Contests still in play as early voting begins include 4 for House in Dallas County, 1 for Senate in Fort Worth, lesbian Ann Johnson’s in Houston
Turnout is always higher in presidential election years, but voters don’t seem as motivated as they were in 2008.
Although Republican Mitt Romney is expected to win Texas’ electoral votes, Democrats — who haven’t won a statewide race in 18 years — will be looking to cut into the 55-44 margin by which John McCain defeated Barack Obama here in 2008.
Meanwhile, in local races that are expected to be close, turnout in the LGBT community could be the deciding factor.
Texans will vote on Nov. 6 to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate. Republican Ted Cruz is heavily favored over Democrat Paul Sadler.
In the U.S. House, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat who represents Oak Lawn and a large portion of Oak Cliff, is expected to win handily. Democrat Marc Veasey is expected to join Johnson in Washington representing a new district that winds its way from North Oak Cliff to gay neighborhoods in Fort Worth.
Every two years, all members of the Texas House of Representatives are elected. State senators serve staggered four-year terms except every 10 years when all senators are up for re-election because of redistricting. This year, a record number of legislators are running unopposed including Mary Gonzalez, an El Paso Democrat who won her primary and will become the first LGBT member of the Texas Legislature in a decade.
Gonzalez’s situation is hardly unique. Of 150 House seats, 89 candidates — 63 Republicans and 26 Democrats — face no opposition on Election Day.
“That’s because the system’s rigged,” Dallas County Democratic Party chair Darlene Ewing said, referring to redistricting that packed districts to protect incumbents.
Only about a dozen seats statewide are considered in play. Several of those are in the Dallas area.
Ewing said it’s unreasonable to ask someone to spend a year of their lives campaigning and raising money “to challenge someone who is unchallengeable.”
Ewing credits Texas Republicans with single-handedly saving the Voting Rights Act.
“Republicans were so extreme, greedy and piggish, they proved to the courts that discrimination still exists,” she said.
Despite Republicans’ efforts, Democrats are expected to pick up at least three seats in the Texas House, causing Republicans to lose their 102-48 supermajority.
Several of the House seats Democrats have a chance to pick up are in North Texas.
In District 114 including the Lake Highlands area, Jason Villalba, who has been backed by gay Republican groups, faces former Rep. Carol Kent. In the primary, Villalba was attacked by his opponent for being described in the Morning News as “more moderate” and “more pragmatic.”
Going into the final weeks of the election, Kent has more money on hand than Villalba.
“Villalba is definitely a rising star in the party,” Dallas Log Cabin Republicans President Thomas Purdy said. “Not many people know it, but Texas is only a few years away from becoming a battleground state. The diversity of the party has got to match the diversity of the state.”
In District 102 in North Dallas, first-term incumbent Republican Stefani Carter faces Democrat Rich Hancock.
“The best shot of getting rid of an incumbent is after the first term when you have someone who is incompetent like Carter,” Ewing said.
She said Carter won in 2010 by running the nastiest campaign in Dallas County.
In District 107 in East Dallas and Garland, incumbent Republican Kenneth Sheets faces Democrat Robert Miklos.
Sheets is better funded, but Miklos has knocked on 24,000 doors in his district.
In Irving’s District 105, Republican incumbent Linda Harper-Brown is the odds-on favorite over Democratic challenger Rosemary Robbins. But Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Omar
Narvaez believes Robbins has a chance because she’s running an active campaign.
“All the [House] races are looking very tight,” Narvaez said.
In other House races around the state, Houston incumbent Sarah Davis is seen as vulnerable. Her opponent is lesbian Ann Johnson, who’s vying to join Gonzalez and give Texas two out legislators for the first time.
Longtime ally Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston is expected to win re-election but faces a well-funded opponent for the first time. She has served since 1972 and is the ranking member of the Texas House.
The most-watched state Senate race in the state is between Tarrant County incumbent Wendy Davis and challenger state Rep. Mark Shelton.
Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats President Felipe Gutierrez said his group has donated more than $20,500 to Davis’ campaign, making it one of her top funders.
He said her campaign is the top priority for the group and members are supporting her on a daily basis doing everything from attending her debates to phone banking, stuffing envelopes and block walking. He said he believes she has broad support from Democratic groups but also from others in the city.
“She’s very likeable,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez added that he’ll be delighted to see state Rep. Lon Burnam, one of the founders of Tarrant Stonewall, elected to another term, even though he’s running unopposed.
Back in Dallas County, two-term incumbent Sheriff Lupe Valdez is taking her re-election seriously and working for every vote.
“She’s in all the parades and goes to every Rotary,” Ewing said. “She’s well known.”
Narvaez said he hadn’t seen much of a campaign from Valdez’s opponent, Republican Kirk Launius.
“She’s the first sheriff to get the jails to pass inspection in 20 years,” he said. “She deserves re-election.”
Valdez remains the only female sheriff in the state and only the second in the state’s history. The first was Travis County’s Margo Frasier, who was also openly gay.
Two seats on the Dallas County Commissioners Court are on the ballot. Democrat John Wiley Price is expected to win re-election handily in District 3, and Democrat Theresa Daniel is favored in the redrawn District 1.
For the first time, District 1 includes a portion of Oak Lawn and does not touch a county boundary line. Daniel faces Larry Miller, who told Dallas Voice he opposes taxpayer money being used for partner benefits. Daniel is a longtime supporter of equality.
Ewing called Daniel wonkish and said she’ll be great at studying and coming up with solutions for Parkland hospital and healthcare delivery in the county.
“Miller? He’d be a dumber Maureen Dickey,” Ewing said, referring to the Republican who’s retiring from the seat. “And that’s hard to do.”
Daniel has been knocking on doors in Pleasant Grove, one of the most neglected areas of the city and part of the redrawn District 1. People have been telling her that no candidate has ever been by their house before.
Among judicial races, Dallas County Criminal District Court No. 2 pits incumbent Don Adams against Lisa DeWitt. Adams is a longtime Stonewall Democrats member. DeWitt is vice president of Log Cabin Republicans.
“There is no county Republican candidate who has advocated more on behalf of our community than her,” Purdy said. “She was a cop, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, and twice a foreman of the grand jury. She would make an excellent judge.”
Purdy said he’s also watching the race for Dallas County tax assessor, which pits Democratic incumbent John Ames against Republican challenger Andrew Marcontell.
“Andrew Marcontell has always treated us as equals in terms of how he deals with people and with policy,” Purdy said. “I truly hope to see him in office.”
DeWitt and Marcontell face uphill battles. No Republican has won a countywide race since 2004.
In the city of Dallas, three bond proposals totaling $642 million will be on the ballot. The first is for street, sidewalk and trail construction. The second is for flood control and storm drainage projects, and the third is for economic development. The $260 million in street and transportation projects was divided into 15 allotments and distributed among the council members and mayor to distribute through their districts.
Cedar Springs Road would receive almost $1.2 million from Councilwoman Angela Hunt’s allotment and an additional $150,000 from Councilwoman Pauline Medrano for a complete streets project.
Early voting dates, times
Early voting in Dallas and Tarrant counties is from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 22-26; 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Oct. 27; 1 p.m.-6 p.m. in Dallas County and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. in Tarrant County Oct. 28; and 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Oct. 29-Nov. 2. For more, go to DallasCountyVotes.org or TarrantCounty.com/evote.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 19, 2012.