Election Ticker: Marching Toward 2020

Early voting in the primaries is only seven weeks away

Travis County Democratic Party Chair Dyana Limon-Mercado in February 2019 (photo by David Brendan Hall)

Start the Countdown

By the time you read this, Feb. 18 – the start of early voting for the March 3 primary – will be just about seven weeks away. Candidates will be running hard after New Year's, and especially the rookies will have only a few weeks to make a connection with voters. Not everyone is worried; Travis County Democratic Party Chair Dyana Limon-Mercado told the Ticker: "I think having the short runway will help motivate people – donors, activists, volunteers – to get involved, because it's urgent now. The more time we have, people always think, 'I'll get to it later.' But as soon as the new year is here, the races are here – and people better get to work, if they want to win." (Easy for her to say: She's unopposed for reelection.) Donation deadlines are even earlier: If you want to help your preferred candidates show a hefty balance, Dec. 31 is the fourth-quarter deadline.

Campaign Solidarity

Continuing a recent trend among Democratic campaigns, TX-10 congressional candidate Mike Siegel entered into collective bargaining negotiations with the United Professional Organizers on behalf of the campaign staff. In a statement, Siegel said he looked forward to "adopting a contract that embodies our shared commitment to a just society," and the UPO said it is "proud to once again represent staff on one of Texas' most vibrant, progressive, and pro-working class campaigns." (The UPO also represented the Siegel campaign staff in 2018.)

Enviro Stars

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club released its "legislative scorecard" last week, and several Central Texas legislators received perfect scores (of 11 in all) for their votes on a list of environmental bills and their advocacy on specific enviro issues: Reps Donna Howard (HD 48); Erin Zwiener (HD 45); Vikki Goodwin (HD 47); and Sen. Kirk Watson (SD 14). The Sierrans singled out Zwiener for special praise, lauding her "incredible efforts going to bat for them fighting against the anti-protestor bill, [House Bill] 3557," a measure targeted at activists against pipeline projects. "She also nearly single-handedly stopped a bad bill that would have limited cities' ability to preserve water quality." The report noted a wide range of results for both parties: The top Democratic score was 100%, the lowest 24%; top Republican score was 70.3%, the lowest 10%. The full report is available at www.sierraclub.org/texas.

Beto's People

Beto O'Rourke, finally free of the obligation to repeatedly decline to run for the U.S. Senate, announced the creation of a new political action committee – "Powered by People" PAC – to raise money and generate organizing to elect a Democratic majority in the Texas House, to elect more congressional Democrats, and to target the U.S. Senate and presidential races. Asked about forming a PAC when he had previously declined to accept PAC support, O'Rourke told the Texas Tribune, "There literally was no other legal [form of] organization that would allow us to raise money and spend money to help organize people in Texas." He considered organizing as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, but PACs are actually better regulated and more transparent. O'Rourke is currently focused on supporting Democrat Eliz Markowitz in the special election runoff in HD 28 (Fort Bend County).

Switch Hitters?

Crossing party lines to vote in primaries is not uncommon in Texas, where formal party registration is not required and some voters will vote in the "opposite" party primary for various strategic (and mostly futile) reasons. Candidate party-switching is less common, especially in the currently polarized era. But in Travis County, Democratic officeholding domination has led to apparent party switchers in the current Democratic primary campaign, notably Shiloh Newman in the Pct. 3 Travis County Commissioner race (although he doesn't appear to have a recent voting record at all, in either primary*[see clarification below]) and in the Pct. 2 Travis County Constable race, where Deke Pierce – who ran for the office as a Republican in 2016 – is again challenging incumbent Adan Ballesteros, this time for the Democratic nomination. In a fierce and lengthy exchange with Ballesteros consultant Mykle Tomlinson and other Dems on Tomlinson's Facebook page, Pierce defended himself, saying the Beto O'Rourke campaign persuaded him that he is really a Democrat: "I felt very at ease in the Democratic environment and even felt as though this was a path I needed to take." Possibly stranger is the fact that in his campaign bio, Pierce says he's currently employed in the Pct. 1 Williamson County Constable's Office.

Vexatiously Yours

The MVP Switch-Hitter Award goes to Madeleine Connor, filed as a candidate in the Democratic primary for 353rd state District Judge seat, currently held by Tim Sulak (since 2010). After running as a Republican in 2006 (losing to Charlie Baird in the 299th), then narrowly losing in the 2008 Democratic primary (for the 353rd) to the late Scott Ozmun, former assistant attorney general Connor not only ran as a "conservative" in the 2012 Republican primary for the Third Court of Appeals, she campaigned before hard-core state's rights groups (New Revolution Now and the Tea Party), touting her "long-term commitment to public service and conservative principles." (She lost to Scott Field.) More recently (in addition to a consistent voting record in GOP primaries), Connor has been involved in a years-long series of bitter lawsuits involving the members of the Lost Creek Municipal Utility District and Neighborhood Association (west of Hwy 360). The legal disputes began over the construction of sidewalks and then morphed into accusations of defamation and "intentional infliction of emotional distress." After Connor sued several of her neighbors, lost, and then lost her appeals, she was officially declared a "vexatious litigant" first by federal Judge Robert Pitman and then again (this year) by state District Judge Catherine Mauzy, whose order reports that she had pursued (at least) five failed lawsuits as a pro se litigant, and that she was forbidden to file any similar pro se litigation without permission from an administrative judge.

Sanchez v. Rodriguez

Among Central Texas House incumbents (currently all Democrats), only HD 51 Rep. Eddie Rodriguez has drawn a primary opponent: Texas State University graduate student Joshua Sanchez, who interned with former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio and former U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso (who was unseated in the 2012 primary by one Beto O'Rourke). Sanchez says he's campaigning for "Ethics First." Rodriguez, who's represented HD 51 since 2003, announces his campaign kickoff Jan. 14 at Joe's Bakery, 6-8pm.

*Clarification: In Feb. 2020, Shiloh Newman contacted us to say that while he has not previously voted in party primaries, he has done so in some general elections, but is generally "not political."

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