Hays County Dems Romp as San Marcos Legalizes Weed

Everything's blue (and green)

An election watch party in San Marcos held by Mano Amiga Action (a PAC spun off from the nonprofit Mano Amiga) upon glimpsing first results showing 81% support for their "reeferendum," a ballot initiative to decriminalize marijuana. Texas State University students boosted the measure, while the San Marcos Police Officers Association had lobbied the community to reject it. (Photo by Jordan Buckley)

The city of Austin makes up 42% of the population of the five-county metro area, but the political identity of "Austin" has annexed large swaths of neighboring Williamson and (especially) Hays counties. To the north, WilCo – which cast just under 14,000 votes in the Austin mayor's race – can no longer be called anything but purple, which in practice means a sharp divide between the north and west (Leander, Liberty Hill, Georgetown, Taylor) and the south and east (Cedar Park, far North Austin, Round Rock, Hutto). For the moment, most county offices remain in GOP hands, but not by much! Notably, County Judge Bill Gravell – who gained a lot of prominence during COVID-19 and by battling Austin over supportive housing at the Candlewood Suites near Lakeline – squeaked through on Election Day after falling behind Democrat Blane Conk­lin in the early vote. Gov. Greg Abbott carried WilCo by half a percentage point; Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton both lost the county.

Hays County, with the ever-increasing political engagement of Texas State University students, is barely purple at all anymore. Incumbent County Judge Ruben Becerra, hammered hard by GOP Commissioner Mark Jones all year on both political and ethical grounds, nevertheless held on by just under 1%. Democrat Kelly Higgins won a much more resounding 53%-47% victory in the contest for criminal district attorney, closely watched in a county where justice advocacy groups have been vigilant. To add to the GOP's woes, the Precinct 2 seat vacated by Jones (Buda/Kyle) was nabbed by Democrat Michelle Gutierrez Cohen with 61%. The only sad note was drunk-driving mendicant Commissioner Walt Smith, who prevailed over independent candidate Susan Cook (no Democrat had filed) in Dripping Springs-based Precinct 4, 54%-46%.

In the county seat, San Marcos Mayor Jane Hughson handily defeated her predecessor John Thomaides' comeback bid with 63%, but San Marcos has council elections every year so they're not super dramatic. The big buzz, as it were, on the municipal ballot was the "reeferendum" – a proposition to legalize possession of marijuana for personal use, similar to the one Austin voters adopted earlier this year, which prevailed with an eye-opening 82%. Did you think it might lose?

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marijuana, Hays County, November 2022 Elections

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