Democrat Donna Howard of Austin took a formerly Texas Legislature seat from Republicans on February 14. The national outlook may be greatly affected. Since Bush became Governor, America has learned that we cannot afford to ignore electoral developments in Texas. As we approach the March 7 Texas primaries, hopes are high that better news is coming.
The hottest primary race pits former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez against incumbent Henry Cuellar in the 28th District, San Antonio and points south. Whoever wins on March 7 will be our Congressman, because no Republican is running. Rodriguez barely lost a highly-disputed recount last time. Cuellar voted with Republicans, particularly on the Fair Trade issue that is so vital to union folk. Consequently, union spokespersons and Fair Trade activists have made no secret of their intention to dump Cuellar.
Rodriguez was recently applauded by union leaders, including National AFL-CIO Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson, for his excellent voting record on behalf of the states working people. The primary race tests the vaunted importance of Latino demographics, their commitment to the Democratic Party, and the importance that South Texas voters attach to Fair Trade.
President Bush handed Rodriguez an advantage at the State of the Union speech when he took Cuellar into his arms before photographers. Suddenly, tens of thousands of new dollars and new volunteers began showing up at Rodriguez campaign!
The joker in the deck is this: Texas law allows anybody, of any party, to vote in any primary; consequently, Texas Republicans will join other right-wingers in voting for Cuellar in this key race.
The other big congressional race in Texas is the Republican primary in the Gulf-Coast area that includes parts of Houston and Texas City. GOP powerhouse Tom DeLay has drawn three opponents, all of whom claim that they can beat the lone Democrat, former Congressman Nick Lampson, in November. If DeLay manages to lose the primary because of his central role in corruption scandals, some of the edge will be taken off the major issue that progressives hope to use in November.
One of the many complicating issues is the role of the Supreme Court, which may find it impossible to ignore the illegal activities that DeLay and other Republicans used to grab control of the state apparatus and use its redistricting power to grab five seats in the U.S. Congress. DeLays own new district and the 32nd District in Dallas were both condemned by Justice Department experts as violating the civil rights of voters. In the 32nd, right-wing Congressman Pete Sessions may expect to coast against his relatively unknown Democratic challenger, Will Pryor, but the Supreme Court and the corrosive corruption issue may alter the balance of forces.
Texas last legislature was particularly distinguished by their failure to institute court-mandated changes in school finance. The essential reason was that they were hell-bent on undermining public education with school vouchers and other stealthy reforms. Public Education Committee Chairman Kent Grusendorf, carried the water for the right-wing in the Texas House. Even though he is a long-term incumbent, powerful Texas voices, including the editors of the Dallas Morning News, are pulling for his primary opponent. On the side supporting Grusendorf and a long list of right-wing school voucher advocates in the Republican primary is notorious financier Dr James Leininger of San Antonio. The Dallas paper recently revealed that Leininger had broken his own records and contributed or pledged nearly $1.4 million dollars to pro-voucher political action committees and Republicans well before the March primary.
The direction of the 2006 Texas elections may be set even before the primary date. Labor is throwing itself into support of two key Democrats running in special elections for the State Legislature. Donna Howard of Austin almost won in the first round, and defeated the highly-favored Republican by a thumping 58% in the runoff. The improvement in turnout, 61%, may be even more significant for progressive candidates in 2006.
Another special election was called Republican Governor Rick Perry for an odd date -- February 28 - just a week before the primaries. Republicans hoped to use low turnout to keep a Republican seat in Dallas Countys District 106. Unionists and other progressives are throwing themselves behind the campaign of the Democrat, environmentalist Katy Hubener.
With one special election down and one to go, progressive Texans expect to have major momentum for the bigger races in November.
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