Analysis: In Texas, the end of a grinding election, and another already on the horizon
As a grueling election cycle comes to a close, there is no rest for the weary: Candidates are already talking about what's on the Texas ballot in 2022.
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The players are talking about it, so we might as well talk about it.
The 2022 Texas elections are already underway.
Asked about his interest in running for attorney general, George P. Bush, the land commissioner and the bearer of the strongest family name in Texas politics, said through an aide that he will “keep all options open.”
And that’s all it takes. That is not a “No.” What it is, as if they needed it, is a signal to anyone else thinking about a 2022 run for statewide office that they need to get ready.
This is an unseemly conversation, what with the 2020 election climaxing Tuesday, but it’s not an unusual one. It’s the political season. Almost everything that can be done about the current election — at least in terms of strategy — has been done. All that’s left is the voting.
But the political people are fired up, thinking about the meaning of current events, about what effect Tuesday might have on their own careers and ambitions. Texas lawmakers’ thoughts are already turning to the legislative session that will begin in January. For other politicos, thoughts have drifted to the next election, and to dreams of higher office. The biggest offices in Texas are on the 2022 ballot, along with the attorney general: governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, land commissioner, agriculture commissioner and a seat on the Railroad Commission.
Former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, a Democrat and lawyer who wants to be attorney general, already has a website up and running — just like the people on the ballot this week.
He won’t be alone for long. After the general election, there will be a frenzy of political fundraising. Newly elected candidates will replenish their campaign accounts in advance of end-of-year deadlines. A large campaign account is often enough to spook future competitors about the strength of a candidate. Some will be raising “late-train” money — contributions from donors and political action committees that either didn’t take part in a 2020 race or that were on the wrong side and want to make amends.
Elected state officials have even less time to raise money. To contain the occurrence or appearance of bribery, legislators and state officeholders aren’t allowed to raise campaign money during a legislative session, for 30 days before one begins or 20 days after one ends. Instead of a Dec. 31 year-end, they’re looking at a Dec. 12 deadline for the reports they’ll file in January. And officeholders’ midyear reports after the session — when campaigns try to show early financial strength for the race ahead — will only reflect money they were able to raise during the last 10 days of June.
That fundraising blackout doesn’t restrict candidates who aren’t in office — people like Jaworski. And it doesn’t prevent nonjudicial candidates, whether they’re in office or not, from declaring their interest in a race, spending money to get organized or win attention, or any of the other things you’d normally associate with an election campaign.
The attorney general’s office is getting the early attention. Attorney General Ken Paxton was indicted on securities fraud charges more than five years ago and still hasn’t been tried. And his actions related to a real estate investor and political donor, brought to light in a whistleblower letter from seven of the top attorneys in his office, have added to the trouble.
Paxton looks weak at the moment, and the political buzzards have noticed.
Most of the top statewide offices in Texas will be on the 2022 ballot, and most of the current occupants are in their second terms. Just like their predecessors from both parties, the officials lower on the career ladder would like to move up. They’re alert to signs that the governor, the lieutenant governor or any of the others might be ready to move on, or might be unable to hold on.
Like everyone else, they’ll watch Tuesday’s election and decipher the results: what it means for the state, for the legislative session, for issues they care about, and for the shape of competition ahead.
Many Texans — many Americans — are tired of politics after a long, hard season of it. But some of the players are already gearing up for the next election.
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