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Ty McDonald

Special elections roundup

I haven’t seen any newspaper endorsements in the special elections that will conclude on Tuesday. I can tell you that the Texas Parent PAC has endorsed Diego Bernal in HD123 and John Cyrier in HD17. In the absence of further endorsements to report on, here’s a news roundup based on Google searches of the various candidates.

In SD26, it’s all about the money.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

A powerful special interest group that has contributed millions of dollars mostly to state Republicans over the years is targeting Democrat Trey Martinez Fischer’s bid to fill a vacant Senate seat.

And now Martinez Fischer is attempting to draw connections between the group, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and his main opponent in the race, Democratic state Rep. José Menéndez.

TLR is the richest and most influential tort reform group in the state, and its political action committee has already spent close to $180,000 to influence Tuesday’s special election in District 26, state records show. That includes research and polling, along with TV ads and mailers blasting Martinez Fischer.

In a campaign memo released Wednesday, Martinez Fischer leveled his strongest public accusations to date about links to the group and Menéndez, claiming the head of TLR has personally made calls to help Menéndez and to “thwart” Martinez Fischer’s own fundraising efforts.

Martinez Fischer, in the memo, goes on to note that TLR contract lobbyist Ed Lopez was named earlier this month as part of the Menéndez finance team and then claims another unnamed lobbyist working for the group recently held a fundraiser for Menéndez.

[…]

“In my estimation, José’s relationship with TLR is obvious,” Martinez Fischer says in the memo.

On Wednesday, Menéndez remained steadfast that he’s not in cahoots with the group.

“It is obvious to me that Trey is desperate to try to create a connection between TLR and myself that doesn’t’ exist,” he said. “We’re running our campaign, and we’re not in a position that we feel like we need any help from outside sources.”

Menéndez also said that Lopez, the TLR lobbyist Martinez Fischer cited in his memo, is a personal friend dating back to his days on San Antonio City Council, and that “he’s a supporter of mine because he believes in me as a person.”

TMF has greatly outraised Menendez, though a lot of his donations have been non-local. Both candidates are spending heavily on TV ads. When the first order of business is to make sure people are aware that there is an election going on in the first place, you do what you have to do.

Meanwhile, the candidates in HD123 are trying to be heard over that volume.

The ballot includes three Democrats: businesswoman Melissa Aguillon, former San Antonio City Councilman Diego Bernal, and Walter Martinez, also a former city councilman, who served in the Texas House in the ’80s.

The lone Republican is insurance agent Nunzio Previtera. Clinical psychologist Paul Ingmundson is the Green Party candidate, while Libertarian Roger Gary rounds out the ballot.

Gary, like the others, has education reform high on his list. He wants to get back to the basics, like, he says, teaching basic math. ”I’ve asked some other people who say they’re doing it all on computers; people’s grammar and spelling and math, let’s get back to those basics. That’s what we need. The rest of the stuff they’re squabbling about, what’s in a high school history book? Well, who cares if they can’t read and write.”

Republican Nunzio Previtera wants schools to put as much emphasis on vocational training as they do on college preparation. “The primary goal of our school system needs to be to provide our students with opportunities to prosper as working adults, get them ready to be adults. Our magnet schools have done a pretty good job, but they need to be expanded, and our primary schools need to put a lot more emphasis on vocational skills and training people for their adult life.”

Paul Ingmundson went to UT Austin, where he paid $50 a semester. He says college tuition today is outrageous. He wants the first two years of college to be free. He’d pay for that by taxing oil and gas producers. “We can address the fossil fuel problem and the education problem with one policy change. I think even Republicans are going to start to get used to this. They are going to look around for money, and if you’re going to look around for money, the deepest pockets are in the oil and gas fields.” 


More affordable higher education and technical training are also high on the agendas of Democrats Melissa Aguillon and Walter Martinez.

“It was challenging for my parents to put me through college,” says Aguillon. “I actually had to pretty much fund my own college tuition, and so, I want to make sure that higher education is accessible for all students that want to go to college.” But she adds, there are far more career paths available to those students now, and far more jobs being created, “21st century jobs that don’t necessarily require a four-year education.”

“I think it’s important that the necessary skills for trades are also accessible to them,” says Aguillon. Fellow Democrat Martinez agrees, and adds, “The delivery and implementation of workforce training, also providing technical training, to be able to provide the workforce that modern technology requires, those are all part of the agenda as far as supporting public education.”

Democrat Diego Bernal says the first bill he’d file would overhaul the way the state decides how much money each school district will receive. “The very first one I would file would have to do with public education and the formula that we use to pay for students who are either economically disadvantaged or English language learners. There’s a formula they use to give districts extra money and that formula hasn’t been updated since the mid-’80s. So if you want to know what my very first attempt at a bill would be, that would be it.”

Here’s an Express News overview of this race. The SA Current did Q&As with four of the candidates in the HD123 race – with Diego Bernal, Melissa Aguillon, Walter Martinez, and Roger Gary. They also profiled Bernal and noted that Aguillon had received financial support from a Georgia-based auto title loan business owner.

As for HD17, news is a lot harder to find. What little I have is from the Gonzalez Inquirer. Here’s their overview of the race:

Republican candidate John Cyrier, 41, of Lockhart, was in town Monday morning for a brief rally at the Roger M. Dreyer Memorial Airport to kick off early voting. He arrived by air in his Cessna Skylane II— which appropriately sported the colors red, white and blue.

[…]

The other Republican in the race, Brent Golemon, 46, of Bastrop, got a taste of politics early in life. Golemon worked as a legislative aide and chief-of-staff at the capitol after graduating Hampden-Sydney College while his father was a 35-year lobbyist in Austin.

Golemon co-founded GalleryWatch, the nation’s first online legislative tracking service in 1996, which was sold eight years later. His current occupation is listed as “entrepreneur.”

The closest Golemon gets to an elected office credential is a stint on the Tahitian Village Property Owners Association and a board appointment to the Bastrop County Water District. In his spare time, he enjoys coaching six-man football at a Christian-based athletics program for home-schooled and private school families.

The first of two Democrats on the ballot is Ty McDonald, 43, also of Bastrop. She is a 1993 graduate of Texas A&M University and is married to former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald.

McDonald’s early education into elected public service was as legislative director for State Rep. Yvonne Davis in the early 90s. She also served as campaign coordinator for John Sharp during his failed bid for comptroller.

After serving as a public school teacher for seven years, she was elected to a single term to the board of the Bastrop Independent School District. Her last year was served as president of that body.

After flirting with a run for state rep earlier this year, McDonald switched races to challenge incumbent Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape. She lost that contest in November.

The other Democrat is Shelley Cartier, 51, yet another candidate from the Bastrop area. Her business card describes her as a non-politician and small business owner.

On the issues, she supports local control and small growth. Public education is also in her platform and she says she is a “defender of property and water rights for all.”

In her spare time she advocates for the humane treatment of animals and hosts several rescue horses on her property.

Rounding out the list is the lone Independent candidate, Linda Curtis, 63, the final Bastrop resident. Her tagline is “If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em!”

They also have a profile of Cyrier.

Cyrier hails from Caldwell County where he and his wife Rachelle live on a ranch south of Lockhart. His political fact sheet touts many accomplishments for the 42 year-old—successful businessman, past county commissioner and former commander of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band. He now wishes to be State Representative for District 17, which includes Gonzales County.

His business career began after he received a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology from Texas A&M University. A couple of stops in the general contracting business and branch office management led him to launch Sabre Commercial, Inc. in 2008, a commercial construction services company specializing in general contracting. It employs 51 people and has won numerous distinctions from the Austin Business Journal including a nomination for Best CEO Award in September.

“I surround myself with good people and I take care of them,” said Cyrier. The good working morale has led Sabre to three top-10 “Best Places to Work in Central Texas” designations from the Journal.

Cyrier’s political career began in 2010. There was a vacancy on the commissioner’s court in Caldwell County and longtime County Judge H.T. Wright, Jr., a Democrat, picked Cyrier based on his community accomplishments. The judge knew that he would take heat for the appointment since Cyrier was a Republican, but he saw a need to balance the court and invite all ideas to the table.

Turns out that Cyrier was only the second Republican to ever hold a seat on the court. Party designation didn’t matter to most voters, for he was elected outright later that year by 60 percent of the ballots and was named Judge Pro-Tem in 2012.

“I loved being a county commissioner,” he said.

Cyrier decided to serve out his term but opted not to run in the general election in 2012. He figured that he could do just as much good for the community away from the commissioner’s court than he could on it. The list of boards on which he currently serves include: Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), Caritas of Austin, Lockhart ISD Education Foundation, Caldwell County Republican precinct chair—and the list goes on — prove just that.

During the Thanksgiving holiday he received a call from Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape. Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt had resigned and the county’s leadership was looking for a candidate to promote. One GOP candidate had already popped up in Bastrop, but they were looking for something more. They believed that Cyrier had the vision to be the district’s next leader.

With the added urging of longtime Bastrop County Commissioner Clara Beckett, Cyrier decided to run and continue his community service at the elected level. Soon he had a list of supporters that any candidate would envy.

There are three things that Cyrier lists as top priorities in the upcoming legislative session: education, water and infrastructure. Luckily for District 17, all three topics resonate throughout the five rural counties he would represent.

On education, Cyrier already counts superintendents from Bastrop, Smithville, Karnes, Lockhart, Gonzales and a host of other education professionals as supporting his candidacy.

He shows a strong command of the issues facing public schools in the state. His concerns are on elected officials that look to defund public education to send dollars elsewhere. Oftentimes school is the only place a child can eat a regular meal for breakfast, lunch— and more often now— even dinner.

Diverting public dollars would have an adverse affect on education, especially in communities like this one where the school system is the major employer. Cyrier looks to be a strong advocate for these independent school districts.

He also draws a parallel between the growth the district has seen based on underground resources—water to the north and oil to the south. Where Bastrop County has seen sprawl eat on its western flank, water developers look to siphon off the precious resource to far-flung housing developments throughout the I-35 corridor and down to San Antonio. Similar concerns can be seen here.

The other boom is down south with the shale explosion in the Eagle Ford. Gonzales County is experiencing growth and road degradation associated with this as is its neighbor to the south, Karnes County. Cyrier understands this and how public infrastructure funding is so important to the area.

Since all five counties in the district are still largely rural, he feels that the area shares the same challenges.

So there you have it. If you live in one of these districts, please make sure you vote.

Interview with Ty McDonald

Ty McDonald

Ty McDonald

The discussion of the special elections going on this week and culminating on January 6 has been dominated by Bexar County, home of two of the three races, including the Senate race, but the HD17 election is important in its own right. It’s centered in a growing part of the state and it has a decent shot at being an R versus D race in the runoff. There are two Ds running in this race, with one of them, Ty McDonald, having the better chance to make it to overtime. McDonald, whom I profiled here, is a teacher and former Bastrop ISD school board member, whose husband Ronnie, a former Bastrop County Judge, was a candidate for CD27 in 2012 (my interview with him is here). She had given thought to running for HD17 in November before making a run for County Judge herself. We covered a lot of ground in the interview:

As of this publication, I am still trying to work out an arrangement to interview Rep. Jose Menendez for his campaign in SD26. I hope to have this for Friday, or at worst for Monday.

HD17 overview

The Chron provides an overview of the special election in HD17. Given that current Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt hadn’t planned to resign till January 14, it seems that the swift date for this election, the same day as the ones in Bexar County, caught the prospective candidates a bit by surprise.

Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt

Kleinschmidt has not made any endorsements in the race, though his chief of staff is actively campaigning for Republican candidate John Cyrier and is expected to stay on if Cyrier wins.

Cyrier, a construction executive who served on the Caldwell County Commissioners Court from 2010-2013, is positioning himself the only serious contender with a voting record and one who will not require on-the-job training at the Capitol. Endorsed by the Texas Farm Bureau and several state representatives from the area, Cyrier has been working to consolidate support from the region’s GOP power brokers and seize the mantle of odds-on establishment favorite.

[…]

Bastrop entrepreneur Brent Golemon is running as a different kind of Republican, expressing concern over the direction of the state while pitching himself as the only “principled conservative” in the race. If elected, he said he would work to undo burdensome regulations on businesses and schools that have kept Texas from reaching its full potential.

“We’re not the lesser of two evils – we’re actually a positive place to be,” Golemon said. “‘At least we’re not as bad off as California.’ That’s not a good way of saying: ‘Come to Texas. Be a Texan.’ ”

[…]

Two Democrats are also running, though just one of them – pastor Ty McDonald – is seen as having a shot at spoiling either Republican’s chances of winning more than half the vote and avoiding a runoff Jan. 6. The other Democrat, Cedar Creek real estate agent Shelley Cartier, has kept a lower profile than McDonald, who last year weighed a challenge to Kleinschmidt.

McDonald also has somewhat of an advantage in name recognition as a one time congressional candidate and wife of former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald. Plus, she fashions herself as more conservative than liberal on social issues, creating the opportunity for crossover appeal in a district where voters’ priorities are hardly partisan lightning rods.

“People tend to have a hard time boxing me in,” McDonald said. The seat, she added, is “up for grabs, and I’m ready to part the red sea.”

Rounding out the five-person lineup is independent Linda Curtis, a longtime Bastrop activist who helps run a political action committee that boosts independent politicians. She also has been mindful of the race’s quirks as a self-styled populist looking to rebuke the leadership in Austin.

“Rick Perry is sneaking an election during the Christmas holiday,” Curtis said in a news release announcing her candidacy. “Lets not make this The Grinch That Stole An Election.”

I will have an interview with Ty McDonald later this week. The presence of Linda Curtis, whom the Austin Chronicle notes has been plying a gadfly/professional outsider schtick for many years, adds an interesting dimension to the race. In a November election, I could see her peeling off a fair number of votes, which I’d guess would more from the R column than the D though not by a huge amount. I don’t know how well that will play in a January election, where the large majority of the participants will be hardcore partisans. One can make an impact as an indy in a race like this, but it likely takes a certain level of resources, since you have to make sure people know that there is an election in the first place, and/or a certain level of name recognition – perhaps “notoriety” is a more accurate term – to cut through the noise. We’ll see how it plays out here. If you live in HD17, what (if anything) are you hearing about this election? Leave a comment and let us know.

Perry sets HD13 special election date

For all the writing I’ve done about the various legislative special elections, I’d almost forgotten that this one was still out there.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

Just hours after Lois Kolkhorst was sworn in as the newest state senator Monday, Gov. Rick Perry called a Jan. 13 special election to fill the Brenham Republican’s former seat in the Texas House.

At least three Republicans have already launched bids for House District 13: Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski, Caldwell attorney Leighton Schubert and Becky Berger, a member of the Republican State Executive Committee. All of them announced they were interested in the seat before Kolkhorst’s victory earlier this month in the special election to replace Katy Republican Glenn Hegar, the incoming comptroller.

[…]

Perry has given prospective candidates a week to file applications for the HD13 special election with the secretary of state’s office. Early voting commences Jan. 5.

In other words, everything is exactly one week after the elections in HDs 17 and 123 and SD26. And as a reminder, if either Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer or Rep. Jose Menendez wins in SD26 – an outcome that seems highly likely now that Sylvia Romo has dropped out of the race, having been found to not be a resident of the district – we will need one more special election before the session is over. Via the Secretary of State, here are the candidate lists for each race:

SD26

Trey Martinez Fischer
Democrat

Alma Perez Jackson
Republican

Jose Menendez
Democrat

Joan Pedrotti
Republican

Al Suarez
Democrat

HD123

Melissa Aguillon
Democrat

Diego Bernal
Democrat

Roger V. Gary
Libertarian

Paul Ingmundson
Green

Walter Martinez
Democrat

Nunzio Previtera
Republican

HD17

Shelley Cartier
Democrat

Linda Curtis
Independent

John Cyrier
Republican

Brent Golemon
Republican

Ty McDonald
Democrat

As for HD13, that election was set shortly after Kolkhorst was sworn in as the new Senator from District 18, which triggered the vacancy there. I’ll keep an eye out for other candidates, but as I noted before, it’s considerably less hospitable to a Democratic candidate than HD17 is, so the best we can hope for is a non-crazy Republican. I expect there to be some interesting endorsement action in these races, with such short turnarounds and big rewards for hitting the jackpot. We’ll see how that goes as well.

UPDATE: The Express News has more on the Bexar County elections, while the Trib adds some details and another name to the HD13 lineup:

Republican Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski, 61, is playing the experience card, hoping her 20 years as a county judge and eight years as a city council member will give her a leg up. “I think the voters deserve someone who has done research and solved problems,” said Bilski, who listed education and infrastructure as high-priority issues.

Caldwell attorney Leighton Schubert, also a Republican, said he has worked for every level of government from federal to county. He said keeping Texas’ economy strong and fiscally conservative is his top priority, plus protecting private property rights. “Any issue starts with the economy,” Schubert said. “We got to help keep this economy moving — that helps from the top down.”

Becky Berger, Republican No. 3 and a geologist, has lost twice in Republican primary races for the Texas Railroad Commission.

Cecil Webster, a veteran who’s been active in Democratic politics in Fayette County for years, said restoring education funding would be one of his top priorities if he’s elected, and rejected the premise that the district is unwinnable for a Democrat. “I am convinced that if you look at the actual number of folks here, there are more blue folks then red folks,” Webster, 60, said. “Democrats just don’t vote.”

Good luck to you, sir. I can’t do the exact same calculations of the Democratic vote potential as I did in HD17 because Kolkhorst was unopposed in 2014 and 2012, but I can say there were 1,837 total Democratic primary votes in the 2014 Democratic primary in the seven counties that make up HD13, and 3,093 votes in the 2012 Dem primary. Bill White received 16,250 votes total in HD13 in 2010. Hope you can track those folks down for this race.

Ty McDonald for HD17

Ty McDonald

As you know, the special election to replace Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt in HD17 has been set for January 6, with early voting to begin on December 29. This is the same schedule as the elections in HD123 and SD26. As you also know, I have been an advocate for running a Democrat in HD17, on the grounds that in a low-turnout election unpredictable things can happen, and with a bit of a GOTV push the Dems could steal a seat, even if it would only be a one-term rental.

Given all that, you will be as pleased as I am to see that there is a Dem running in HD17, and that Dem is Ty McDonald, wife of former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald and a former school board trustee in Bastrop. As had her husband, who eventually made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for CD27 in 2012, Ty McDonald considered running for HD17 last year before deciding instead to try to succeed her husband as Bastrop County Judge. She lost that race in a year that wasn’t friendly to Democrats in Bastrop or elsewhere, and has now decided to toss her hat into this ring. With the filing deadline on Monday the 22nd, there are at least two announced Republican candidates (see the comments here), so at the very least she ought to have a decent shot at making it to a runoff.

I don’t know what Battleground Texas is doing now that it’s completed its post-election explanation tour of the state, but my reason for championing this special election, other than it being a free shot at a pickup, is that it just doesn’t take that many votes to win, or at least advance. Here are the vote totals from the last three State House special elections, plus two runoff elections:

Date Dist Votes Win ========================== 12/10 044 11,036 5,518 11/11 014 13,519 6,760 12/11 014 6,736 3,368 11/13 050 14,936 7,468 01/14 050 10,520 5,260

Note that the specials in HDs 14 and 50 took place in November of 2011 and 2013, so they got a bit of an artificial boost in turnout, though probably not that much. I skipped the special elections in HDs 16 (from this November) and 84 (in 2010) precisely because they coincided with high-turnout general elections and thus would extreme outliers on this list. My guess is that turnout for this race is more likely to resemble the HD14 runoff, from December 2011, than anything else. That suggests an electorate of between (say) 6,000 and 10,000 voters, meaning that to win outright you’d need between 3,000 and 5,000 votes.

Now then. There were 35,196 total votes cast in 2014 general in HD17. Democratic candidate Carolyn Banks received 12,459 votes of them. Obviously, a lot of those folks are November-only types. If we want to narrow it down to just the hardcore Dems, the kind of people that might be receptive to a “Hey! We have a special election and we need your vote!” campaign, there were 4,492 votes cast in HD17 in the 2014 primary, and 5,259 votes in the 2012 primary. It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out who those people are and send them some mail, and maybe follow it up with a phone call or two.

That’s assuming that we want to try to win, of course, and if there’s someone to underwrite this expense. I’d assume sending mail to five thousand or so voters in this district would run in the low to medium five figures, not exactly a back-breaking expense for a campaign, and I feel reasonably confident that if BGTX put out a call for volunteers to do some phone banking they’d get a decent response from people who’d love a chance to put the taste of this November behind them. The odds are that this won’t work – HD17 was drawn to elect a Republican, and they have plenty of their own voters to contact – but again, what is there to lose? Not doing anything here would be a much bigger loss, in my opinion, than trying and coming up short. We have a race, we have a candidate, we have a win number, and we have a reasonable idea of how to achieve it. What else do we need?