The 2016 Texas Primary Play-by-Play
Friends, the most super of Tuesdays is upon us. The Texas Observer staff is live in downtown Austin tonight, bringing y’all election returns, the latest developments and many, many Twitter jokes made in haste and bad taste.
We’re covering everything from the presidential primaries to down-ballot races for the Texas House, the State Board of Education and the Texas Railroad Commission (which does not, in fact, have much to do with railroads.) Refresh your memory on what’s happened so far with this aggregation of our full 2016 Texas primary coverage, and come on down to Wright Bros. Brew & Brew and Companion gallery and join us if you fancy some commiseration.
Democrats don’t run much in Texas, but they can still duke it out in primary races for control of a seat and the direction of the party. God knows Texas Democrats need to figure out some kind of vector other than sideways, backwards or down the tubes. In San Antonio’s Senate District 26, it seems that voters opted to keep the quiet accomdationist moderate over the ambitious brawling strategist.
In a reprise of their last grudge match, Jose Menendez bested Trey Martinez Fischer tonight in the district once held by Leticia Van de Putte. At last check, with more than half the precincts reporting, Menendez was up 58-42, and earlier this evening Senator Menendez declared victory. Menendez and TMF, as he’s known to friends and foes, offered two distinct visions of how to be a lawmaker as part of a seemingly permanent opposition party. Menendez prefers the quiet, stay-in-your lane approach, while TMF takes the fight to the other side with calculated legislative tactics and a pointed anti-GOP message.
Agree or disagree with TMF’s approach, his loss tonight represents another frustrated career of the small number of Democrats ambitious or crazy enough to try to do something other than play the game on the GOP’s terms.
One RRC candidate is having a grand old time waiting for the results to come in. Hale is currently in third place, trailing Wayne Christian by six points and Gary Gates by 13 points.
Who, you ask, was the most offensive human to win their race tonight? If you said Donald Trump, you might be wrong because Robert Morrow is riding his nonsensical hate wave straight to the Travis County GOP chairmanship.
To coworkers, this is easy to explain: Every few weeks we get the latest installment of Ken-Burns-on-nightmare-shrooms histories, most of which involve LBJ visiting ever more elaborate secret-island assassination schemes upon JFK, or video of him confronting Chelsea Clinton on the question of her parentage.
From here on out, it looks like this correspondence will lat least be coming with some more impressive letterhead. Want to read more about this gentleman?
What’s wrong with you?
If Morrow truly was riding an anti-Clinton wave here in Austin tonight, at least a few Republicans are none too pleased. (Don’t click those.) This might be some of the night’s weirdest primary developments.
In East Texas, being gay is apparently still worse than being a convicted criminal — at least if the local media neglects to report on your opponent’s rap sheet.
Lamar County Clerk Russ Towers, appointed last year, narrowly lost his bid to become the first openly gay Republican elected to public office in the state, falling to “family values” candidate Ruth Sisson in Tuesday’s GOP Primary.
Sisson, who’s written 44 bad checks totaling over $2,000 and faced allegations of racism, captured 51 percent of the vote, or 4,694, to Towers’ 49 percent, or 4,509.
“I kind of lose faith in humanity that they would hire a thief over me, but what’s done is done,” Towers told the Observer. “I think it was unfair that nobody highlighted the gay guy for the job he did, and no one wanted to talk about a real issue, which is a person with a lengthy criminal history.”
Neither The Paris News, the daily local newspaper, nor any other major East Texas outlet reported on Sisson’s criminal record prior to the election.
Towers, a Paris native, now plans to move back to Dallas, where he lived for a decade before returning to Paris in 2007 and becoming Lamar County’s elections administrator. In a bitter twist, Towers implemented the real-time voting-results software that gradually documented his slip from a 55-45 lead in early voting to defeat on Super Tuesday.
“I’ve done everything that I could possibly do in the small town of Paris, and I believe I made a lot of headway in doing so,” Towers said.
Should Debbie Riddle be losing to the first nobody (Valoree Swanson) who told Texas Right to Life they’d vote for, well, whatever it is Texas Right to Life believes they think Debbie Riddle doesn’t agree with? Should House State Affairs chair Byron Cook be thisclose to a twenty-something fruitcake salesman?
I never thought I’d say this to the man who described the pre-Wendy Davis “people’s filibuster” as “repetitive,” but … WTAF, man?
It’s the left wing’s job to marvel at this chicanery, and at some point it has to be the Republican Party’s job to mitigate it, if only out of complete self-interest in terms of not losing literally everything they believe themselves to be entitled to.
Last November — just in time for the holidays — we noted that Collin County state House candidate was running to replace retiring state Representative Scott Turner and become Texas’ first openly atheist elected official. When we spoke, Padgett noted how alienating politics can seem to non-believers when religious faith is taken as a given in any policy debates. She saw her campaign as one of many roads to making politics more accessible to younger voters.
Even after a strong showing from Padgett tonight, the road would have been a treacherous one, given that God speaks directly through the Collin County water supply. By a quirk in the state constitution, she may have even been legally barred from holding office, though past attorneys general have said that they couldn’t enforce the constitutional ban on officeholders with “no religious affiliation or belief in a higher being.”
But tonight is not the night we’ll put that question to the test. The early vote shows Padgett trailing Rockwall County Democrat Karen Jacobs by a wide margin.
Based on early totals, here are a few tight battles in the never-ending war between the forces of Straus and those of NOT STRAUS:
Longtime Representative Dan Flynn is neck-and-neck with his Empower Texans-backed challenger Bryan Slaton, with just a few East Texas precincts reporting.
Lance Gooden leads Empower Texans-backed incumbent Stuart Spitzer by around 400 votes with one third of the precincts in.
Fruitcake scion Thomas McNutt has a 500-vote lead on House State Affairs Chairman Byron Cook; unseating him would be a great big score for the moneyed insurgents.
Last but not least, human bowtie and staunch defender of the unborn Briscoe Cain has a slight edge on incumbent Straus ally Wayne Smith of Baytown. Cain has represented Operation Rescue in its fight to expose! Planned Parenthood in Harris County, and has promised to be the guy who’ll carry the anti-choice bills other lawmakers haven’t had the guts to attach their names to.
Trump, the night’s victor, scheduled a lengthy press conference at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate, instead of a victory speech. So Cruz had to wait until it was over to deliver his brief speech, introduced by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. He spoke with a teleprompter this time, not usually his style.
His message was carefully calibrated, hitting two points really hard: Marco Rubio and the others should drop out, now, and allow him to take on the Donald for real. Rubio flopped hard tonight, but is clearing the field the right strategy to defeat Trump? A lot of people disagree.
The second point: Ted Cruz is not the Donald, and the Donald is bad. “Donald Trump supports Planned Parenthood,” Cruz said. “Donald Trump promises to compromise with Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer on Supreme Court nominees. I will never compromise away our right to keep and bear arms.” “Donald Trump pledges to be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians.” “Donald Trump says he would try to keep in place the Iranian nuclear deal.”
Simple sentences, strong contrasts. But the Trump phenomenon is post-ideological: People like Trump, the strong leader, and the policies are secondary. So it’s unclear that this is the way to go.
He did question Trump’s honesty, though. It has been reported that the NYT has a secret recording,” wherein Trump is more moderate than his public statements suggest. “Donald, release the tape,” Cruz said, looking into the camera. Ok. So Cruz expects — or wants to be — mano a mano with the Donald. It feels too late, yes?
Travis County results have been hard to come by tonight.
Brave young upstart Jonathan Boos, he of beans-in-chili sacrilege, is trailing Mesquite incumbent Cindy Burkett in HD 113, while Dallas’ Jason Villalba challenger Dan Morenoff, another tea party sorta-fave has not yet set the district afire.
Almost 10 percent of precincts are reporting and at this point a runoff seems virtually guaranteed in both the GOP and Democratic primaries for the RRC seat. On the Republican side, Wayne Christian, the multi-term state rep, will likely face Gary Gates, who has spent over $1 million of his own money on the campaign. And in the Democratic primaries, Lon Burnam, the nine-term state rep who won endorsements from a number of environmental groups seems likely to be left out of a runoff. Cody Garrett and Ralph Yarbrough, the two candidates with almost no political experience will probably face off in May.
Here’s the Dallas Morning News shakedown of Texas’ 155 delegates. Cruz took the state and, with it, 32 delegates. Trump has tallied 14. Rubio and friends are, so far, empty-handed. Clinton got 138 delegates to Sanders 42. Pretty red, orange, blue and green mosaics below.
Longtime GOP state Representative Debbie Riddle of Tomball is losing to challenger Valoree Swanson. Amazingly, Swanson successfully painted Riddle as a “RINO.” Riddle is a notorious #txlege winger. She once said of public education, “It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell.”
She works tirelessly to keep poor folks out of her district. She thinks trans people just need to “look in the mirror” to figure out their identities. And she is very worried about “terror babies” springing sleeper cells on unwitting Americans.
Debbie Riddle, RINO, is losing to a candidate to her right.
Gina Hinojosa has the lead in Austin’s HD 49 race to replace long-time Dem Elliott Naishtat. Lawyer Heather Way is next, followed by Huey Rey Fischer.
GOP turnout is almost twice Dem turnout in Texas.
Also in El Paso, this news: Joe Fierro Jr., who also enjoyed support from the recently mentioned Texans for Education Reform, is running second in a three-way race, down 32 points to Georgina Perez, a public school advocate with a home library-building program who’s been designing a Mexican-American studies course for El Paso schools.
Perez is no stranger to the State Board of Education — she was there in the last few years advocating for the board to approve new ethnic studies courses for schools. To tell by the early numbers so far, she could have a mic of her own there before long.
Y’all tried it.
Election night is a good time to assess the state of government agencies’ IT capabilities. A couple of counties are uploading new PDFs every time a new set of results roll in. The last I checked it was 2016.
El Paso’s early voting results have just posted and it’s our first look at former state Representative Chente Quintanilla’s effort to oust Mary Gonzalez from her seat in House District 49. Quintanilla got little help — $250,000 worth of help — from the well-heeled folks at Texans For Education reform, a school-choice advocacy group that’s backed by many of the same folks at the powerhouse lobby group Texans for Lawsuit Reform.
Gonzalez is leading so far with 1,804 early votes to Quintanilla’s 1,130. (Quorum Report has just called the race for Gonzalez.)
This is a race worth watching not only for its implications for public education and LGBT rights (As John Wright noted earlier tonight, Gonzalez is an “LGBT pioneer” in the House), but also as part of the ongoing feud between Democratic factions in El Paso. Quintanilla. As this recent piece in the El Paso Times notes, Quintanilla would be a markedly different sort of Democrat from Gonzalez, for his opposition to bilingual education, his support for Texas’ 2011 ultrasound law, and his support of campus carry. “I think there’s a good old American right to carry a firearm,” he said. Most Democrats in this district evidently disagree.
If it amounts to nothing else, this was the race when Texas’ biggest conservative donors emptied their pockets to put a bunch of condoms on a lunch tray for an attack mailer.
And it’s getting hot up in this here beloved and historic fruitcake bakery.
Hillary: Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas, Alabama.
Bernie: Vermont, Oklahoma.
Shout out to our intern Lorenzo, who provided this nationwide update for presidential primary watchers.
Trump takes: Alabama, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Virginia.
Cruz takes: Oklahoma, Texas.
Not yet called: Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Minnesota.
Ted Cruz victory party tonight, or victory-ish party, is at Houston’s Redneck Country Club, whose centerpiece is a full size replica of the Dukes of Hazzard’s General Lee. If that seems over the top, it’s in tune with Cruz’s one-time strategy for today, which relied heavily on grabbing delegates in southern states.
It’s not working out that way. At the moment, with only 1.6 percent reporting, he’s leading in Texas by about 11 points. It’s a relief for Cruz to win here. When Fox called the state for him, a cheer went up in the crowd, a few hundred people with a few hundred red solo cups.
But he’s losing everywhere else, so far, quite badly, with the exception of Oklahoma, where he’s leading Trump by 2 with a third of the vote in. It’s not enough, though Rubio’s doing worse. The captive crowd has been watching a succession of Fox News talking heads talk about the strength of Trump’s coalition and his growing inevitability.
The race to replace longtime state Representative Ruth Jones McClendon in San Antonio has drawn a crowded field and could be headed to a runoff, if early results are any judge.
The night has already given us one important lesson at least: Appending the word “Educator” to your name is no guarantee of a runaway win. Nor, evidently, was that Valentine’s Day fundraiser — “Remember, every woman counts!” — inviting his backers to “Be Mine” for $100 or get a “Love You” for $200.
The longtime public servant, a Edwards Aquifer Authority board member and Justice of the Peace has just under 20 percent of the vote, trailing Mario Salas and frontrunner Barbara Gervin-Hawkins in the early vote, though all are within 300 votes of each other. We’ll have to wait a little longer to find out who, exactly, these San Antonio voters are sweet on tonight.
Hillary is up 68 to 30 percent with a little over 1 percent of precincts reporting. A lot of votes left to be counted but, damn, she’s got a big lead.
Lon Burnam is trailing at last place in the Dem primaries for RRC commissioner. Yarbrough has a 11 point lead over Burnam.
There was a day when the State Board of Education was less embarrassing than it usually is. That day may be coming to an end. If her 20-point lead in the early vote holds, early next year we’ll be welcoming Mary Lou Bruner to the state board. Bruner — who could probably use a lesson in social media use for elected officials — has already been in the business of making Texas look good since her old posts surfaced suggesting that “The Muslims use our own First Amendment against us” and that the teaching of evolution is to blame for school shootings.”
Never have the words “former school teacher” been more frightening. But slightly more than half of the GOP voters in District 9 have seen fit to elevate her to an even more influential role in what Texas schoolchildren learn.
Years from now when we’re reading the Texas history books about Barack Obama, and turn to the part where Barack Obama miiiiiight — just sayin’, he coulda been — have been a prostitute in his youth, we’ll all have Bruner to thank.
Not taking this clear opportunity to snag a wildly inappropriate punchline.
It’s Super Tuesday, and I spent the majority of my time driving to different polling locations in Austin and taking pictures. A couple things I observed: 1) Winter let me forget that my car’s AC doesn’t work, and sitting in traffic with the sun beating down on me reminded me I need to get that fixed. 2) I decided today I will never vote at the Travis County Clerk’s office on Airport. That decision is solely based on the cluster fuck that was the parking lot. 3) It is very hard to find a Ted Cruz or Donald Trump campaign sign in Central Austin. There is an abundance of Bernie signs, though. 4) Donald Trump’s headquarters in Austin would not let me come in to take any photos. The volunteer sounded genuinely sorry for me when he broke the news to me. 5) The only polling place that didn’t have a line, and also where I voted, was at the corner of Pleasant Valley and MLK. The volunteers were great, and I breezed through there in under 20 minutes. The trick? They didn’t have a “vote here” sign. When I inquired about it, they said they asked for one, but “nobody brought any.”
My favorite photo I took today is a simple “vote here” sign, but with a special detail. As someone who cannot walk in any kind of heel, I was impressed when the woman in the background stepped confidently into a very long line, with very high heels.
Thanks for voting, y’all!
Counties have begun posting their early vote totals, so here’s a quick look around some races we’re watching tonight, courtesy the Tarrant County election returns:
Jonathan Stickland, pictured earlier today at the polling place with his best frenemy Scott Fisher, looks like he may stick around the Lege a bit longer. Despite the blowback from those troubling online comments that surfaced a few months back, he’s leading 59-41 in early votes so far.
Empower Texans-endorsed Arlington Representative Tony Tinderholt is also on track to Tinder-hold onto his seat, leading challenger Andrew Piel by a similar margin. These were some of the races where The Establishment was getting ready to assert its might and take back a few seats.
Read John Wright’s report on Towers’ run against a woman with a looooooong rap sheet and a “family values” platform.
Things aren’t looking so hot for Bernie. Granted, very few precincts are reporting but Hillary is leading 66 to 31 percent. Perhaps the more salient data point is that in Travis County early voting Hillary has a narrow lead of 51.5 percent to Bernie’s 47.9 percent. If Bernie can’t win in Austin, he’s in for a rough night.
And Gary Gates, the wealthy Houston businessman who’s loaned himself $2 million to spend on his campaign, is leading in the early voting totals for Dallas County.
Early voting totals have Yarbrough at a 13 point lead over Lon Burnam. Guess that famous Yarbrough name is paying off.
(Commissioner for Life)
If Ron Hale wins the RRC seat, a highly unlikely event at best, I sure hope he won’t help his PR person get a job at the agency. #Hashtag
The polls are still open for another 10 minutes here but I’m already on the edge of my seat for the results of one particular race. For no reason of particular political consequence, I’m especially invested in the results of the Dallas County commissioner’s race between Commissioner For Life John Wiley Price and Mayor For A Minute Dwaine Caraway, the longtime city council member who served out the end of Tom Leppert’s mayoral term in 2011. Back then Leppert was on to bigger and better things — history will remember him as the first guy to lose to Ted Cruz, and remembered him again briefly this week when Leppert endorsed Donald Trump, for some reason.
Anyway: I lived in Dallas at the time and I don’t anymore, so the whole thing feels a little sentimental. Tonight’s Caraway-Price race has a lot of South Dallas history behind it, and made a little history a few days ago when the two got into a shouting ‘n’ shoving match at a Dallas radio station. Evidently one of Caraway’s ads aired during a commercial break and Price was none too pleased. There were allegations of marital infidelity. Price allegedly held a Caraway staffer aloft, by the neck. Lawsuits have been filed.
It may not be the biggest seat at stake in Texas tonight, but it’ll be one of the most fun to watch. After all, when was the last time Hillary Clinton choked a Bernie Sanders staffer? When was the last time Donald Trump sued a political rival? Well, alright, give that one a minute.
So far, at least.
The operative snark there is “trying,” which will in a matter of hours become “absolutely flipping keeping it.” My guess is the Empower Texans ringleader will get just about what he paid “~$30k” for, which is … a big loss.