And They're Off!
Filings close; races begin
6pm Monday marked the first major landmark of the 2010 elections: Filing closed for the March 2 primaries. As Texas Democrats gathered that evening at the Four Seasons for the inaugural Johnson-Bentsen-Richards Dinner, it became clear that there were more than expected primary contests and general election challengers.
A pall overshadowed the event – the fast-spreading news of the unexpected death of longtime Democratic strategist Kelly Fero, a key player in John Sharp's U.S. Senate bid and Austin Rep. Donna Howard's re-election campaign (see below). Yet the real purpose of the evening was rabble-rousing, endorsement-seeking, and fundraising. It also served as an audible straw poll for how local activists and fundraisers feel about their candidates. At the end of the event, all the hopefuls in attendance were introduced: There was thunderous applause for gubernatorial candidate Bill White and agriculture commissioner hopeful Hank Gilbert, but much less for their respective rivals, hair care magnate Farouk Shami and Kinky Friedman. The applause meter delivered a split decision for two lieutenant governor hopefuls, former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle and former Texas AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson, who had filed that afternoon.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett warned the crowd that while November's ballot will have "far less pizzazz than a presidential election, these midterm elections have so much at stake." More importantly for individual candidates and their preparations, he warned that the GOP is "revved up." How revved up became clear in the completed filing lists. While the Travis County legislative delegation is unchallenged in the primaries, there will be GOP opposition for four House seats, with two contested GOP primaries.
What had broadly been expected to be a brutal one-on-one fight in Travis County's House District 47 Republican race became a triangle when corporate attorney Holly White Turner and developer Paul Workman were joined by tax attorney David Sewell (the winner will take on Dem incumbent Valinda Bolton). That wasn't the only late maneuvering. The expected GOP primary battle for the right to challenge Bolton's neighbor, HD 48 Rep. Donna Howard, fell through when documentarian Glenn Bass filed for a justice of the peace race, leaving ex-Denver Bronco and GOPAC-TX executive board member Dan Neil with a clear run for the nomination. The big shock was reserved for Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin: The chair of the House Technology, Economic Development & Workforce Committee spent much of the evening of the dinner waiting to see whether he had drawn a Republican challenger. Ultimately, he drew two last-minute filers, firefighter Ryan Lambert and Precinct 378 Chair Patrick McGuinness. Strama commented: "I think that's a sign of a lack of organization. The fact that it happened at the last minute and they couldn't agree on a single candidate suggests that they threw the net wide."
The Republicans' effort pales next to the Travis County Libertarian Party, which managed a candidate in every single local House race. For instance, while no Republican filed against Rep. Elliott Naishtat, the incumbent has drawn a pair of Libertarian challengers, Nathan Kleffman and Norman Horn. That's one of three contested Libertarian races in the county, but don't expect to see them on the March 2 ballot: They'll be sorting out their nominations at their county convention on March 13.
The Dems face their own downballot primary season, especially in four hotly contested judicial races that, for lack of Republican challengers, will effectively be settled March 2. Former Travis County prosecutor Mindy Montford made official her jump into the already crowded race for the 299th District Court. Similarly, Amy Clark Meachum confirmed the rumor that she was switching from the 353rd to the 201st to take on Appeals Court Justice Jan Patterson. That leaves Tim Sulak as the sole Democrat to take on Jeff Rose, Gov. Rick Perry's appointee to the 353rd after popular Democratic Judge Scott Ozmun died last year. The drama, of course, is that Patterson is opening up her position on the 3rd Court of Appeals. Now that seat gets its own GOP primary, with former Perry appointee to the 427th District Court Melissa Goodwin and trial attorney Scott Field battling to face Democrat Kurt Kuhn come November.
The most crowded local races are for the State Board of Education, with five Democrats and five Republicans jostling to fill the two seats that cover Travis County. On that list is failed 2009 Austin mayoral candidate Josiah Ingalls, but he's not the only former mayoral hopeful on the ballot. While Carole Keeton Strayhorn's threatened run as a Democrat for comptroller never materialized, businessman David Buttross will be hoping for better than his 3.8% mayoral turnout in his county commissioner challenge as a Republican to incumbent Democrat Sarah Eckhardt.
With the crucial redistricting fight scheduled for the next legislative session, much attention will focus on the unexpectedly high number of state Capitol contests. Even Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, faces a surprise general election challenge, with attorney and sometime-Libertarian Mary Lou Serafine filing as a Republican ("My aim is to stop Texas from becoming California," she announced in her press release). But with Republicans already facing a bruising gubernatorial primary among Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and secessionist tea-bagger Debra Medina, plus around 30 House primaries statewide – more than a dozen involving GOP incumbents – it will be interesting to see the party's shape come March 3.
The real test is whether the late-filing Republicans are serious, policy-driven candidates or driven simply by antipathy toward the administrations in Austin and Washington or just hoping to distract incumbents from campaigning in the energized statewide races (not that Democrats are without their own potential sacrificial lambs: Ted Ankrum is back for another shot at Republican U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, even after polling only 40% in his 2006 challenge). Strama warned that Democrats should be wary that the increased number of Republicans on the ballot could signify a midterm backlash similar to the Gingrich revolution. He noted, "In 1994, a bunch of people won and defeated incumbents in what were considered Democratic safe seats just because they had their name on the ballot." But he also warned Republicans not to get too confident. If the economy improves and health care reform is successful, he noted, "This could be a tsunami year in either direction."
D: Bill White, Farouk Shami, Star Locke, Felix Alvarado, Alma Ludivina Aguado, Bill Dear, Clement Glenn
R: Rick Perry*, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Debra Medina
L: Jeff Daiell, Steve Nichols, M.J. (Smitty) Smith, Edward Tidwell, Katherine Youngblood Glass
D: Ronnie Earle, Marc Katz, Linda Chavez-Thompson
R: David Dewhurst*
L: Scott Jameson, Todd Minor
D: Hank Gilbert, Kinky Friedman
R: Todd Staples*
D: Hector Uribe, Bill Burton
R: Jerry Patterson*
Congressional District 10
D: Ted Ankrum
R: Michael McCaul*, Joe Petronis, Rick Martin
L: Jeremiah "J.P." Perkins
D: Lainey Melnick
R: Lamar Smith*, Steven Schoppe
L: James Arthur Strohm
D: Lloyd Doggett*
R: Donna Campbell, George Morovich
L: Cory W. Bruner, Jim Stutsman
Senate District 14
D: Kirk Watson*
R: Mary Lou Serafine
L: Kent Phillips, Ron Bennett, Sid Atkinson Jr.
R: Jeff Wentworth*
L: Arthur Maxwell Thomas IV
House District 46
D: Dawnna Dukes*
L: George E. Emery
D: Valinda Bolton*
R: Holly White Turner, Paul Workman, David Sewell
L: Joe Edgar, Kris Bailey
D: Donna Howard*
R: Dan Neil
L: Ben Easton
D: Elliott Naishtat*
L: Nathan Kleffman, Norman Horn
D: Mark Strama*
R: Ryan Lambert, Patrick McGuinness
L: Emily Cowan
D: Eddie Rodriguez*
R: Marilyn Dolores Jackson
L: Arthur DiBianca
STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION
D: Robert Bohmfalk, Rebecca Bell-Metereau, Josiah Ingalls, Daniel Boone
R: Ken Mercer*, Tim Tuggey
D: Judy Jennings
R: Rebecca Osborne, Brian Russell, Marsha Farney
D: Sam Biscoe*
R: Mike McNamara
Commissioner, Precinct 2
D: Sarah Eckhardt*
R: David Buttross
L: Matthew Finkel
Commissioner, Precinct 4
D: Margaret Gomez*, Raul Alvarez, David Dreesen
JUDICIAL RACES (CONTESTED)
201st District Court
D: Jan Patterson, Amy Clark Meachum
299th District Court
D: Leonard Martinez, Mindy Montford, Eve Schatelowitz Alcantar, Karen Sage
331st District Court
D: David Crain, Keith Lauerman
County Court at Law 3
D: John Lipscombe, Olga Seelig
Contested primaries are in italics.