Five Legislative Races to Watch in March Primary

This is the final day of early voting — a period in which many more energized Texans cast ballots for their favorite candidates than their counterparts did in 2006. During the last two weeks, we've published fifteen installments in our Primary Color series, analyzing the marquee contested party primaries in House districts 7, 20, 36, 47, 66, 76, 78, 98, 105, 127 and 146, Senate District 5, State Board of Education District 5, Congressional District 23, and Supreme Court Place 9. Today we present the last five of our stories.

Brian Thevenot reports on the face-off between very different GOP insiders to take on state Rep. Diana Maldonado, D-Round Rock, in House District 52.

[T]he two more serious contenders, Larry Gonzales and John Gordon, offer a clear choice, though one based less on issues than personal style and political background. Gonzales is a 40-year-old Capitol insider, having worked on the staffs of several House members, the Lieutenant Governor and the Attorney General. Gordon, 63, is the consummate Williamson County insider, having dogged local hot-button issues for years and worked in community organizations. He calls himself “the father of the Williamson County Republican Party” and harshly ridicules Gordon’s Capitol experience.

According to the latest campaign filings, both Gordon and Gonzales have banked about $130,000, and both say they're planning last-minute ad blitzes. Gordon appears to be largely self-financing his race. He lists about half of his donations as coming from himself, and almost all of the other half comes from relatives. Gonzales has collected donations from a comparatively broader swath of people, but most of his money comes from one dominant player: Bob Perry, the Houston homebuilder, tort reform advocate, and the leading financier of Republican campaigns across Texas. Perry and his wife, Doylene, gave a total of $90,000 to the Gonzales campaign...

Julian Aguilar looks at the ideological purity test in HD-43, where incumbent Tara Rios Ybarra, D-South Padre Island, has been called a "closet Republican" by her Democratic challenger, J.M Lozano.

 

Rios Ybarra defends her "moderate" approach and her bipartisan tendencies, and the support she says comes with them, because of the economic hardship in District 43, which is one of the poorest in the state. It covers six counties — Jim Hogg, Brooks, Willacy, Kenedy, Kleberg and northern Cameron — and about a third of the families with children live in poverty. Nearly 40 percent of residents have less than a high school education. “I believe, in this country, that it isn’t about handouts,” she says. “I believe ultimately it’s about creating opportunity, and that is done when we have a strong small-business sector. If that resonates across the aisle, that resonates across the aisle.”

But Lozano’s accusations carry weight with at least one party mainstay. In a rare endorsement before a contested primary, the Jim Hogg County Democratic Party is backing Lozano. "A Democrat primarily financed by Republicans is no Democrat at all," its chair, Juan Carlos Guerra, said in a Feb. 19 statement. Guerra claimed Rios Ybarra "hijacked” the term “Democrat” to claim victory in 2008 in this Democratic-majority district. "We will not sit back as a Democratic Party any longer and allow Republicans to infiltrate our party,” the statement continued. “She misled the voters once, but that will not happen again.”

Reeve Hamilton explains how Democrats have to choose between an Agriculture Commissioner candidate with ranching experience (Hank Gilbert) and one who's the consummate promoter (Kinky Friedman).

Gilbert and Friedman, who were both running for governor in those now-forgotten days before Bill White threw his hat in, may find themselves coveting the same job, but their notions of what that job is could hardly be more different. Gilbert emphasizes wonky expertise and hands-on experience, whle Friedman is all showmanship — few campaign stops go by without him utterling his one-liner “No cow left behind!” or mentioning his desire for his ashes to be scattered in Gov. Rick Perry’s hair.

Before Friedman’s run for governor as an independent in 2006, he says Clinton told him, “Find a few issues that are close to your heart and hammer them relentlessly.” He took the former president's advice then and chose a couple things this time too, focusing on his passion for animal rescue and shelters. The rest, he says, he’ll leave to the experts.

“Clearly Kinky has no direction other than he wants animals to run free, and for those that nobody wants anymore he wants to build shelters in every county,” says Gilbert. “Those are noble ideas and a fairy tale way to live life, but it’s just not practical.”

Andrew Kreighbaum weighs in on the six-way free-for-all to win that rare thing in Texas politics: an open slot on the Texas Supreme Court.

When Texas Supreme Court Justice Harriet O’Neill announced in August that she wouldn't seek re-election to her Place 3 slot, five Republican judges and one former state legislator jumped into the race. With all nine Supreme Court seats considered safe for Republicans — Democrats haven't held a seat on the court since 1998 — the fight, predictably, has been over who has the best conservative credentials. In a down-ballot race that's likely to go to a runoff, each of the candidates is also focusing on making the most campaign stops and winning the backing of the biggest-name supporters.

The wildcard looks to be the former legislator, Rick Green, who served in the state House, representing Dripping Springs, from 1999 to 2003. Green has no judicial experience, but's he's been endorsed by conservative icon Chuck "Walker, Texas Ranger" Norris and a slew of conservative lawmakers, including state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center. “He’s very conservative and has a record with some of those conservative elements,” Christian says. “He does try to appeal to the non-traditional conservatives and a lot of them are out on the almost libertarian [wing]. That’s a hard group to capture in a Supreme Court.”

And Ross Ramsey contemplates the potential karmic payback of state Rep. Chuck Hopson, of Jacksonville, who quit the Democratic party and filed for reelection as a Republican, only to find two GOP primary opponents lying in wait.

His decision was terrific news for Republicans in Austin and beyond, tilting the narrow balance of power in the Texas House one notch their way; what was a 76-74 Republican majority suddenly became a 77-73 vote edge that makes it more difficult for Texas Democrats to take control (Democratic Rep. David Farabee's decision to retire from his seat in conservative Wichita Falls will probably add to the GOP majority, too). The tilt is especially important to partisans right now — lawmakers will draw political districts next year, and the party in power has a better chance of getting its way. Advantage: GOP.

Some local Republicans, however, are finding it hard to accommodate a pest they've spent years trying to exterminate. Three State Republican Executive Committee members, three of the four county GOP chairs in the district, and former state Sen. Drew Nixon, R-Carthage, all signed a letter saying "Chuck Hopson is a Democrat" and "There are only two real Republicans in this race: Allan Cain and Dr. Michael Banks." It's been printed up, with unfavorable rankings for Hopson on the other side from the Texas Eagle Forum, Texas Right to Life, the Heritage Alliance, and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, and sent to voters in the district.

 

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