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Betsy Price to run for Tarrant County Judge

I don’t usually pay much attention to county races outside the Houston area, but there are some points of interest to discuss about this.

Betsy Price

Outgoing Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price is running for Tarrant County judge in 2022, attempting a swift return to power in one of the state’s most politically important areas.

Price revealed the decision in interviews with North Texas TV stations that published Thursday morning, telling WFAA that she would make a formal announcement later.

“I promised my family I’d take a month or two off,” Price told WFAA. “I’m just getting this out there softly.”

The news of Price’s decision comes two days after the current county judge, Republican Glen Whitley, announced he would not run for reelection. He has since 2007 been at the helm of the county, the third most populous in the state and a historically Republican place where Democrats have been making inroads recently.

[…]

Price will not be unopposed in the March primary for county judge. Before Whitley made his retirement official, Tim O’Hare, former chairman of the county Republican Party, announced he was running for county judge. He launched with a list of GOP endorsements including current county GOP Chairman Rick Barnes, county Sheriff Bill Waybourn, and five state representatives from the area. O’Hare has since rolled out endorsements from U.S. Reps. Beth Van Duyne of Irving and Michael Burgess of Lewisville.

While Democrats do not have any known candidates for county judge yet, they can be expected to seriously contest the race after the county went their way at the top of the ticket in the last two statewide elections. The Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 2018, Beto O’Rourke, won the county, while President Joe Biden carried it two years later.

Here are the Tarrant County election results for 2018 and 2020. It’s widely noted that Beto O’Rourke carried Tarrant in 2018 (by a 49.93% to 49.24% margin) and Joe Biden carried it in 2020 (49.31% to 49.09%), becoming the first Dems in however long to do so. They were also the only Dems to do so. The other statewide candidates in 2018 lost by a range from one point (Justin Nelson) to ten points (Lupe Valdez), while the handful of countywide candidates all lost by about five points. This includes Lawrence Meyers (I assume the former Court of Criminal Appeals justice), who lost to now-outgoing County Judge Whitley by six points.

In 2020, the statewide Dems trailed in Tarrant by four to six points, with countywide candidates losing by six or seven points. One difference between 2018 and 2020 is that in 2018 there were literally no Democrats running for district court positions, while in 2020 there was a Dem in all but two of those races. My assumption is that the Dems will have a full slate of judicial candidates as in 2020 – there’s nothing like the hope of winning to generate that kind of interest.

We used to talk about Tarrant County as a proxy for Texas as a whole electorally. I’ve posted before about how the Presidential results in Tarrant almost eerily echoed the statewide results. That was true from 2004 through 2016, but the Beto breakthrough in 2018 was a sign that things were changing, and indeed Tarrant’s Presidential result in 2020 was several points to the left of the state’s. The county that most closely mirrored the statewide Presidential result in 2020 was Zapata, carried by Trump 52.5% to 47.1%. The closest big counties were Collin, slightly to the left at 51.4% to 47.1%, and Denton, slightly to the right at 53.2% to 45.2%.

Tarrant may have been too Democratic at the top level to be a statewide predictor, but at the District Court level they were much closer to the mark, with results ranging from 52.9% to 47.1% on one end to 53.9% to 46.1% on the other. What this reminds me of is Harris County in 2004, where District Court challengers got between 45.8% and 47.9% of the vote. That doesn’t mean anything for the path Tarrant County is on – Harris did shift a little towards Dems in 2006 before the 2008 breakthrough, in conditions that were very different from what we have now – it’s just an observation.

Finally, I don’t know anything about the other contenders for the GOP nomination for County Judge, but it’s plausible to me that someone like Betsy Price, a known quantity with a low-key style, might perform better against the partisan average than a more Trumpified Republican. Again, I don’t know the players and don’t know how that primary might shape up, but it seems highly unlikely to me that there won’t be a significant pro-Trump presence in that race. Trump is one of the two Republicans to lose Tarrant County since 2018. Make of that what you will.

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2 Comments

  1. Lobo says:

    Re: “While Democrats do not have any known candidates for county judge yet, they can be expected to seriously contest the race after the county went their way at the top of the ticket in the last two statewide elections.”

    AU  CONTRAIRE: LET HER BE AN ADVOCATE FOR LOCAL GOVERNANCE 

    Strategically, it might make more sense for Tex-Dems to covertly concede this race and then support Price once she has won the GOP primary, and ask Democratic voters to split their ticket in her favor in the general election.

    Why?

    Not only because Price would likely win the general election contest anyhow due to name recognition and an established record as nominally nonpartisan Fort Worth mayor, but because having Tarrant County run by one of their own would give the Republicans a reason to not completely strip large metropolitan counties of even more powers.

    Additionally, she is a traditional Republican who hasn’t veered to the extreme right like other Republicans and is willing to talk and cooperate with the other side of the political dimarcation line. And if she gets elected by a wide margin thanks to cross-over voters from Dems, she will have reason to continue seeing herself as serving the community as a whole – albeit in the partisan office of county judge — rather than a local arm of the hegemonic state GOP. Earlier in her political carrer she went from a partisan office (Tax Assessor/Collector) to the nonpartisan office of mayor, which is what the locals best know her for. No name recognition problems here, and a solid record of re-election success. 

    OMINOUS CENTRALIZATION OF CONTROL

    Note that the state Supreme Court has already proclaimed that counties are not only subdivisions of the state, but subservient ones that can be pushed around, as deemed necessary, at the urging of the Attorney General acting as the litigating arm of the GOP-controlled State of Texas.

    In State v. Hollins, they even exempted the State/AG from having to satisfy all of the temporary injunction requirements to immediately tie the hands of county officials with whose acts or decisions the state GOP disagrees. And they did so even though both the trial court and the Court of Appeals had ruled against the AG and had denied injunctive relief to the State as plaintiff. That was the case in which the judicial supremes prohibited Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins (D) from mailing vote-by-mail applications to all registered voters. Not a single one of the supremes dissented, and Paxton now credits this judicial ruling with having averted a loss of Texas by Trump, seemingly confirming the perception that the nine judicial Republicans did the trumpified GOP’s bidding in unison. Four of them were even on the ballot themselves. None of them recused themselves from the politically sensitive case. 

    After that, we saw AG injunction suits against El Paso and Travis County, relying on State v. Hollins as precedent and arguing that the people of Texas can have only one master to run the plantation (to rephrase the theory of centralized control with proper deference to the state’s 19th century history). 

    SOVEREIGN VIRILITY PROTECTION VERBATIM 

    The sovereign would be impotent to enforce its own laws if it could not temporarily enjoin those breaking them pending trial. When the State files suit to enjoin ultra vires action by a local official, a showing of likely success on the merits is sufficient to satisfy the irreparable-injury requirement for a temporary injunction.

    So expounded the supremes in State v. Hollins, No. 20-0729,  620  S.W.3d 400 (Tex. Oct. 7, 2020)(per curiam)(internal quotation marks omitted) (holding that local election official is not authorized to send an application to vote by mail to a voter who has not requested one, and that a clerk’s doing so results in “irreparable injury to the State”)

    As Fort Worth mayor, Betsy Price came out as against the diminution of local powers by the State, which is a big plus in her favor and puts her in the company of other local officials who suffer interference by the State officials in denigration of their commitment and effort to serve their local communities as they know and judge best.  

    On this critical power-shift topic, see the right-on-point analysis of Ross Ramsey years ago: “When Local Control is Remote A big, central government wants to override laws approved by the people in the provinces. That might sound like the federal government bossing states around, but it’s the Texas Legislature trying to rein in the cities and counties.” TEXAS TRIBUNE (March 12, 2015).

    And on regulation of voting as of 2020 going forward, this:

    “Price said ensuring that elections are secure is a vastly important issue, but she hasn’t seen widespread voter fraud. She said she has no problem with requiring people having to have an ID to vote, but she believes that the Legislature shouldn’t get carried away. Texas already has a hard enough time getting people to turn out, and she doesn’t want to discourage people from voting.” 

    VIDEO WORTH WATCHING: Evan Smith (Texas Tribune): A Conversation with Betsy Price, Mayor of Fort Worth (March or April 2021) (on a variety of topics). 
    https://www.texastribune.org/2021/03/31/watch-mayor-price1617120387/

  2. Mainstream says:

    Lobo, your strategy baffles me. In a GOP primary, Price may be at a disadvantage, so Democrats may not ever have a chance to vote for Price in November. Anytime you ask voters to split a ticket, it harms that party’s downballot results. It is rarely in a party’s interest to leave spaces blank on the ballot. I hear lots of grumbling from Harris County GOP voters about the empty judicial slots in 2020, and claims of resolve to fix the problem in 2022.