Updated, 4:45 p.m.:
Stand for Children Texas marketing and communications director Felice Trirogoff released the following statement to the Texas Tribune:
“Stand for Children-Texas does not and has never supported vouchers. Our focus is on improving public schools, which is why we are championing adequate and equitable school funding, access to high-quality pre-kindergarten, and expanded programming for English Language Learners. We also support high-quality charter schools and charter school accountability.”
After an early voting period that didn't see heavy turnout, the race for the Houston area's Senate District 6 now turns to election day on Saturday, with a runoff likely to follow the special election.
Slightly more than 8,200 voters cast their ballots during the early voting period that began Jan. 9 and ended Tuesday in the race to fill the vacancy created after longtime state Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, died in October. About 2,900 of those ballots were by mail.
By comparison, about 138,000 out of a possible 284,250 voters cast ballots in November, when Gallegos was elected posthumously, defeating Republican R.W. Bray. Gallegos' successor will serve a four-year term after Senate members drew unmarked envelopes to determine who will be up for re-election in 2014.
Democrats Carol Alvarado, a state representative from Houston and former City Council member, and Sylvia Garcia, a former Harris County commissioner who also served as Harris County controller, are considered the top two contenders in the strongly Democratic district, but a crowded field that also includes Bray and five other candidates could mean a winner will not be determined until late February or early March.
If no candidate earns more than 50 percent of the election's vote, a runoff election between the top two vote-getters will be called. The timeline for when that will occur depends on when the results are canvassed and Gov. Rick Perry orders the runoff.
Alvarado and Garcia have campaigned at breakneck speeds after Perry officially announced Saturday's election date on Dec. 13. The ensuing weeks have seen several candidate forums and fundraisers.
The most recent campaign finance filing period ended Jan. 18, with Garcia reporting about $164,000 raised since Jan. 1, expenditures of $300,000 and about $228,400 remaining in her war chest. A pre-election telegram report, which is filed to report contributions received after the date of the last report, shows Garcia raised an additional $14,500.
Alvarado raised about $185,000 during the same time period, spent about $315,000 and has about $110,000 left on hand. She also raised about $20,000 after the filing date, according to her telegram reports on file with the Texas Ethics Commission.
The Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday that plaintiff’s attorney and Democratic donor Steve Mostyn provided a bulk of Garcia’s support, including about $80,400 in in-kind contributions from the Texas Organizing Project PAC. Mostyn is a major contributor to that group.
The publication also noted that Alvarado received $22,000 from the Houston Police Officers Union and a $15,000 donation from HillCo lobbyists in Austin.
As the election nears, issues like tax returns and school vouchers have been used to try to sway voters. On Dec. 14, Garcia said she would release 14 years of tax returns and called on Alvarado to release her tax returns — and reveal her consulting clients.
“I am releasing my tax returns today because I have nothing to hide," Garcia said in a news release. Alvarado later released her tax returns she filed from 2008 to 2011, but Garcia’s camp hinted it was too little, too late.
“Alvarado waited until just days before the start of early voting to release only a few years of income taxes, and she still refuses to disclose her so-called consulting clients,” said Terrysa Guerra, Garcia's campaign manager.
Alvarado said she is one of the most transparent members of the Texas House and said the issue shows how “misinformed” Garcia’s camp is because all of Alvarado’s business dealings can be found on her personal financial statement, a pubic document required for elected officials.
Garcia also hit Alvarado after the representative touted an endorsement from Stand for Children, an education advocacy group that Garcia said supports school vouchers.
“Sylvia Garcia strongly believes in fully funding our public schools, not using those dollars to help wealthy private schools take money away from our children,” Guerra said in a statement.
Hitting back, Alvarado said she has always supported public education and is on the side of educators and school districts.
“I am a product of HISD,” she said. “If there is any doubt on where I stand on public education, look at my voting record. I am the only one in this race with a record.”
In her release, Garcia includes a link to a document on the Stand for Children website called “What We Stand For: School Choice.”
"This paper begins with an overview of existing choice programs and a discussion of the current evidence available on these policies and their impact on student outcomes and equity,” the researchers write.
Calls to Stand for Children seeking clarification on where the group stands on the issue of vouchers were not immediately returned.
Bray, who raised about $14,000 leading up to his general election contest last year, only reported raising about $350 in January, according to campaign finance reports. Republican Dorothy Marie Olmos, 54, who ran unsuccessfully for the State Board of Education in November, raised no money and spent $3,500, which she took out in a loan.
Democrat Joaquin Martinez, 32, who describes himself as a “silent community leader in the East End,” raised about $5,600 in January and spent about $2,000. Fellow Democrat Susan Delgado, 48, who lists her occupation as real estate broker, reported raising no money since late December. Her only expenditure is the required $1,250 filing fee. Delgado twice ran unsuccessfully against Gallegos, once as an independent and another time as a Libertarian. Democrat Rodolfo M. Reyes, 59, a business consultant and former member of the League City City Council, spent $3,000 and has an outstanding loan balance of $16,600.
Green Party candidate Maria Selva, 52, raised about $1,500 for her campaign since December and has spent about $1,300.
After Saturday's election, Harris County has 10 days to canvass the results, while Perry’s office has 14, according to the secretary of state. The governor’s canvass can’t take place until the county finishes its own, and Perry has five days after his canvass to order the runoff election if needed. The runoff would have to be set on a date between the 12th and 25th day after Perry ordered it, and it must take place on a Tuesday or a Saturday.
Following the runoff election, the county has 10 days to canvass the results and the governor’s office has 14.
Editor’s note: A Houston Chronicle report cited in this story has been corrected by that publication to reflect that Mr. Mostyn’s PAC donated $80,400. This story has been corrected to reflect that change.