Tag Archives: sd 14

Texas election roundup: A shakeup in North Texas

Newly-elected state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) was ceremonially sworn into her new office at the Texas State Capitol this week after being formally sworn in a couple of weeks ago. Eckhardt, a former Travis County judge, will fill the Senate District (SD) 14 seat previously held by former Sen. Kirk Watson until its term expires in 2022. Eckhardt posted a photo of the ceremony in a tweet:


A shakeup involving a North Texas congressional seat is sending reverberations down through legislative seats in the district. State Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) was chosen by a GOP committee to replace U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX 4) on the ballot this November. Rep. Ratcliffe vacated his seat in Congress to serve as the appointed Director of National Intelligence (DNI) for the Trump administration. This particular congressional district is considered solidly Republican, which means Fallon will likely be elected the next congressman for the district.

What that means for the Texas Legislature is that Fallon’s Senate seat in SD 30 will likely become vacant, triggering a special election to fill the unexpired term that ends in 2022. State Reps. Drew Springer (R-Muenster), Lynn Stucky (R-Denton), and Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) have all been mentioned as potential candidates, as well as Shelley Luther, a Dallas beauty salon owner whose arrest for violating public health orders made her a cause celebre for those who oppose business restrictions tied to COVID-19. Denton Mayor Chris Watts has also been mentioned as a potential candidate.

The vacancy sets up a potential dilemma for GOP House members considering a run in reliably Republican SD 30. Once Fallon vacates his Senate seat, Gov. Greg Abbott is required to set a special election within a set time period. Depending on the timing, that special election could be held on the same day as the Nov. 3 general election. Texas law prohibits a candidate from running for two seats at once, so House members could be required to resign their House seats in order to run for the Senate under that scenario. There are also scenarios in which an election could be held right before or during the 2021 legislative session. Any of those scenarios could leave Republicans down one or more members at the beginning of the legislative session in January when members elect a speaker.

The national story this week was the announcement on Tuesday that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden selected U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate. Harris is the first African-American woman and first person of Asian-American descent to appear on a major political party’s presidential ticket. Earlier in the primary, presidential candidate Kamala Harris proposed raising teacher salaries on average by 23%, or roughly $13,500, in order to help close the pay gap between teachers and other professionals. Other Democratic candidates, including Biden, would later include teacher raises in their policy platforms.

This week we’re also highlighting the importance of the U.S. Census and its impact on how Texans are represented. Texas is currently represented in Congress by 36 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, along with our two U.S. senators. That ranks Texas just behind California (52 members) with the second-largest delegation in Congress overall and the largest Republican delegation. This is important because members representing Texas make up 8% of the total votes in the 435-person U.S. House, giving Texas more legislative power than any other state with the exception of California.

Congressional seats are apportioned to each state based on population, and population is officially recorded every 10 years through the census. The 2020 Census currently underway will determine whether the number of Congressional seats in Texas — and thereby our state’s power in Congress — grows or shrinks. The Trump administration has proposed changes to the way the 2020 Census counts population that would dilute Texas’s power, which makes responding to the census all the more important. You can respond to the 2020 Census right away by clicking here. To find out more about the census and what you can do in order to ensure Texas gets the voting power it deserves, check out this recent article by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

Texas election roundup: Senate special election

Wednesday, May 13, 2020, marked the deadline for candidates to file for the legislative seat recently vacated by former state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin).

The Democrats vying for the reliably blue Senate District (14) seat based in Austin include state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) and former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt. The two Republicans who have filed are activist and former Austin city council member Don Zimmerman and attorney Waller Burns II, who does not appear to have a campaign website or social media presence. Libertarian Pat Dixon and physician Jeff Ridgeway, running as an independent candidate, have also filed for the seat.

The special election for the SD 14 seat is scheduled for July 14, which is the same day as the primary runoff elections. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) announced this week that early voting in these elections will be extended to June 29 from July 6. Voters are normally given only one week to vote early in the runoffs, but Abbott’s order will extend that period to two weeks. The governor’s stated reasoning is to enable greater social distancing for in-person voting.

Whether to vote in person or by mail has become a politicized and polarizing issue, unfortunately, with numerous local and state officials along with President Donald Trump weighing in on different sides of the debate. Voters who go to the polls in person may still be exposed to the risk of communicating the deadly COVID-19 infection, the number of confirmed cases of which have continued to increase in Texas at ever higher rates. While several other states, including states such as Kentucky and Alabama with Republican leadership, have expanded voting by mail options in order to protect their voters’ safety, Gov. Abbott and state Attorney General Ken Paxton continue to resist efforts to expand voting by mail in Texas.

A state appeals court ruled Thursday that the state and counties must follow a district judge’s order allowing all Texas voters to vote by mail if they are concerned about contracting COVID-19. Paxton has fought the order and this week asked the Texas Supreme Court to consider the case. Meanwhile, Paxton faces a new criminal complaint alleging he committed election fraud by sending a letter in which he warned counties to ignore the judge’s order.

A coalition of voters and civil rights organizations filed another lawsuit in federal court this week seeking to loosen the restrictions on voting by mail. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) joined a separate federal lawsuit filed last month to expand voting by mail in Texas, arguing that the current laws discriminate against Hispanic voters.

While the political debate over voting by mail continues, polling suggests the overwhelming majority of citizens support expanding access to voting by mail. A Dallas Morning News/University of Texas poll last month found 58% of Texans support allowing any registered voter to mail in a ballot without need for an excuse, compared to 22% who opposed. A 56% majority support extending this ability to all future elections. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 67% of Americans support mail-in ballots for the November elections.

Texas election roundup: The long delay

Election politics is pretty much in a holding pattern across most of Texas as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Gov. Greg Abbott announced late Friday that the primary runoff elections for state and federal offices originally scheduled for May 26 will be postponed until July 14. This is the same date as the special runoff election for Senate District (SD) 14 to replace state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), who announced his retirement from the Texas Legislature earlier this year.

Speaking of the SD 14 race, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt announced this week she will push back her resignation in order to focus on the coronavirus response. Eckhardt had announced plans to resign her office, as she is legally required to do, in order to run for the SD 14 seat. Eckhardt is permitted to serve in her current office until a successor is sworn in, which in this case will be former Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) has also filed to run for the SD 14 seat.

Earlier this month, Gov. Abbott gave local political subdivisions (i.e. city councils, county governments, local school boards, etc.) the ability to postpone their elections to November 3 from their original May 2 uniform election date. According to TXElects.com, only a handful have formally delayed their local elections as of yet. While Georgetown and Fort Bend ISD are among those that have gone ahead and moved their elections, Waco and Waco ISD are considering sticking with the May 2 elections as scheduled. This has apparently created somewhat of a standoff in McLennan County, where the county elections administrator reportedly warned the city and school districts that the county would refuse to conduct the elections in May regardless of their decision.

The delays, coupled with local stay-at-home orders, have radically altered the campaign landscape in Texas. Many campaigns are suspending fundraising operations and focusing on community services. Most have put aside in-person campaigning in order to focus their resources online in order to reach people stuck in their homes. But while activity has ground down, it has certainly not stopped.

As candidates and officeholders continue to try shape their messaging in light of the current health crisis, they may be wise to consider the results of a national poll by Ragnar Research. First reported by the Quorum Report, the poll shows that 88% of Americans view the coronavirus outbreak as either “very serious” or “somewhat serious.” When sorted by political parties, 53% of Republicans said the coronavirus outbreak is “very serious,” compared to 83% of Democrats and 70% of independents. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control calls the coronavirus outbreak a “serious public health risk.”

Other political pollsters are also continuing to survey the American public more broadly during this time of national crisis. According to an Economist/YouGov poll released Wednesday, 34% believe the country is headed in the right direction, while 54% believe it is on the wrong track. At the same time, 48% of respondents approve of the president’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, while 46% disapprove. The RealClearPolitics rolling average of recent polls puts President Trump at -2.5% approval, or 47% approve to 49.5% disapprove.

It’s also easy to forget there is still a presidential primary underway to choose the Democrat who will face Donald Trump in the November election. Bernie Sanders won this month’s primary in Utah, while 12 other states and Puerto Rico have postponed their presidential primaries. Connecticut, Indiana, Rhode Island, and Delaware have moved their primary elections to June 2. With Joe Biden building an insurmountable delegate lead in the primary contest, the political forecasters at FiveThirtyEight.com have placed Biden at 98% odds to win the nomination. A Monmouth poll released Tuesday has Biden leading Trump by 3% if the election were held now.

 

Texas election roundup: Municipal elections may be postponed

The coronavirus outbreak is affecting everything in Texas, including upcoming municipal elections. These elections for important local positions were originally scheduled for May 2, 2020, but Gov. Greg Abbott this week recommended local political subdivisions postpone their elections until the November 3 general election. The recommendation comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued guidelines recommending social distancing and avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people.

The Office of the Texas Secretary of State issued a memo this week explaining the process. The May 2 elections are only for local ballot measures and races, such as for city council, school board, or county offices. According to the secretary of state, if a municipality opts to postpone its election to the fall, local elected officials currently in office there would continue to exercise their official duties until after the November uniform election date. The postponement does not reopen candidate filing, so new candidates can’t suddenly enter these races. This also means that candidates on the ballot for May 2 who have filed for a separate race on the November ballot could be on the ballot twice. If a candidate were to win both positions, they would be required to resign one and trigger a new election to fill the vacated position.

It’s important to note that the May 2 municipal elections are completely different from the primary runoff elections scheduled for May 26, 2020. The May 26 runoff elections are to select Democratic and Republican nominees for state and federal offices — such as the Texas Legislature and U.S. Congress — who will face off in the November 3 general election. As of writing this post, the May 26 runoff elections have not been postponed.

The governor set a July 14 date for a special election to fill the open seat of retiring state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) in Texas Senate District (SD) 14. Candidate filing will run from April 29 to May 13. Currently, state Sen. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt have announced plans to run. A number of local city council members have also expressed interest in the race.

Citing concerns over the ability of Texans to be able to participate in a meaningful election during the coronavirus oubreak, the Texas Democratic Party has called for both the May 2 and May 26 elections to be conducted entirely by mail. The League of Women Voters of Texas has asked the governor to promote mail-in ballots already allowed for those over the age of 65, as well as early voting to reduce crowds.

The outbreak will also impact the scheduling of local and statewide party conventions. The Republican Party of Texas announced plans to postpone to July 13 its state convention originally scheduled for mid-May. Party leaders at the local level are also being encouraged to postpone county and senatorial district conventions. The Texas Democratic Party is considering holding its June convention online.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on any additional changes that are made to election plans here in Texas. For general information about the new coronvirus, visit ATPE’s resource page at https://www.atpe.org/en/coronavirus.