Point Austin: Top Down, Bottom Up
In a year of crucial elections, we need to be prepared
As I write, the Trump presidential impeachment trial proceeds in the U.S. Senate, a spectacle somewhere between momentous historical landmark and pre-scripted farce. The ultimate outcome still appears determined – it seems inconceivable that more than a few Republican senators, let alone half of the GOP caucus as required for removal, might defect – but the current wrangling over the prospect of actual trial witnesses is a decision requiring only a simple majority. Revelations of firsthand evidence – via former National Security Adviser John Bolton – of Trump's attempted Ukraine extortion has pressured a handful of swing senators to provide that majority.
For citizen onlookers, the trial should sound an alarm that the 2020 elections might well draw a line between returning to responsible government and granting license to this administration's definition of absolute power: that the president is above the law and neither Congress nor the judiciary provides any substantive check against executive tyranny. That is undoubtedly Trump's own opinion (he insists, "Article II [of the Constitution] says I have the right to do whatever I want"), and Republican loyalists have hitched their political wagons to that dangerously absurd doctrine. It's worth noting that Article II (Section 4) also creates the congressional power of impeachment, and whatever the trial outcome, the Would-Be Emperor remains only the third president ever subjected to that sanction.
His GOP defenders cry, "Leave it to November," and voters certainly need to look forward eagerly to their chance to render national judgment on Trump. Before that top-down vote can happen, Texas and Travis County voters need to focus on bottom-up matters – the upcoming March 3 party primaries.
In the first place, if you aren't registered to vote, do it now – you have until Monday, Feb. 3 (visit austinchronicle.com/elections to get started). If you're already registered, you have time to review the primary candidates – for the bulk of Chronicle readers, that will mean the Democratic candidates – and this cycle, there will be plenty of important races and excellent candidates to ponder.
We've been covering as many of these as we can manage (and will continue), but here's a brief bullet list of some races that bear particular scrutiny, with reporter's notes:
• U.S. Senate: This race for the chance to potentially unseat GOP incumbent Sen. John Cornyn (aka McConnell's Lapdog) features a dozen candidates, the three likely most compelling to local voters being MJ Hegar, Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, and Royce West.
• Six congressional races: Austin's radically gerrymandered districts mean you first need to find yours. Only one (TX-35) is drawn to elect a Democrat (incumbent Lloyd Doggett); the others (10, 17, 21, 25, 31) are potentially vulnerable to flipping this year.
• Judicial primary races Statewide seats on Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals and local races for 3rd Court of Appeals and several district courts are also hotly contested.
• Three criminal justice races: The contests for district attorney, county attorney, and County Court at Law No. 4 each have strong implications for continuing reform of our courts and criminal justice system. (The Chronicle has ongoing coverage, and will have more.)
Also worth your close review are the races for Travis County sheriff, county commissioner Precinct 3 in western Travis, and the two State Board of Education districts that include Austin (divided at the river). The local primary races for the Texas Legislature, with mostly Democratic incumbents, are essentially uncontested, but the general election this fall will be a very different story; holding on to seats gained in 2018 is an essential first step in Texas Democrats' quest to flip control of the state House of Representatives.
The Buck Starts Here
Our News staff is working hard to cover all of these races, and there is also considerable information available from the candidates themselves – generally including both a freestanding campaign website and a Facebook page. Local Democratic clubs have been holding strings of forums, followed by endorsement lists, and (sometimes) posted video of the forums.
Early voting begins Feb. 18 for the March 3 election day, so you have a few weeks to bone up and then exercise your civic obligations. Our futures will certainly depend on what happens in D.C. and at the top of the November ballot – but before we get there, we've got to take diligent care of democratic business at the Travis County primary polls.