Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Tara Rios Ybarra

Good news and bad news

Good news.

Ronnie McDonald

Big news today: Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald is stepping down from his position. At a press conference today, he announced today that he will either run for the 17th Legislative District, anchored in Bastrop and currently held by Republican Tim Kleinschmidt, or for the 27th Congressional District, currently held by Republican Blake “Ducky Pajamas” Farenthold.

Running for CD-27 would be somewhat surprising decision given that the maps drawn by the San Antonio panel make the district R+19. Obama would have gotten 40% in the district in 2008 to McCain’s 59%. The previous incarnation that accidentally elected Farenthold in 2010 was D+7. However, the district changed so dramatically in redistricting, one can argue that there isn’t any huge benefit of incumbency here. But, make no mistake, it’s still an uphill climb for any Democrat.


House District 17, on the other hand, would be a much easier pick-up opportunity for Democrats. The district, pictured at left, encompasses Lee, Bastrop, Caldwell, Gonzales, and Karnes County. McDonald has the clear advantage in Bastrop, and Caldwell is a majority-minority county that has gone Democratic in downballot races in Presidential election cycles. Furthermore, since part of Caldwell is in the new CD-35, you can bet that whatever Democrat wins the primary will be beating the bushes hard to turn out votes in November. (Plus, you get to represent Lockhart, which, I mean, come on!) There’s also some good data to back this up — the 2008 Democratic candidate for Court of Criminal Appeals Susan Strawn narrowly won in the district 48-47, and Democrats Mark Thompson (Railroad Commish) and Sam Houston (SCOTX) lost by less than 2 points in what is the new 17th House District. If McDonald makes a go for it, wins big in Bastrop and turns out Caldwell, he can win this thing.

I’d think HD17 would be the better choice. Among other things, I will not be surprised if the DC court finds significant further problems with the legislative map, which may well lead to something more like the original interim map for the 2014 elections. (Assuming the Voting Rights Act hasn’t been gutted by SCOTUS, in which case all bets are off.) HD17 is more attainable, and less likely to be significantly changed between now and then. But either way, it’s a good bit of recruitment news for the Democrats. Postcards has more.

Which helps somewhat to balance out the bad news.

Rep. J. M. Lozano (D – Alice) has decided to switch to the Republican Party and will file for reelection as a Republican in HD 43 this week. George P. Bush was instrumental in his recruitment, and Governor Perry, Speaker Straus, and other GOP officials have contacted him and welcomed him to the party. A press conference is in the works for this week.

Lozano’s HD43 was redrawn by the court as a tossup/lean Dem district:

McCain Obama Cornyn Noriega Wainwright Houston ===================================================== 51.45 47.94 46.90 50.69 42.24 54.68

Lozano has since confirmed Miller’s scoop. Not clear to me that he’s any better off as an R than as a D, but one would think that as an incumbent he’s better placed than anyone else. Lozano was unopposed in the 2010 general election after knocking off the scandal-plagued Tara Rios Ybarra in the primary; Ybarra had in turn defeated Juan Escobar in 2008, with some help from the Craddick machine. All I can say is that if this report is true, I hope someone is on the phone talking to Escobar about taking another run at his old office.

Election results: The Lege

There are way too many races to recap here, and since the Trib has done such a thorough job of it, I’ll leave the heavy lifting to them. A few highlights:

– Steve Ogden easily won re-nomination in SD5, and Kip Averitt was returned to the ballot in SD22. Each faced fringe opponents, so these are good results as far as maintaining a functioning Senate goes. Averitt as we know had sought to drop out. He may yet do that, at which time we’ll get appointed nominees from both parties; if he changes his mind, he’s in, as no Dem filed originally.

– Borris Miles won by a razor-thin margin over Al Edwards in HD146. The margin as of this morning was all of eleven votes. Yes, you can expect a recount, and that’s a small enough number that there’s a chance the outcome could change. Don’t carve anything into stone just yet. A statement from Miles’ campaign is beneath the fold.

– Despite some predictions that Rep. Terri Hodge, who recently pleaded guilty to lying on her tax returns and stated her intention to resign after being sentenced, would still win her primary, challenger Eric Johnson defeated her by a large margin. There is no Republican challenger, so Johnson will be sworn in next January.

– Rep. Betty Brown, best known for her inability to handle Asian names, lost. That’s good. Rep. Tommy Merritt of Longview, who had faced primary challenges every cycle this decade for his opposition to Tom Craddick and other acts of heresy, also lost. That’s not good. Rep. Delwin Jones is in a runoff. On the Democratic side, Reps. Dora Olivo of Fort Bend and Tara Rios Ybarra of South Padre Island lost, and Rep. Norma Chavez of El Paso is in a runoff. Go click those Trib links for more.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll post links to more coverage later as I see them.


Two Trib primary stories

The Trib has done a series of good, informative stories on primary battles across the state, which I recommend you read. Two of their most recent are especially worthwhile:

First is HD43, in which freshman Dem Rep. Tara Rios Ybarra is being challenged by JM Lozano.

Lozano’s strategy is to label Rios Ybarra a “red Texan.” Her campaign contributions from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry ($10,000 from Jan. 22 through Feb. 20) and the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC (about $145,000 in-kind during the same time frame), both well-known backers of Republicans, are all the evidence he needs. His vision is of a blue Texas, he says, and that means weeding out what she represents. “The first thing we have to do is get rid of all the closet Republicans from the Democratic Party. My opponent is one of them,” he says. “You cannot have a strong Democratic Party if you have people that are beholden to the other party because you take 90 percent of your funding from them.”

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.”

An unfazed Rios Ybarra contends that her first term in the House, when she passed seven bills, shows her mettle. One that she’s most proud of, she says, allows access to Texas beaches by disabled people in motorized vehicles — and yet Lozano has criticized her for it. “He made fun of a bill that was given to me by the mother whose son was a quadriplegic and he couldn’t have access to the beach,” she complains.

A stone-faced Lozano says, “Ask her who gave her that bill. It was a lobbyist.”

I don’t care so much about who donates to whom as I do how you vote and what you support, and I don’t really know enough about Rios Ybarra’s record to judge. Having said that, anyone who is that strongly supported by TLR is a concern. And Rios Ybarra was widely considered to be a Craddick supporter in 2008 when she knocked off Juan Escobar. That turned out not to matter then, and it’s unlikely to be an issue this time around, but it’s not impossible. On balance, if I were voting in that race, I’d be voting for Lozano.

And in a race where I already know who I’m voting for, the Ag Commish race.

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, while Friedman is all showmanship — few campaign stops go by without him uttering 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.”

Well, this race is a clear choice, that’s for sure. Either you like what Kinky is selling, or you grew tired of it four years ago and you prefer the clearly better qualified Hank Gilbert. I really don’t know how this one will turn out, but as I said, I know who I’m supporting.

More legislative primaries

Freshman State Rep. Tara Rios Ybarra, who knocked off veteran Rep. Juan Escobar in the 2008 Democratic primary, will have a primary opponent of her own.

Kingsville businessman J.M. Lozano, aged 29, announced via a video on Facebook and You Tube that he has a “passion and burning desire in my heart to bring South Texas what it deserves.”

Click here to view the You Tube commentary.

Lozano is the owner of a restaurant franchise. He has a Bachelors degree in Government from the University of Texas at Austin and a Masters degree in Administration from the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio. He has previously served in Congressman Rubén Hinojosa’s office in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I am proud to have been born and raised in rural South Texas. South Texas gave me a good education, strong family values, honesty, and integrity. It showed me to cherish the simple things in life and to remain grounded in reality. South Texas gave me my voice but my voice will always belong to South Texas,” Lozano said, in his commentary on You Tube.

Rios Ybarra, D-South Padre Island, won election in 2008, defeating incumbent Rep. Juan Escobar of Kingsville in the Democratic primary and token opposition in the general election. Lozano is expected to receive the endorsement of Escobar.


In his interview with the Guardian, Lozano said he is a “moderate” and “fiscally conservative” Democrat. However, he said that as someone who was born and raised in rural South Texas, he knows the region needs investment because it can no longer rely just on oil and gas. “You need to know your community and its needs, whether it has a population of 5,000 or 500 and I do,” Lozano said.

Asked if he was concerned that the Austin lobby money would likely flow to the incumbent, Lozano said, no. “Her money is largely from Republicans and she is beholden to Republicans. For her to hijack a party label and to tell people she is a Democrat, that is misleading,” Lozano said.

I supported Escobar and opposed Ybarra in 2008 because it was widely presumed that Ybarra had the backing of Tom Craddick. As things happened, that wound up being a moot point. I don’t know enough about how Ybarra did in her first session, or about Lozano, to have an opinion at this point, though I’m glad that any Speaker-related issues will have to do with whether or not the Dems get a majority, and not with the disposition of Tom Craddick. Link via BOR.

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Betty Brown will have her hands full as well. Vince quotes from Capitol Inside and Quorum Report with various names, and notes that the Asian Political Leadership Fund is considering going all in to defeat Brown; they have a TV commercial ready to air already. They haven’t decided whether to aim for the primary or the general yet; the primary is likely the better bet as Brown’s HD4 is pretty solidly red, but perhaps a strong Democrat can mount a serious challenge if he or she has enough resources.

UPDATE: Burka has more on Lozano and Rios Ybarra.