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Roger Gary

Special elections roundup

I haven’t seen any newspaper endorsements in the special elections that will conclude on Tuesday. I can tell you that the Texas Parent PAC has endorsed Diego Bernal in HD123 and John Cyrier in HD17. In the absence of further endorsements to report on, here’s a news roundup based on Google searches of the various candidates.

In SD26, it’s all about the money.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

A powerful special interest group that has contributed millions of dollars mostly to state Republicans over the years is targeting Democrat Trey Martinez Fischer’s bid to fill a vacant Senate seat.

And now Martinez Fischer is attempting to draw connections between the group, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and his main opponent in the race, Democratic state Rep. José Menéndez.

TLR is the richest and most influential tort reform group in the state, and its political action committee has already spent close to $180,000 to influence Tuesday’s special election in District 26, state records show. That includes research and polling, along with TV ads and mailers blasting Martinez Fischer.

In a campaign memo released Wednesday, Martinez Fischer leveled his strongest public accusations to date about links to the group and Menéndez, claiming the head of TLR has personally made calls to help Menéndez and to “thwart” Martinez Fischer’s own fundraising efforts.

Martinez Fischer, in the memo, goes on to note that TLR contract lobbyist Ed Lopez was named earlier this month as part of the Menéndez finance team and then claims another unnamed lobbyist working for the group recently held a fundraiser for Menéndez.

[…]

“In my estimation, José’s relationship with TLR is obvious,” Martinez Fischer says in the memo.

On Wednesday, Menéndez remained steadfast that he’s not in cahoots with the group.

“It is obvious to me that Trey is desperate to try to create a connection between TLR and myself that doesn’t’ exist,” he said. “We’re running our campaign, and we’re not in a position that we feel like we need any help from outside sources.”

Menéndez also said that Lopez, the TLR lobbyist Martinez Fischer cited in his memo, is a personal friend dating back to his days on San Antonio City Council, and that “he’s a supporter of mine because he believes in me as a person.”

TMF has greatly outraised Menendez, though a lot of his donations have been non-local. Both candidates are spending heavily on TV ads. When the first order of business is to make sure people are aware that there is an election going on in the first place, you do what you have to do.

Meanwhile, the candidates in HD123 are trying to be heard over that volume.

The ballot includes three Democrats: businesswoman Melissa Aguillon, former San Antonio City Councilman Diego Bernal, and Walter Martinez, also a former city councilman, who served in the Texas House in the ’80s.

The lone Republican is insurance agent Nunzio Previtera. Clinical psychologist Paul Ingmundson is the Green Party candidate, while Libertarian Roger Gary rounds out the ballot.

Gary, like the others, has education reform high on his list. He wants to get back to the basics, like, he says, teaching basic math. ”I’ve asked some other people who say they’re doing it all on computers; people’s grammar and spelling and math, let’s get back to those basics. That’s what we need. The rest of the stuff they’re squabbling about, what’s in a high school history book? Well, who cares if they can’t read and write.”

Republican Nunzio Previtera wants schools to put as much emphasis on vocational training as they do on college preparation. “The primary goal of our school system needs to be to provide our students with opportunities to prosper as working adults, get them ready to be adults. Our magnet schools have done a pretty good job, but they need to be expanded, and our primary schools need to put a lot more emphasis on vocational skills and training people for their adult life.”

Paul Ingmundson went to UT Austin, where he paid $50 a semester. He says college tuition today is outrageous. He wants the first two years of college to be free. He’d pay for that by taxing oil and gas producers. “We can address the fossil fuel problem and the education problem with one policy change. I think even Republicans are going to start to get used to this. They are going to look around for money, and if you’re going to look around for money, the deepest pockets are in the oil and gas fields.” 


More affordable higher education and technical training are also high on the agendas of Democrats Melissa Aguillon and Walter Martinez.

“It was challenging for my parents to put me through college,” says Aguillon. “I actually had to pretty much fund my own college tuition, and so, I want to make sure that higher education is accessible for all students that want to go to college.” But she adds, there are far more career paths available to those students now, and far more jobs being created, “21st century jobs that don’t necessarily require a four-year education.”

“I think it’s important that the necessary skills for trades are also accessible to them,” says Aguillon. Fellow Democrat Martinez agrees, and adds, “The delivery and implementation of workforce training, also providing technical training, to be able to provide the workforce that modern technology requires, those are all part of the agenda as far as supporting public education.”

Democrat Diego Bernal says the first bill he’d file would overhaul the way the state decides how much money each school district will receive. “The very first one I would file would have to do with public education and the formula that we use to pay for students who are either economically disadvantaged or English language learners. There’s a formula they use to give districts extra money and that formula hasn’t been updated since the mid-’80s. So if you want to know what my very first attempt at a bill would be, that would be it.”

Here’s an Express News overview of this race. The SA Current did Q&As with four of the candidates in the HD123 race – with Diego Bernal, Melissa Aguillon, Walter Martinez, and Roger Gary. They also profiled Bernal and noted that Aguillon had received financial support from a Georgia-based auto title loan business owner.

As for HD17, news is a lot harder to find. What little I have is from the Gonzalez Inquirer. Here’s their overview of the race:

Republican candidate John Cyrier, 41, of Lockhart, was in town Monday morning for a brief rally at the Roger M. Dreyer Memorial Airport to kick off early voting. He arrived by air in his Cessna Skylane II— which appropriately sported the colors red, white and blue.

[…]

The other Republican in the race, Brent Golemon, 46, of Bastrop, got a taste of politics early in life. Golemon worked as a legislative aide and chief-of-staff at the capitol after graduating Hampden-Sydney College while his father was a 35-year lobbyist in Austin.

Golemon co-founded GalleryWatch, the nation’s first online legislative tracking service in 1996, which was sold eight years later. His current occupation is listed as “entrepreneur.”

The closest Golemon gets to an elected office credential is a stint on the Tahitian Village Property Owners Association and a board appointment to the Bastrop County Water District. In his spare time, he enjoys coaching six-man football at a Christian-based athletics program for home-schooled and private school families.

The first of two Democrats on the ballot is Ty McDonald, 43, also of Bastrop. She is a 1993 graduate of Texas A&M University and is married to former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald.

McDonald’s early education into elected public service was as legislative director for State Rep. Yvonne Davis in the early 90s. She also served as campaign coordinator for John Sharp during his failed bid for comptroller.

After serving as a public school teacher for seven years, she was elected to a single term to the board of the Bastrop Independent School District. Her last year was served as president of that body.

After flirting with a run for state rep earlier this year, McDonald switched races to challenge incumbent Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape. She lost that contest in November.

The other Democrat is Shelley Cartier, 51, yet another candidate from the Bastrop area. Her business card describes her as a non-politician and small business owner.

On the issues, she supports local control and small growth. Public education is also in her platform and she says she is a “defender of property and water rights for all.”

In her spare time she advocates for the humane treatment of animals and hosts several rescue horses on her property.

Rounding out the list is the lone Independent candidate, Linda Curtis, 63, the final Bastrop resident. Her tagline is “If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em!”

They also have a profile of Cyrier.

Cyrier hails from Caldwell County where he and his wife Rachelle live on a ranch south of Lockhart. His political fact sheet touts many accomplishments for the 42 year-old—successful businessman, past county commissioner and former commander of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band. He now wishes to be State Representative for District 17, which includes Gonzales County.

His business career began after he received a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology from Texas A&M University. A couple of stops in the general contracting business and branch office management led him to launch Sabre Commercial, Inc. in 2008, a commercial construction services company specializing in general contracting. It employs 51 people and has won numerous distinctions from the Austin Business Journal including a nomination for Best CEO Award in September.

“I surround myself with good people and I take care of them,” said Cyrier. The good working morale has led Sabre to three top-10 “Best Places to Work in Central Texas” designations from the Journal.

Cyrier’s political career began in 2010. There was a vacancy on the commissioner’s court in Caldwell County and longtime County Judge H.T. Wright, Jr., a Democrat, picked Cyrier based on his community accomplishments. The judge knew that he would take heat for the appointment since Cyrier was a Republican, but he saw a need to balance the court and invite all ideas to the table.

Turns out that Cyrier was only the second Republican to ever hold a seat on the court. Party designation didn’t matter to most voters, for he was elected outright later that year by 60 percent of the ballots and was named Judge Pro-Tem in 2012.

“I loved being a county commissioner,” he said.

Cyrier decided to serve out his term but opted not to run in the general election in 2012. He figured that he could do just as much good for the community away from the commissioner’s court than he could on it. The list of boards on which he currently serves include: Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), Caritas of Austin, Lockhart ISD Education Foundation, Caldwell County Republican precinct chair—and the list goes on — prove just that.

During the Thanksgiving holiday he received a call from Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape. Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt had resigned and the county’s leadership was looking for a candidate to promote. One GOP candidate had already popped up in Bastrop, but they were looking for something more. They believed that Cyrier had the vision to be the district’s next leader.

With the added urging of longtime Bastrop County Commissioner Clara Beckett, Cyrier decided to run and continue his community service at the elected level. Soon he had a list of supporters that any candidate would envy.

There are three things that Cyrier lists as top priorities in the upcoming legislative session: education, water and infrastructure. Luckily for District 17, all three topics resonate throughout the five rural counties he would represent.

On education, Cyrier already counts superintendents from Bastrop, Smithville, Karnes, Lockhart, Gonzales and a host of other education professionals as supporting his candidacy.

He shows a strong command of the issues facing public schools in the state. His concerns are on elected officials that look to defund public education to send dollars elsewhere. Oftentimes school is the only place a child can eat a regular meal for breakfast, lunch— and more often now— even dinner.

Diverting public dollars would have an adverse affect on education, especially in communities like this one where the school system is the major employer. Cyrier looks to be a strong advocate for these independent school districts.

He also draws a parallel between the growth the district has seen based on underground resources—water to the north and oil to the south. Where Bastrop County has seen sprawl eat on its western flank, water developers look to siphon off the precious resource to far-flung housing developments throughout the I-35 corridor and down to San Antonio. Similar concerns can be seen here.

The other boom is down south with the shale explosion in the Eagle Ford. Gonzales County is experiencing growth and road degradation associated with this as is its neighbor to the south, Karnes County. Cyrier understands this and how public infrastructure funding is so important to the area.

Since all five counties in the district are still largely rural, he feels that the area shares the same challenges.

So there you have it. If you live in one of these districts, please make sure you vote.

Perry sets HD13 special election date

For all the writing I’ve done about the various legislative special elections, I’d almost forgotten that this one was still out there.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

Just hours after Lois Kolkhorst was sworn in as the newest state senator Monday, Gov. Rick Perry called a Jan. 13 special election to fill the Brenham Republican’s former seat in the Texas House.

At least three Republicans have already launched bids for House District 13: Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski, Caldwell attorney Leighton Schubert and Becky Berger, a member of the Republican State Executive Committee. All of them announced they were interested in the seat before Kolkhorst’s victory earlier this month in the special election to replace Katy Republican Glenn Hegar, the incoming comptroller.

[…]

Perry has given prospective candidates a week to file applications for the HD13 special election with the secretary of state’s office. Early voting commences Jan. 5.

In other words, everything is exactly one week after the elections in HDs 17 and 123 and SD26. And as a reminder, if either Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer or Rep. Jose Menendez wins in SD26 – an outcome that seems highly likely now that Sylvia Romo has dropped out of the race, having been found to not be a resident of the district – we will need one more special election before the session is over. Via the Secretary of State, here are the candidate lists for each race:

SD26

Trey Martinez Fischer
Democrat

Alma Perez Jackson
Republican

Jose Menendez
Democrat

Joan Pedrotti
Republican

Al Suarez
Democrat

HD123

Melissa Aguillon
Democrat

Diego Bernal
Democrat

Roger V. Gary
Libertarian

Paul Ingmundson
Green

Walter Martinez
Democrat

Nunzio Previtera
Republican

HD17

Shelley Cartier
Democrat

Linda Curtis
Independent

John Cyrier
Republican

Brent Golemon
Republican

Ty McDonald
Democrat

As for HD13, that election was set shortly after Kolkhorst was sworn in as the new Senator from District 18, which triggered the vacancy there. I’ll keep an eye out for other candidates, but as I noted before, it’s considerably less hospitable to a Democratic candidate than HD17 is, so the best we can hope for is a non-crazy Republican. I expect there to be some interesting endorsement action in these races, with such short turnarounds and big rewards for hitting the jackpot. We’ll see how that goes as well.

UPDATE: The Express News has more on the Bexar County elections, while the Trib adds some details and another name to the HD13 lineup:

Republican Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski, 61, is playing the experience card, hoping her 20 years as a county judge and eight years as a city council member will give her a leg up. “I think the voters deserve someone who has done research and solved problems,” said Bilski, who listed education and infrastructure as high-priority issues.

Caldwell attorney Leighton Schubert, also a Republican, said he has worked for every level of government from federal to county. He said keeping Texas’ economy strong and fiscally conservative is his top priority, plus protecting private property rights. “Any issue starts with the economy,” Schubert said. “We got to help keep this economy moving — that helps from the top down.”

Becky Berger, Republican No. 3 and a geologist, has lost twice in Republican primary races for the Texas Railroad Commission.

Cecil Webster, a veteran who’s been active in Democratic politics in Fayette County for years, said restoring education funding would be one of his top priorities if he’s elected, and rejected the premise that the district is unwinnable for a Democrat. “I am convinced that if you look at the actual number of folks here, there are more blue folks then red folks,” Webster, 60, said. “Democrats just don’t vote.”

Good luck to you, sir. I can’t do the exact same calculations of the Democratic vote potential as I did in HD17 because Kolkhorst was unopposed in 2014 and 2012, but I can say there were 1,837 total Democratic primary votes in the 2014 Democratic primary in the seven counties that make up HD13, and 3,093 votes in the 2012 Dem primary. Bill White received 16,250 votes total in HD13 in 2010. Hope you can track those folks down for this race.

Overview of the Bexar County special legislative elections

From The Rivard Report:

Texas House District 123

Former District 1 City Councilmember Diego Bernal resigned his city seat in mid-November to launch his campaign for Villarreal’s former seat. His VoteDiego website offers voters his positions on a number of issues, ranging from education to civil rights.

Melissa Aguillon, a small business owner and the principal of Aguillon & Associates, a public relations and digital marketing firm, also is running. Her VoteAguillon website displays her digital media acumen, offering videos, her Twitter feed, Facebook feed, etc.

Former District 5 Councilmember Walter Martinez (1985-92) and the Texas House District 119 representative for a single term (1983-85) is making a run to regain elected office after a two-decade-plus hiatus that began with a failed bid to win a seat on Commissioners Court. Martinez apparently does not have a campaign website.

Republican candidate Nunzio Previtera, with Integrity Insurance Agency in San Antonio, jumped into the race this week. His campaign website lists his support for small business, job growth and his pro-life position.

Libertarian candidate Roger Gary, who apparently sought his party’s nomination for president in 2012, also is running. He does not have a campaign website.

Click here to see a map of District 123, which extends from the Southside through the central city and north in Castle Hills and part of the Northside.

Texas Senate District 26

This vacant seat has attracted two strong and respected state representatives among other candidates.

Disrtrict 116 state Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher and District 124 state Rep. José Menéndez are the two leading candidates for the seat.

Sylvia Romo, the former Bexar County tax assessor-collector who served two terms in the Texas House in the 190s and who lost a Democratic primary race against U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett in 2012, is looking to regain elected office.

Converse Mayor Al Saurez also is running for the seat as a long shot contender.

Here is a great map of the districts and the early voting locations within them. Early voting runs from December 29 through January 3, with a day off on January 1. Election Day will be January 6. Assume turnout will be low, so if you live in HD123 and/or SD26, your vote really counts.

These elections are important, especially the one in SD26 since Senate seats don’t have that much turnover, but please don’t get sucked into a narrative about it being some kind of proxy battle for the soul of the Texas Democratic Party. This is a low-turnout special election for a vacancy that no one knew would exist less than two months ago. It’s also no longer a straight-up battle between a liberal State Rep and a somewhat less liberal State Rep thanks to the entry of a third major candidate. Listen to the candidates and support whoever you think is the best choice. Don’t give a thought to what the nattering nabobs (of which I am one) think. But if you do care what I think, I’d vote for Trey Martinez-Fischer in SD26, and Diego Bernal in HD123. All due respect to Jose Menendez and Sylvia Romo, both of whom I think would be fine Senators, but TMF is my first choice, as is Bernal for the House. Just make sure you get out there and vote, in these races or in HD17, if you live in one of these districts.

UPDATE: Sylvia Romo has dropped out of the race for SD26 after it turned out out that she didn’t live in the district.

San Antonio special legislative elections appear to be set

Rumor has it.

Mike Villarreal

Mike Villarreal

State Rep. Mike Villarreal said Friday that Gov. Rick Perry has set Jan. 6 as the date for a special election to fill his position in the state House and a Senate seat being vacated by Leticia Van de Putte.

Villarreal and Van de Putte are leaving the Texas Legislature to run for San Antonio mayor.

In social media posts Friday, Villarreal divulged a snippet of a conversation he had with Ken Armbrister, a top Perry staffer, about the scheduling of the special election.

“He just called to let me know that the election will be called on Jan. 6,” Villarreal said in a phone interview. “This will minimize the possibility that there’s a vacancy in the House.”

The legislative session starts Jan. 13.

A Perry spokeswoman declined to confirm the date, saying: “We don’t have anything to announce on this. When we do, we will put out a press release.”

A formal announcement from Perry’s office could come as early as Monday.

Villarreal tweeted and Facebooked the news, which as you can see is unconfirmed at this time. Villarreal seems to be the only one willing to state this for the record, but we’ll know for sure soon enough.

Former San Antonio Councilmen Diego Bernal and Walter Martinez, who is also a former state representative, and Melissa Aguillon, who runs a public relations firm, all Democrats, are vying for Villarreal’s House seat. Nunzio Previtera, a Republican, and Libertarian Roger Gary are also eyeing the race.

[…]

State Reps. Jose Menendez and Trey Martinez Fischer, both Democrats, have launched campaigns to replace Van de Putte in the upper chamber. GOP activist Alma Perez-Jackson is also mentioned as a candidate, but has not officially announced her campaign.

I’ve said before that the special election in SD26 is a worthwhile shot for the Republicans to take, though I wouldn’t bet any money on their candidate making it to a runoff. Worst case scenario is a few fat cat donors waste some money.

Bexar County election officials already were urging reconsideration of the Jan 6. date.

Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said Friday the date wouldn’t allow the two days needed to prepare polling sites in schools that will be closed for the holidays until Jan. 5.

Surely there is an accommodation that can be made here. Both these races are near locks to need runoffs, so the sooner they are held, the better.

On a tangential note, January 14 – Day Two of the session – is the day that Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt is planning to resign to take the job of general counsel for the Ag Department. I would presume a special election to fill that seat, for which I have urged Dems to take a shot, will follow shortly thereafter. Assuming one of Reps. Martinez-Fischer or Menendez wins in SD26, we will need one more special election, likely in early March, to fill that vacancy. Barring any unforseen additional departures, that should be it for the time being.