The Chronicle editorial board offers the following endorsements to registered Democrats (and for lieutenant governor if you're crossing over to Republican so you can vote against Dan Patrick) in advance of early voting (Feb. 20 through March 2) and election day, Tuesday, March 6. The Chronicle only issues endorsements for contested races, so if you're not seeing an endorsement for a position, that's because a candidate is running uncontested. We urge readers to be thorough with their ballots, and cast a vote in every race.
Governor: Lupe Valdez
We're not impressed with either major Democratic candidate and call on the Texas Democratic Party to get their shit together. But meanwhile, we encourage you to support Lupe Valdez over Andrew White. The former Dallas County sheriff is the first Latina and openly queer woman to be elected to that post in Texas, a meaningful feat. She's unapologetically progressive, vocal against anti-LGBTQ discrimination, Gov. Greg Abbott's immigration demands, and her migrant farming roots granted her the empathy needed to fight for the working and middle classes. Valdez has actual public officeholder experience – a clear edge over her main opponent. We wish Valdez would refine and polish her policy proposals, better study the mechanics of state politics, and offer greater detail and continuity about her vision. But even with those shortcomings, Valdez could, at the very least, mobilize Latino voters and the state's progressive base, making her our choice over White. The Houston entrepreneur and son of late Gov. Mark White is a party-line centrist and moderate Democrat, personally pro-life (he swears he'll veto anti-choice legislation); a critic of "weak" borders; and donated to the Kentucky GOP in 2005. His business-friendly milquetoast centrism is the opposite direction Democrats in Texas should be moving.
Lieutenant Governor: Mike Collier
While we might interest moderate Republicans perusing this progressive publication to vote for Scott Milder – a local public school activist who's against the bathroom bill and called Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick a "jackass" (yes, really) – Democratic readers would be best served voting for Mike Collier, a former state party finance chair and retired Houston accountant. Collier's platform diverges in all the best ways from the current right-wing overload in the Texas Senate, from immigration to LGBTQ rights to women's health. On education, he hopes to adequately fund public schools by closing corporate tax loopholes that solely benefit large corporations, and will fight to make tuition affordable for the working class. He's supportive of labor unions, raising the minimum wage, and ensuring access to affordable health care. We endorse Collier's vision for the state.
U.S. Senate: Beto O'Rourke
We offer an enthusiastic and strong endorsement of U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke for Senate. The energetic, passionate O'Rourke's brand of campaigning feels inclusive and personal and, dare we say, earnest. And his calls for universal health care; support for the DREAM Act; closure of for-profit prisons; increases in infrastructure spending; curbing corporate money in politics; expanding family planning services; and marijuana legalization are framed not just as platform points, but a moral and ethical choice – one we're genuinely eager to make. O'Rourke seems to be the standard by which we hope politicians measure themselves moving forward.
Railroad Commissioner: Roman McAllen
Former Brownsville city planner McAllen's calls for anti-cronyism, greater public transparency and accountability, and water protection measures make him the right choice to head the state's oil and gas regulatory agency.
Comptroller: Joi Chevalier
We appreciate Tim Mahoney's longtime local Democratic activism, but small-business owner Joi Chevalier is better qualified to be the state's lead tax collector and accountant.
Land Commissioner: Miguel Suazo
Austin oil and gas attorney and former U.S. Senate aide Miguel Suazo is best suited to manage state-owned land and mineral rights properties.
CD 10: Mike Siegel
Like the other four Travis County congressional districts, CD 10 is heavily gerrymandered, meaning that Travis voters will likely dominate the Democratic primary – and yet be reduced to much weaker influence in the November general election. Although there are seven candidates on the Democratic ballot, only five are actively campaigning, and of those, Austin assistant city attorney Mike Siegel is the only one (with the exception of Katy attorney Tami Walker) with sufficient professional experience and organizational support to become a substantial challenger to deep-pocketed GOP incumbent Michael McCaul. In addition to his legal work defending Austin from state overreach (e.g., Senate Bill 4) and on behalf of tenants' rights, Siegel has been a teacher and a union rep (providing an organizational base). A strong blue turnout now and in the fall for Siegel could make the difference.
CD 17: Rick Kennedy
That CD 17 (anchored in Waco and College Station) has not drawn this year's flurry of Democratic candidates suggests something about the GOP stranglehold enjoyed by incumbent Bill Flores. Of the two political neophytes filed in the Dem primary, both progressive on the relevant issues, we narrowly endorse software engineer Kennedy (over graduate student Dale Mantey) as more likely to have sufficient professional experience and potential resources to mount a practical November campaign. If the Texas blue wave indeed eventuates, it just might lift all boats.
CD 25: Chris Perri
Democratic voters face a tough choice in this district currently held by Republican incumbent Roger Williams. Five strong candidates is a good problem to have – but the voting booth will allow for just one selection, based on qualifications, progressive policies, even perceived electability. Facing the same questions, we narrowly endorse Perri, largely on grounds of his legal and pro bono activism, and his apparent ability to create and engage organizational support for a campaign capable of an uphill climb toward the general election. We also thought very highly of attorney Julie Oliver and health care professional West Hansen. Anchored near Ft. Worth, CD 25 reaches southward into Travis and Hays counties: We urge voters in both counties to turn out March 6 and give full weight to their voices come November.
CD 31: Mary Jennings Hegar and Christine Eady Mann
Of the four candidates, Dr. Christine Eady Mann is running the most explicitly progressive campaign, and decorated veteran Mary Jennings "MJ" Hegar might be the most electable in this very conservative district.
CD 21: Derrick Crowe and Elliott McFadden
That we've opted for a dual endorsement in this race reflects the relative strength of several of the candidates, as well as the real possibility that this House seat – owned by retiring incumbent and science-denier Lamar Smith for more than 30 years – should actually be in play in November. Voters may prefer Crowe for his urgent focus on climate change and his Capitol Hill experience; others may respond to McFadden's lengthy record of local activism on health care and transportation (i.e., the B-cycle initiative), and affordable housing. We also acknowledge the considerable institutional Democratic support for Joseph Kopser, who argues that his combination of entrepreneurship and military experience makes him most likely to appeal to the many independent and crossover voters in a district drawn to elect a Republican. The candidate emerging from this strong primary field should be tested and ready.
Senate District 25: Steven Kling
We believe a scarecrow could do a better job at representing Texans than state Sen. Donna Campbell, but are thankful to have an impressive and formidable candidate in Steven Kling. The former Army reserve captain and Bronze Star recipient served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before returning home to help lead an IT consulting firm. Beyond his pro-choice and pro-LGBTQ views (in stark contrast to Campbell), Kling is an advocate for anti-corruption and campaign finance reform, acknowledging that the GOP has devised a "smoke screen of diversion" and "divide and conquer politics" which fail to represent the regular taxpayer. He understands both the delicate balance one must strike with Republicans and the need to be aspirational in a state like Texas.
House District 46: Chito Vela
Brazenly, Rep. Dawnna Dukes appears unfazed by the corruption scandal that plagued her time in office last year, and her poor Capitol attendance during the Legislative session. She also skipped our endorsement meeting, allowing her challengers to stress their attendance records and proclivity to "show up." Thankfully, District 46 primary candidates – specifically former Austin Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and immigration attorney Jose "Chito" Vela – didn't just tout this low benchmark, but offered quality policy proposals and a breadth of experience. Cole has served on City Council, championing affordable housing, pay equity, the revitalization of Waller Creek, and marriage equality (a first statewide), and her experience in leadership positions of government could make her a deft negotiator on the House floor. And while her progressive platform points – Medicaid expansion, LGBTQ rights, a living wage, and marijuana legalization with tax funds going toward education – in many ways mirrors her main contender's, we believe Vela is best suited to lead the district. The former Workers Defense Project board chair, Austin Planning Commissioner (however often unprepared he was), and Open Records Division assistant A.G. learned the Capitol's ins and outs while serving
as general counsel to former state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr. We're confident he knows the way the game is played. Further, Vela appears to deeply understand the Lege's growing extremism and vows to be a vocal fighter (or "brawler," as he put it) in defense against the zealous discrimination and right-wing culture wars. At the same time, he promises to work with Republicans and the business community to find common ground on mutual interests. We look forward to seeing Vela put up a much-needed fight under the Dome.
House District 47: Elaina Fowler
We are glad to see a slate of quality candidates running for District 47, a spot currently led by conservative Rep. Paul Workman. The choice wasn't easy considering the candidates' passions and backgrounds, but we believe Elaina Fowler is most qualified for the legislative role. She's a former chief of staff to state Rep. Helen Giddings and as a state director with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is now in charge of lobbying for retiree rights and secure pensions. While we applaud candidate Candace Aylor's mental health advocacy; Sheri Soltes' economic vision; and Vikki Goodwin's focus on public education, Fowler's experience with the Legislature best equips her with the institutional knowledge to maneuver the Capitol. Fowler also has a demonstrable record of working across party lines, having co-written a bill (among the handful she's written) with former right-wing firebrand Rep. Molly White. And while we're heartened to see most candidates offer a rebuke to Workman's hypocritical attempts to stifle Austin's democratically passed rules and ordinances, we believe Fowler will most successfully fight for local control.
Commissioners Court, Pct. 4: Margaret Gómez
We dearly wish Democratic voters in Precinct 4 had better choices. Gómez, persistently a passive and unimaginative official, seems content to rest on her decades of incumbency and her fiscal conservatism – while simultaneously complaining that the county budget doesn't provide sufficient resources for her southeast precinct (a perennial failing that she blames on her fellow commissioners). Unfortunately, challenger Susanna Woody, an AMD project manager and Del Valle ISD trustee, while expressing general support for progressive causes, appears utterly unprepared for the office – including never having attended a Court meeting. Neither seems particularly engaged in the details of policy matters, although Gómez is marginally better attuned – not high praise for a 23-year incumbent. Questioned on Central Health, on infrastructure, on the civil courthouse crisis, on city-county relations, both candidates respond with platitudes rather than any sense of the complexity of the issues facing Travis County. In a weak field of two, Gómez is the default choice.
Justice of the Peace, Pct. 3: Sylvia Holmes
Incumbent Susan Steeg has had a distinguished career as an activist attorney, counsel for the state Dept. of Health, and a decade as Justice of the Peace, where she's done good reform work. The less experienced Holmes has done dedicated legal work for those who find themselves in JP Court – students in legal trouble or in conflict with landlords. A testy campaign has included indirect feedback from Steeg's courtroom and staff that she's become punitive to her staff and inflexible to those who appear before her. We think either choice will result in a reasonably functional Pct. 3 court – but on balance, it's time for a change, and a breath of fresher judicial air, with Holmes.
Travis County Democratic Party: Dyana Limon-Mercado
For a race nearly marred by controversy, Travis County voters are ultimately given the choice between two excellent candidates with bona fide credentials in the fundraising space. We urge voters to vote for Dyana Limon-Mercado, whose connection to Austin's activist network and commitment to grassroots fundraising makes her the ideal candidate to truly reform the party. We respect attorney Anne Wynne, who seems both a sure bet as an executive and a progressive voice on local issues, but we believe Limon-Mercado will bring perennially underrepresented (and sorely needed) voices to a party that has been dominated by the same faces for too long.
459th District Court: Aurora Martinez Jones
The 459th is a new court, established to handle civil cases, the type all three candidates (Martinez Jones, Greg Hitt, and Maya Guerra Gamble) know quite well through professional experience. The latter two are attorneys who often work in family litigation and fraud cases; Martinez Jones is the only one with judicial experience, as an associate judge in the Travis County Civil Courts. Each candidate appears fair, progressive, and thoughtful. Martinez Jones is the one best fit to manage the new court from the beginning.
331st District Court: Chantal Eldridge
David Crain has been a judge in Travis County for 33 years, and for the past seven has presided over the 331st District Court, which handles felony cases. He carries an establishment opinion of how to be a judge, which at the district level to him means putting an unfettered focus on trials. He's unapologetic about not running specialty dockets, running counter to certain colleagues and certainly his challenger, an indigent defense attorney who sees diversion programs and pretrial services as being just as vital with felonies as they are with misdemeanors. Eldridge ran for the 450th District Court in 2016 and lost (we endorsed Brad Urrutia), but has returned a stronger candidate, with specific plans (including bringing the mental health docket Crain has handed off to his magistrate up to the felony level) that would place her among the busiest judges in the district. We don't work in the judges' chambers and can't say with certainty how much time it takes to oversee administration of a felony case from start to finish. But we're willing to give Eldridge a chance to prove she can do more.
County Court-at-Law No. 3: John Lipscombe
The county courts-at-law see misdemeanor cases, and often bear witness to plea bargains and creative terms of adjudication. John Lipscombe has prided himself on those during his seven-year tenure in CCL, particularly his specialty court on Wednesday nights, wherein low-level offenders meet with him sans attorney. Paul Quinzi, a defense attorney who cares deeply about expunctions and nondisclosures, has made that Wednesday docket a primary target of his campaign, but we were dismayed to learn he had never attended a session nor talked to a defendant who's been through one. Both candidates boast liberal ideals about first offenses and nonviolent offenders, and while we may prefer Quinzi's explicit progressivism to Lipscombe's prosecutorial background, presumptive accusations are not a good look for a prospective judge.
County Court-at-Law No. 5: Nancy Hohengarten
This race has never been about best serving the people who come through CCL 5 – and those suspicions were sealed when McKinley Melancon told us she's running because of a perceived personal slight by the incumbent and Mario Flores followed with similar sentiments. We recognize Hohengarten may not be the most stoic of CCL judges, and that her years as a prosecutor sometimes put her at odds with defense attorneys. But her efforts toward criminal justice reform are real, and her challengers, both criminal defense attorneys (Flores also works immigration cases), have done little to suggest that they'd be improvements over the status quo. Hohengarten's ideas are simply better, more refined, and tangible.
Looking for a condensed version of our endorsements to take to the polls? Find one here.