Three items of interest for you. First up, several local initiatives to decriminalize marijuana were successful on Tuesday.
By the end of Election Day, five Texas cities have voted to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession.
After Austin voters overwhelmingly approved the proposition to decriminalize carrying small amounts of marijuana in May, Ground Game Texas — the progressive group behind that effort — successfully worked with local organizations and pushed for similar measures to appear on the ballots of Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Harker Heights for the midterms cycle.
Voters in these cities have now shown strong support for the proposals at the polls.
The campaign saw the highest level of support in San Marcos — home to Texas State University — with nearly 82% of the votes. Denton, which has several university campuses, saw more than 70% of the votes backing the proposition.
In Killeen, known for its proximity to military base Fort Hood, close to 70% of voters approved the proposition. Elgin, just outside of Austin, saw almost 75% of votes in support of the reform. And on the low end, more than 60% of voters in Harker Heights in Bell County casted ballots in favor of decriminalizing marijuana.
“These meaningful reforms will keep people out of jail and save scarce public resources for more important public safety needs,” said Mike Siegel, political director of Ground Game Texas and a former Democrat congressional candidate. “We’re extremely happy with our results.”
Like Austin’s ordinance, the successful propositions establish city ordinances that end low-level enforcement, including citations and arrests for possessing less than four ounces of marijuana and related drug paraphernalia, in most cases. They also largely ban using city funds and staff to test substances for THC, the cannabis plant’s chemical that gets users high.
Ultimately, Ground Game Texas hoped to use the campaign to boost turnout, especially among young voters.
“We wanted to use workers, wages and weed to engage new voters,” Siegel said.
Looking ahead, Ground Game Texas will continue working with on-the-ground groups to place progressive measures on local ballots. They aim to put the measure along with several other propositions, including abortion decriminalization, in front of San Antonio voters in May 2023. And similar efforts are likely to pop up in other big cities like Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston in the 2024 elections, Siegel added.
“We’re hoping that we can prove not only that these issues are popular, but they also boosted turnout in the communities that are on the ballot,” he said. “And in the days following this election, we’re going to be having lots of conversations with folks about the next cycle.”
See here for some background. As noted there, I’m not sure what the practical effect of this will be, and I worry about legislative backlash just because that’s the world we live in now. I’ll be very interested to see if there is any evidence that this drove turnout, because Lord knows we could have used more of it if it did. And while I’m glad to see that there’s interest in bringing this to Houston, please remember that we already have several charter amendments on the ballot next year, which means either this would have to happen then or you’ll need to wait until at least 2025, since there’s a mandatory two-year wait after a successful charter amendment election. Hope y’all are already engaging with folks here about this, Ground Game Texas, so there are no unpleasant surprises for anyone.
Item two: There will be a runoff for Mayor of Austin between two familiar faces.
Austin’s next mayor was not decided Tuesday, as a tight race between Celia Israel and Kirk Watson will continue into a runoff in December.
To win the race outright, a candidate would have had to earn more than half of all votes as of Tuesday. Israel took 40% and Watson 35% of the vote, according to final but unofficial results. They were separated by more than 15,000 votes.
Jennifer Virden, the only other candidate who conducted a significant campaign, earned 18%.
Three other candidates received limited support. Phil Brual received 2%, and Gary Spellman and Anthony Bradshaw each received 1%.
In total, 304,000 votes were recorded.
Heading into the day, political insiders who analyzed the election said they expected the race to go to a runoff, as voters seemed split between Watson, the former Austin mayor and state senator, and Israel, a sitting state representative. Although Watson outraised Israel $1.3 million to $409,000, it was Israel who enjoyed momentum heading into Tuesday with recent endorsements from the American-Statesman and the Austin Chronicle.
I don’t have a dog in this fight. I like both of them and wish the eventual winner all the best.
And finally, a small bit of good news on the school board hysteria front:
The five “anti-CRT” candidates running as a slate in that wild school board race in Round Rock are getting routed in early vote results. (These are Williamson County results, similar margins in smaller Travis County portion of the district).
— Mike Hixenbaugh (@Mike_Hixenbaugh) 7:48 PM – 08 November 2022
It’s a similar story in nearby Leander ISD. Broadly speaking, based on early results, candidates who ran campaigns focused on CRT and explicit library books are trailing.
— Mike Hixenbaugh (@Mike_Hixenbaugh) 7:59 PM – 08 November 2022
A very welcome reversal from last year, in a different political climate. Well done, Round Rock and Leander.