people want to restore balance in the Legislature," said Bolton. "They are tired of one-party rule, and they are ready for a return to bipartisanship." – Michael King

LIBRARIES (l-r): Al Simmons, Foundation board member; 
Amalia Rodriguez-Mendoza, Advisory board member; 
Eric Behrens, Foundation board president; and Patricia 
Fraga, marketing director celebrate the Prop. 6 victory.
LIBRARIES (l-r): Al Simmons, Foundation board member; Amalia Rodriguez-Mendoza, Advisory board member; Eric Behrens, Foundation board president; and Patricia Fraga, marketing director celebrate the Prop. 6 victory. (Photo By Roxanne Jo Mitchell)

A Bigger Blue Dot?

That blue island in the sea of red that is Travis County added some land last night, as the neighboring Hays County government made a dramatic flip from R to D. All three Republican incumbents on the Commissioners Court were swept from office – including Hays County Judge Jim Powers, who was first elected in 1998 – completely reversing the court makeup from 4-1 GOP to 4-1 Dem. There's still room for Republicans in Hays, though – they won Precinct 5 constable, Precinct 4 justice of the peace, 428th District judge, and county clerk, although the latter two were by razor-thin margins, 1.2% and 0.6%, respectively. Dems took county court-at-law and criminal district attorney, the latter by just 99 votes. It's definitely a divided county – the biggest percentage of the vote by any of those victors was 54.9. – Lee Nichols

Strama Strolls

Although it's hard to imagine state District 50 state rep. winner Mark Strama ever being downbeat, he seemed extra jovial early Wednesday night – as he very well should have been. The Democrat nabbed 61% of the early vote – a lead he widened throughout the night. It was a considerably easier victory than his first run at the seat in 2004, when he unseated Republican incumbent Jack Stick by a mere 569 votes – or 0.9% – and took office with less than a majority.

"We're real happy with the early results," said Strama, between a constant frenzy of verbal exchanges, pats on the back, and handshakes, often with enthusiastic campaign volunteers in their 20s, at Waterloo Ice House on Burnet Road, party central for the crew before heading Downtown to Dem. HQ at the Stephen F. Austin hotel.

Strama's mom, Brenda, was among the people who came up to talk with him. "You know what? I could have predicted this night when he was 3," she said, noting that her boy loves people and policy. Dad, Tom Strama, didn't recall holding similar early expectations for Mark, however. "I thought he was going to be the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys" at age 3, said the elder Strama.

Pflugerville resident Helen Mary Marek and sister Carrie Vanston, a Lake Travis-area resident, were among the supporters at Waterloo. Both of their cars sport Strama bumper stickers, even though neither of them live in District 50, which encompasses parts of Pflugerville and North Austin. "I felt like he was sort of the future of the Dems," said Marek, after she first met Strama at a community meeting in Pflugerville.

Not long after this, some catty humor was inserted into the night's interaction frenzy when a supporter came up to Strama and asked where his mom was. Strama said he didn't know and that she and his dad might have left the party. The supporter promptly replied, "Well, at least she didn't get assaulted," referring to a scuffle earlier that day at a Hays Co. polling place between state Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, and Republican Rick Green, whom Rose beat (no pun intended) four years ago.

Al Belmarez, who teaches U.S. Government as well as Texas Government and Politics at ACC, sat at a table and chatted with Strama here and there when he had the chance. "He doesn't talk about partisan politics. … He talks about needs," said Belmarez, adding that Strama always comes and chats with his classes when he asks him to. "He's the kind of guy who goes out there and wants to know what the people are thinking," Balmarez said. – Cheryl Smith

AFFORDABLE HOUSING (l-r): Mitch Weynard, campaign 
member; Frank Fernandez, chair, Affordable Housing; 
Niki Jackson, campaign member; and Glenn Gadbois, 
affordable housing supporter celebrate the Prop. 5 
AFFORDABLE HOUSING (l-r): Mitch Weynard, campaign member; Frank Fernandez, chair, Affordable Housing; Niki Jackson, campaign member; and Glenn Gadbois, affordable housing supporter celebrate the Prop. 5 victory. (Photo By Roxanne Jo Mitchell)

War of the Roses (and Greens)

A midday scuffle at a polling site in Dripping Springs between Democratic District 45 Rep. Patrick Rose and the man he defeated four years ago, Republican Rick Green, was Election Day fodder for the media. The Hays Co. Sheriff's Department was called to the scene of the scuffle, Sunset Canyon Baptist Church, just before noon on Election Day. Rose says that Green shoved, then hit, him. Witnesses say the two had to be separated. Rose downplayed the incident, calling it unfortunate. The injuries weren't major for either one of the men, but Green was charged with assault with bodily injury, a class A misdemeanor. Some blamed the scuffle on Green's unhappiness over Rose's recent campaign fliers, which compared his challenger Jim Neuhaus to Green. The tight Rose-Green race four years ago was highly contentious, with Rose winning by only 335 votes. After the incident, Rose went back to campaigning and went on to beat Neuhaus, 60%-36%. – Kimberly Reeves

Antici ... ... ... pation!

Woe betide the judicial candidates for the 3rd Court of Appeals; not only are they faced with a campaign that in the words of Place 2 Dem candidate Jim Coronado amounts to a "civics lesson at every stop" – a months-long educational effort to explain what the 3rd Court does – but they're also usually left watching election results long after other candidates have declared victory, waiting on returns from the 24 Central and West Texas counties the court represents (including Travis) to find out who among them will take the bench in January. Such is the life of a candidate for the Austin-based intermediate appellate state court that not only considers appeals of criminal and civil cases but also considers conflicts arising from state agencies – meaning that the six judges on this court actually have statewide jurisdiction.

Talk about a job with all the responsibility and none of the fun – at least as far as E-night whoopin' it up is concerned. These are close races where a mere percentage point makes all the difference, and well after 3am Wednesday morning, two of the four seats up for election this year were still too close to call. These races are "the closest thing I've seen to a swing district that I've seen in a long time," says political consultant Ray Sullivan, who worked with GOP incumbent Judge Bob Pemberton in his bid to keep the Place 6 seat in a challenge by Democratic Austin attorney Bree Buchanan.

In short, the 3rd Court candidates were playing it fairly cool on E-night, warding off too much premature revelry. Democrat Diane Henson, who eventually won the Place 3 seat being vacated by retiring Dem Judge Bea Ann Smith, knows well the E-night nail-biting that accompanies a 3rd Court race: In 2004 she narrowly lost to Pemberton, a Perry appointee, who kept his seat with a mere 52% of the vote.

And that's the way it goes – 51% here, 49% there – and Tuesday was no different in the races for the four appellate court seats up for election. In the end, Henson edged out Republican Will Wilson, but GOP incumbents Pemberton, David Puryear, and Alan Waldrop held onto the other three seats, despite all four Dems racking up big margins in Travis Co. The razor-thin margins, which can bob up and down for hours, are reason enough for these candidates to find a place to hunker down and wait things out, away from the rowdy crowd whose results were announced in time for the 10pm news. "They don't have a clue what we go through," Henson lamented. – Jordan Smith

Nervous Nelly Baird

Charlie Baird
Charlie Baird (Photo By John Anderson)
E-night saw a slam-dunk victory for Democratic judicial candidate Charlie Baird in the race to fill retiring Travis Co. Judge Jon Wisser's seat on the county's 299th court bench – at least that's how most folks, including Baird's many supporters, saw the race. Indeed, with only the early voting totals in, Baird had numbers over 62% – a hefty lead over frosh attorney Madeleine Connor, the GOP's token candidate, that Baird carried easily throughout the night. Nonetheless, at his party at Cuba Libre in the Warehouse District, Baird was sweatin' it: The 299th results weren't on TV, and, for whatever reason, until at least 9pm, he was having problems accessing election results online. Sure, it's pretty funny – especially when you consider that opponent Connor hasn't even tried a single criminal case during her brief career. Still, Baird isn't the kind of guy to take such matters lightly: "When you take these races for granted, that's when you lose," he said.

Still, Baird's election was, thankfully, inevitable – a circumstance he finally seemed to accept after much cajoling and reassurance by E-night partying supporters. "Maybe I can start drinking again now," he said. J.S.

Seven-Stepping the Night Away

Dave Shaw, a board leader for the Austin Public Library Foundation and longtime pro-library activist, summed up the general air of elation at the Election Night party thrown by 7 Steps for a Better Austin. The early numbers, indicating that all seven propositions in the bond election were winning, fostered an upbeat mood on the balloon-bedecked patio at Joe's Bar & Grill off West Sixth. Certainly the "I'm for 4" and affordable-housing folks were all smiles. But it was the long-haul library proponents – some of whom had worked doggedly for eight or more years to advocate for a new main Austin Public Library – who appeared most relieved that the voters had seen things their way.

The mood was cheerful and relaxed in the civic-minded crowd, which included the mayor, former council members, and city of Austin board and commission members. The well-scrubbed, jeans-clad, largely 30- to 45-year-old set erupted in cheers at CNN reports that the Democrats were taking the House. For most at the party, the evening was a culmination of months or years of hard work. But even as they reveled in the bonds' victory, proponents of the library, affordable housing, and the arts were already talking about the feasibility studies and capital campaigns ahead.

"Winning above 60% sets the stage to go forward with our capital campaign," said Shaw, explaining that the Library Foundation hoped to raise additional private donations to supplement the $90 million from the bonds. "We've been saying all along, if the city makes it good, the foundation can raise the additional funds to make it great. Now we can go out confidently to the community to raise additional funds."

Guests helped themselves to a tasty spread, bought drinks, and cracked open the infamous "political action cookies" whose fortunes urged votes for Proposition 4 and whose illegality had made the Washington Post. "We're keeping it weird!" chuckled Zach fundraiser Carol Adams. Singer/guitarist Woode Wood – a familiar fixture on the Town Lake trail at Lou Neff Point – strummed away in the background.

Mayor Will Wynn, treasurer of the Unity PAC that urged "yes" votes on all seven propositions, was in the highest of spirits: "This feels so good! It was fun to do!" he said.

A cheery Jeb Boyt, who sits on the city's Planning Commission and Downtown Com­mis­sion, named a specific relief common to the community-minded crowd: "I'm looking forward to not having my standard Wednesday meeting on the bonds!" Referencing the drawn-out bond election process – originally the bonds were to go to voters in May – Boyt said, "I hope we never spend two years on a bond election again. I'm tired!"

Wynn later put a more positive spin on it: "This was such a judicious two-year process to even come up with the bond package. It was so balanced, and I think that really resonated with voters."

In fine partying form were the über-social Great ScottsZachary Scott Theatre's booster club – riding high on the news that Proposition 4 appeared to be passing. Board member and Great Scott Richard Craycroft extolled the new 500-seat theatre and professional-quality support spaces that bond monies would help buy (private matching funds now must be raised). "I'm excited that Zach won't have to build sets in the parking lot anymore," he said.

As for why their theatre deserved city support more than other struggling theatres around town, the Great Scotts chimed in to explain the higher operating costs for a professional theatre that pays Equity rates to more actors and purchases expensive rights to stage top-tier Broadway scripts. Also cited were all of the community outreach, service, and education that Zach provides – especially for children – around Austin.

Toward midnight, as the partying continued, library booster Shaw had no problem flowing with his emotions. Basking in the meaningfulness of it all, he proclaimed: "This is such a vote in favor of literacy. Of all the things that matter in a Democratic society, a free public library is nothing less than the bedrock of Democracy as we know it! This city came through in a big way!" – Katherine Gregor

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local elections, Hays County, Jim Powers, 3rd Court of Appeals, election, Charlie Baird, Madeleine Connor, Valinda Bolton, Bill Welch, Austin city bonds, Mark Strama, Jeff Fleece, Rose, Green, Neuhaus

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