The Austin Chronicle

Point Austin: Watching the Races

Yes, it’s early – but Austin voters can start boning up now

By Michael King, August 16, 2019, News

In the third year of the Trump Regime, it has become increasingly painful to think about politics – and almost impossible to think about anything else.

That's true, at least, for those of us who do this sort of thing for a living. For most normal people – if there are any such left in this beleaguered country – August is mostly too darn hot to think about much at all, let alone elections scheduled for March and November of 2020. Nevertheless, local and state primary campaigns have indeed begun heating up, and by Labor Day (or the Longhorns' first kickoff), even somnolent Chronicle readers will begin awakening to the whiff of campaigns on the go. To get a jump on those late adopters, here's a snapshot of the most currently interesting battles, especially involving Central Texas.

At the top of the state ballot, the U.S. Senate race – to challenge three-term Republican incumbent John Cornyn – took an interesting turn this week, as local activist favorite Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez added her name to the growing numbers filed for the Democratic nomination (see "Workers Defense and Jolt Founder Announces Candidacy for Senate," Aug. 12). She faces formidable competition: MJ Hegar (late of TX-31) has been running for a while; Royce West, Chris Bell, and Amanda Edwards can point to experience as elected officials; Sema Hernandez, who ran in the 2018 primary won by Beto O'Rourke, has a similar activist background (and there are a few others).

Hegar has a running start, and Bell arguably the longest public record, but through her building of Workers Defense and Jolt, Tzintzún Ramirez arrives with a statewide constituency – raising $200,000 (twice her initial goal) in one day suggests people are listening. Cornyn will undoubtedly have plenty of funding, but whoever prevails in the multi-candidate Dem primary should enter the general campaign with considerable momentum.

Congress & the D.A.

The Texas congressional campaigns are sparking national interest, including speculation that the delegation might flip blue and erase its current 23-13 GOP majority. That remains a long shot, but Democrats have been encouraged by a recent string of high-profile Republican retirements: Pete Olson (TX-22, Sugar Land), Will Hurd (TX-23, San Antonio to El Paso), Kenny Marchant (TX-24, Coppell), and Mike Conaway (TX-11, Midland). The first three represent districts already targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; three more of those – TX-10, -21, and -31 – are among the six districts that include parts of the city of Austin, each already featuring Democratic primary battles that should boost voter turnout.

The TX-10 primary includes three strong candidates who would pose real challenges to GOP incumbent Mike McCaul: Mike Siegel (who came within a surprising four points in 2018), Pritesh Gandhi, and Shannon Hutcheson. Wendy Davis recently entered the TX-21 Dem primary (against Jennie Lou Leeder), where her resources and national brand represent a formidable concern for GOP flash point Chip Roy. The TX-31 primary list is currently led by Dr. Christine Eady Mann (who's recently volunteered on the border and reported on the crisis), and that field to challenge incumbent John Carter may not be complete. (Speculation buzzes that McCaul and Carter might also choose retirement over another term in the minority.)

On the local downballot, the primary campaign of most emergent interest is for district attorney, where incumbent Margaret Moore faces two assertive challengers in José Garza (Workers Defense Project) and Erin Martinson (Texas Legal Services Center). Both claim that Moore has been too slow in prioritizing criminal justice reform and too lax in sexual assault prosecutions – broad issues to be aired out in the coming months. (Note: the open-seat county attorney race also remains officially undetermined ...)

The Essential Target

Among other Central Texas races, the primary for Pct. 3 on the Travis County Commissioners Court (Valinda Bol­ton, Ann Howard, Sheri Soltes) should highlight Democratic issues in a recently flippable southwest territory – with GOP incumbent Gerald Daugherty apparently bowing out, it currently looks like the March primary may decide the matter. Also to the southwest, the Texas House District 45 seat, held by energetic freshman Dem Erin Zwiener, has been targeted by the state GOP – among their primary candidates is Carrie Isaac, spouse of Jason, who held the seat from 2011 to 2019.

For early political birds, that doesn't exhaust the Texas or Central Texas priority list – more in due course – but it also bears returning to where we began. If the Democrats fail to choose a strong presidential challenger, or fail to overcome national voter suppression, the top-to-bottom lesser races will cease to have much meaning. Ejecting or defeating Trump remains the national priority – without that victory, little else in U.S. politics will much matter.

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