Skip to main content

About Those Primary Races...

Thoughts on turnout and the races that came at us from under the radar.

Vote signs outside of early voting locations in Austin on Feb. 23, 2014.

I reported on the main Tribune site today on declining turnout numbers in both parties' gubernatorial primaries. The folks I talked with for the story were in agreement that the phenomenon mostly reflects the lack of any barnburner contests in the marquee governor and Senate contests this year.

Researching the piece, I found this interesting bit of information: Democratic turnout was down at twice the rate of the Republicans. But in the five largest counties by population, that flipped. Republican turnout dropped by 15 percent while Democratic turnout dropped by 5 percent.

Both parties experienced steep declines in Harris County. Democratic turnout dropped from 99,000 to 51,000. Republican turnout dropped from 158,000 to 136,000.

But Democrats had big turnout gains in Dallas (up 10,000 votes), Tarrant (up 18,00 votes) and Travis (up 7,000 votes). On the Republican side, turnout was down almost 14,000 in Dallas, 18,000 in Travis, 4,000 in Tarrant and 4,000 in Bexar.

Local dynamics no doubt were a factor here. Travis County, for instance, had a high-profile race for county judge and county commissioner. It's also true, though, that the Democratic Party is becoming more urban-based, a phenomenon that might partially explain these mirror imaging trend lines.

*****

It's an inescapable fact of life for the political pundit that some primary day upsets catch you unawares. This year, it almost happened to us with Lon Burnam's loss to Ramon Romero Jr. in the Tarrant County-based HD-90. It wasn't even on our radar until Burnam's last-minute appeal for people to block-walk the weekend before the election crossed our transom.

We quickly added the contest under the orange category. In retrospect, the Burnam contest should have been on our Hot List a lot sooner. The district was jiggered in the last round of redistricting to favor a Hispanic challenger. Looking back at his 2012 contest, we found that Burnam lost both the early vote and election day vote. He built up a big advantage in absentee ballots, though, and squeaked by with a 159-vote victory out of nearly 4,000 votes cast.

His luck ran out, though, on Tuesday. Burnam, one of the very last old-school liberals in the House, again lost the early vote and the election day vote. But this time, he only received 30 more absentee votes than his challenger and lost by 111 votes out of more than 5,000 cast.

*****

With that said, the loss of HD-94 incumbent Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, did surprise us — not necessarily the result itself but the ease with which she was dispatched. She took just 44.6 percent of the vote and lost to Tony Tinderholt by close to 1,500 votes.

Patrick was the vice chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, and her professional background — she was a former public school teacher and college professor — informed her legislative ambit.

She was one of several public policy-oriented incumbents to lose on Tuesday. The Dallas Morning News' editorial board ended up writing an institutional editorial on the losses of John Carona, Linda Harper-Brown and Bennett Ratliff titled "The Vanquished Ideas People."

Here's what the board wrote:

"Then there are those who steep themselves in the excruciating details of policy and the ways of putting it into place. They are the ideas people. They carry the institutional knowledge that’s passed from session to session and makes the Capitol a smarter place.

"If only their value to the state were clear to voters whose heads are brimming with campaign slogans on Election Day. ...

"Bold policy proposals have a habit of boomeranging on politicians. Carona’s primary opponent, developer Don Huffines, waged an expensive campaign that succeeded in convincing voters in Senate District 16 that Carona is a free-spending menace to society. The truth is Carona had backbone enough to put hard choices on the table in Austin. Lawmakers never acted on them, and highway-funding problems remain unsolved. But it was not for lack of trying on the part of one now-defeated state senator from Dallas. As for the victor in this race, if Huffines is an ideas guy, we haven’t heard them."

*****

Other upsets that surprised us? Ralph Sheffield in HD-55 and George Lavender in HD-1

Support public-service journalism that gets the context right

Yes, I'll donate today