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More thoughts on the special election results

There has been very little news about the four legislative special elections that were decided last week, other than the brief hubbub over what the result in SD26 meant. Among other things, I’ve been looking for any kind of reporting on the results in the other three races, as well as on the fact that there will need to be yet another special election to fill Sen.-elect Jose Menendez’s seat in HD124. This Trib story about Sen. Leticia Van de Putte’s upcoming departure from the upper chamber to focus on her race for Mayor of San Antonio contains the first tidbit of news concerning any of that I’ve seen:

Sen.-elect José Menéndez, who was on the floor on Tuesday, won the race for Van de Putte’s Senate seat on Feb. 17 and is set to be sworn in on March 5.

Sen. Jose Menendez

RG Ratcliffe also wrote about VdP’s good-bye if you want more of that. Me, I want more on the other stuff. If Menendez won’t be seated will next Thursday, that means the clock won’t start ticking for a special election to be called in HD124 until then. That puts such an election in April at least, and unless someone wins it outright it pretty much guarantees that whoever succeeds Menendez won’t be seated until there’s precious little left to do in this session. That said, there will almost surely be a special election sometime next year to (one hopes) fix school finance, so the stakes will still be as high as ever. I have not seen any names floating around as possible candidates for HD124, so if you know something I don’t know, please leave a comment and enlighten us.

One thing I’d like to add to my earlier commentary on the SD26 runoff: As much as I downplayed the pronouncements about that election being “decided” by Republican voters and bad actors like Texans for Lawsuit Reform, there is no question that some number of Republicans voted in that runoff. And why shouldn’t they? This wasn’t a primary, and the winner would be representing them, too. You may recall that just because the Houston City Council At Large #3 runoff in 2013 was between two Republicans doesn’t mean Democrats weren’t involved or courted by both sides. Quite the contrary, in fact. Some number of Republicans voted in the SD26 runoff. It’s likely that they went heavily for Menendez, and it’s entirely possible that they made up a good chunk of his margin of victory, if not all of it. The problem with making statements about this is that we have no “normal” election to compare this one to. For all we know, the number of Republicans voting in that runoff was about what it should have been expected to be. We don’t know, because the conditions for this election were unique, and will never be replicated. We can compare November elections, in Presidential years and not, and make statements about the partisan mix and whether a given cycle was remarkable in some way. We can’t do that here because there’s no other election like it. It stands on its own.

As for the other elections, however you feel about SD26 I think you should consider the election of Diego Bernal in HD123 a reason to celebrate. Bernal is like Rep. Martinez-Fischer in style and tenacity, and will be a more progressive voice in that district than Mike Villarreal, who cast himself as a moderate, business-friendly type. Having said that, I should note that Villarreal was in many ways “conservative” the way Menendez was “conservative”. It shows up much more in tone and rhetoric than it does in voting records. Villarreal’s record, at least in 2013, compares quite well – an A+ from Equality Texas, a 93% from the TLCV, and another nice, round zero from Texas Right to Life. Villarreal was more business-friendly, and I’m sure his fans and detractors could point to some votes he made that stood out from the caucus. His style is not like Diego Bernal’s has been, and especially if you were a TMF supporter in this special election, that should make you feel good.

The HD17 runoff was in a way a mirror image of the SD26 runoff, with the candidate who emphasized his crossover appeal emerging as the winner. That was a much closer election, and I have to wonder if the TLR crowd regrets not going all in on it. If John Cyrier had lost after running that campaign and being the big leader in round one, the articles about What It All Means pretty much write themselves. I’m a little surprised no one has taken this race and used it to run with a “Republican moderation” narrative. Assuming he doesn’t get primaried out in 2016, Cyrier ought to have a bright future under Speaker Straus.

And as for HD13, it remains as under-reported and mysterious as ever. Here’s a little factoid for you to consider: Rep.-elect Leighton Schubert defeated runnerup Carolyn Bilski in all but two counties in the runoff. One of them was Austin County, where Bilski had previously served as County Judge. Bilski had won a clear majority in Austin County in January, against three opponents. Schubert doubled his vote total in Austin County in a month, and it was enough to slip past her there. How in the world did that happen? Even more remarkable is the margin in Burleson County, Schubert’s home, which he won by the ridiculous total of 1,181 to 72. That’s the kind of margin you expect to see in a race featuring a major party candidate against a Green or Libertarian. Schubert won Burleson big in January as well, but with 75% of the vote, not almost 95%. Again, how does that happen? It sure would be nice if some professional reporter tried to figure that out.

Early voting for special election runoffs has begun

EarlyVoting

It began yesterday, but I forgot to queue up a post in time to mention it. Here’s some relevant information for those of you who need to get out and vote in one or more of these runoffs.

For SD26 and HD123, here are the Bexar County early voting locations. The Bexar County Elections page is here as well.

For HD17, here are the early voting locations for Bastrop County, Caldwell County, and Lee County. The Bastrop County Elections page is here, and they already have Election Day voting locations up as well. Both the Caldwell and Lee pages have early voting and election day locations. As for Karnes County and Gonzales County, you’ll need to call the elections administrators for information, as you had to do for the January election.

For HD13, here are the early voting locations for Burleson County, Colorado County, Fayette County, Grimes County, Lavaca County, and Washington County. All of those pages also have Election Day locations, except for Fayette and Washington. I could not find information for Austin County, so call the elections administrator there for the scoop.

Googling around on the candidates’ names, I found basically zero new information since the original election, except for a couple of stories relating to the SD26 runoff. The only endorsements I found, as was the case in January, was from the Express News, which reiterated their choices from the first round.

In the Senate race, we recommend Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer to replace mayoral candidate Leticia Van de Putte.

The district will be in good hands regardless of who wins the showdown between Martinez Fischer and Rep. José Menéndez. Both Democrats who have been in the House since 2001.

But Martinez Fischer’s strong leadership ability unequivocally makes him the right choice for the Senate.

[…]

We strongly encourage voters to cast their ballots for former City Councilman Diego Bernal, who faces Republican Nunzio Previtera.

Bernal represented San Antonio’s City Council District 1 from 2011 until resigning late last year to seek the House seat. During his tenure at City Hall, Bernal showed courage by successfully sponsoring a highly controversial nondiscrimination ordinance that provided new protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status.

The 38-year-old Bernal also played a lead role in creating an advisory panel to study the future of Alamo Plaza. The city has failed to nurture the downtown asset, and Bernal’s efforts have revived hope for real improvements. This is an issue of statewide importance.

They also had a recent story about how Bexar Dems are dismayed by the negativity in the all-Dem SD26 runoff. Those of us who remember the SD06 special election from two years ago feel their pain. I figure turnout will be less than or equal to the first round, so if you live in any of these districts, your vote counts for a lot. There are no Dems in either HD17 or HD13, but John Cyrier and Carolyn Bilski are backed by the Texas Parent PAC, and Cyrier’s opponent in particular is aligned with the likes of Empower Texans, so even without a home team there’s still a rooting interest. I’ll keep an eye on the voting as we go. The Rivard Report has more.

HD13 special election news roundup

The special election in HD13 to succeed Sen. Lois Kolkhorst is next Tuesday. Early voting ends today, and there’s not much news out there to find. HD13 is a rural district with only small-paper coverage – one of those papers, the Brenham Banner Press, is subscription only – and there doesn’t appear to be much money or any feuds like the Texans for Lawsuit Reform kerfuffle in SD26 to get the larger outfits to notice this race. I did find some news while googling around, so here you go.

From the Navasota Examiner, a report from a candidate forum.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst

While Grimes County reported an all-time low of 20 total votes for the first day of early voting, Grimes County Republican Party Chairman Joe Fauth told forum attendees residents were probably waiting to hear from District 13 State Representative candidates before casting ballots.

Governor Rick Perry ordered a special election to be held on Tuesday, Jan. 13, in Texas House of Representatives District 13 for the purpose of electing a representative to fill the vacancy in the seat previously held by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst. Monday night, Republican candidates – petroleum and mining geologist Becky Berger of Schulenburg, Austin County Judge Carolyn Cerny Bilski of Sealy and Attorney Leighton Schubert of Caldwell – faced off at the American Legion Hall Anderson, as Grimes County Republican Party hosted a forum. Fauth said that Democratic candidate and retiree Cecil R. Webster Sr. of Carmine was not invited to participate.

The bulk of questions centered around how candidates planned to protect the county against the threats of a proposed high-speed rail project, proposed transmission lines and the proposed State Highway 249 toll road.

[…]

When asked what candidates would do to secure funding from Proposition 1 funds for Grimes County infrastructure, Bilski said that since legislative sessions starts on Election Day, she promised constituents would have an active voice.

“Prop. 1 has a lot of pieces to it, so for me to say I’m going to author a bill today, I have to look at the legislation that’s already been pre-filed and work towards whatever deadlines we might still have,” Bilski said.

Berger said she would “fight any diversion of funds,” as the legislature has not spent appropriated money properly.

“If I have to filibuster, I will do it. I will be one of those people that fights for your best interest,” Berger said. “I’m going to go up there and fight like it’s mine to make sure that you get to keep what’s yours, and that our roads are taken care of in this area.”

Schubert said that there is no doubt that Texas is growing, as the population is expected to increase by 82 percent by 2060.

“Vital infrastructure is necessary to our growth and continued economic development. We have to make sure our funding is prioritized,” Schubert said.

The attorney added that while TxDOT has stated that $5 billion is needed annually to maintain roads, ensuring gas tax money is utilized for infrastructure would provide $700 million for roads annually.

“That’s just one solution – designated funds need to go where they are. Secondly, we have to maintain our fiscal conservatism and make sure that we are prioritizing our spending, because there’s never enough to go around. But infrastructure does need to be at the very top of our list,” Schubert said.

When asked what the most pressing issue for the district is, Berger said protecting property rights, as well as working on water, infrastructure and academic needs.

“It’s not just happening in Grimes County; it’s happening in every county,” Berger said. “And we now know that the Supreme Court will hold up a better use clause, so that someone can take your property by eminent domain – even if it’s a company, instead of a public entity. We need to fight that in Texas.”

Schubert said his top priority would be to provide a strong voice for rural Texas and “protect our way of life,” as well as ensure that rural healthcare is funded.

“We need to recruit good doctors to come back to rural areas to serve our population. We need to protect our private property rights and second amendment rights, but the main goal is to keep rural Texas strong,” Schubert said.

Bilski said quality of life would be her main objective for the district.

“Quality of life takes in water, your road infrastructure and property rights, and those are all going to be filed under different bills and amendments,” Bilski said. “Toll roads are something you’re going to have to deal with, and I’ll be there to help protect your quality of life.”

Basically, it was about the level of discourse you’d expect at a GOP-only candidate forum. At least these three say they support spending some money on infrastructure, which in our perverse current environment counts are forward thinking. Bilski, the Austin County Judge, is the Parent PAC candidate for those of you keeping score at home. Education issues apparently didn’t come up in that forum – make your own joke here – so we have that and this to help us sort things out.

Did I mention fundraising? The Victoria Advocate takes a look at the finance reports.

The candidates in a special election for the Texas House District 13 seat are working with little money and time as Election Day looms.

The four candidates collectively have raised about $90,000 so far during their candidacies to succeed Lois Kolkhorst, who resigned from the seat after 14 years to become a state senator. Republican contender Leighton Schubert, an attorney from Caldwell, is leading the group, having raised $47,450.

Following are Republican Carolyn Cerny Bilski, Austin County judge, with $24,655.63 raised; Democrat Cecil Webster Sr., a Carmine retiree of the U.S. Army, with $19,083.32; and Republican Becky Berger, a geologist of Schulenburg, with $200, according to documents campaigns submitted to the Texas Ethics Commission. Most candidates said the amount of time to campaign affected how much they were able to raise. All have used some of their own money to campaign.

Schubert’s report is here, and it’s legit. My initial assumption was that he had a sugar daddy or two, but while he does have several four-figure donors, he has a decent array of individual givers – no PAC money that I could see – and the vast majority of it was local. Good for him. I’d have thought Berger might draw some wingnut establishment money, but apparently not.

And that’s all I can find. I get the impression that turnout will be low even by oddly-timed special election standards, but we’ll see. Bilski has all the appearance of a frontrunner, but whether she can get a first-round majority, and who might have a shot at a runoff, are anyone’s guess. If you live in HD13, I’d love to hear your observations about this race.

Sealy’s uncertain future

After BAE Systems officially lost the Army truck deal, the city of Sealy and the surrounding Austin County are pondering what the effect will be.

The impending loss or transformation of its largest employer will have a staggering effect on Sealy, stripping away jobs and tax revenue and stunning business owners and residents who know the 3,200 plant workers as clients and as neighbors.

[…]

BAE is working to find a new contract, but local officials aren’t expecting to see anything as lucrative as the one that’s being lost. “There’s going to be some job loss. We’re hoping to keep 1,500 to 1,800 of those workers,” said Mayor Nick Tirey. “If we could keep 2,000, that would be wonderful.”

At City Hall — where a picture of a sand-colored military truck hangs on the wall, larger than the mayor’s portrait — officials are scrambling to offset their losses.

BAE’s taxes pumped more than $1.2 million into the Sealy school district last year, along with $216,000 to the city, home to about 6,000, and $352,000 to the county, with a population of about 23,000.

I wish them well, and I don’t envy them the task of trying to figure out how to pay for their schools and roads and police and whatnot with a big reduction in that tax revenue. It’ll be interesting to see how State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst and State Sen. Glenn Hegar try to respond to the area’s increased level of need. More to the point, if they do take action to help alleviate Austin County’s situation, it’ll be interesting to see if they then get primaried in 2012 for not being conservative enough.

Speaking of getting help from the government:

David Vrablec, whose grandmother moved to Sealy in the 1960s when it was still a small farming community, believes the town will move toward a more commercial and industrial future — as soon as it shakes itself from its current slump.

“Sealy’s already taken two hits this last year: We’ve lost two car dealerships,” said Vrablec, who works for the Austin County Sheriff’s Office and whose wife works at Bellville General Hospital. “Everybody’s going to be affected, from the flower shop to the hair salon, and eventually the hospital, because no one will have insurance.”

Well, then, I suggest that Dave Vrablec and everyone he knows call up their Congressman and tell him that he really needs to vote for the Democratic health care reform bill when it comes to the floor of the House, as that will help folks like these who have lost their health insurance. It’s pretty much a no-brainer, really, and it might even help make up for his earlier lack of focus.

One last thing:

City officials have high hopes for a proposed 71-acre commercial development along Interstate 10, which they believe will employ residents and attract travelers to shop at big box stores and smaller retailers.

But the last major retail development sits empty on the other side of the highway. Its facades, erected in 1995, are still fresh-looking but almost entirely empty.

That refers to the Sealy Outlet Center, which I was unsurprised to learn as I wrote this post is pretty much dead. I guess if you’re in the Houston area and you’re going to head west to do some bargain hunting, you’ll probably exit the freeway at Katy Mills. There’s no other nearby population center, so this one’s demise wasn’t hard to see coming. I suppose Sealy Outlet Center 2.0 could be badass enough to entice people to drive that extra 20 miles west, but I have my doubts.