Competitive elections should drive higher turnout in 2022 – San Antonio Report

Democrats, Republicans, and independents in Bexar County have growing reason to be sure they register to vote in advance of the 2022 primary elections in March and the general election in November.

Texas is still weeks away from knowing the complete field of candidates running in local and state primary races. Yet already a growing number of races promise to be competitive. Two, in particular, dominate the conversation.

A new Bexar County judge

Bexar County voters will select a new county judge for the first time in more than two decades with Nelson Wolff stepping down after five terms and more than 20 years in the office. This will bring to a close the career of one of the state’s longest-serving public servants. As my colleague Rick Casey wrote last week, Wolff leaves an indelible mark on the city and county.

The assumption is that a Republican cannot win the office, which I would say is a reasonable assumption only in the conventional wisdom department. The right Republican candidate with enough charisma and vision for the job might be able to upend a Democrat. So far, that candidate has not emerged. A Dec. 13 candidate filing deadline will soon end the conjecture.

Republicans have prevailed in other traditionally Democratic strongholds, such as state Rep. John Lujan’s recent victory over Democrat Frank Ramirez in a special election runoff for Texas House District 118 on Nov. 2. Lujan reclaimed the seat he held in 2016. Once upon a time, that district was a solid Democratic stronghold. Not today.

The Democrats do have demographics on their side, and a Wolff endorsement would add a lot of momentum. Right now the advantage in the Democratic primary has to be given to state Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio). Her departure from the Texas Legislature likely will draw multiple Democratic candidates running for the vacant House seat.

An earlier announcement by Peter Sakai, who served four terms as judge of a children’s court, surprised. Sakai was highly regarded for his service and leadership in reforming the county’s inadequate practices for addressing child abuse, but launching a high-profile political campaign for the county judge office takes Sakai into new territory.

Former Mayor Ed Garza has told reporters that he, too, is considering entry into the Democratic race after serving since 2009 as a trustee on the San Antonio Independent School District board.

In an interview with Jackie Wang, the San Antonio Report’s local government reporter, Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s chief of staff, Ivalis Meza Gonzalez, said she also is mulling a run for Bexar County judge.

Anybody else?

The challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott

Voters also face the prospect of a lively race for governor throughout the coming year.

Last week’s announcement by former Democratic El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke that he will challenge Gov. Greg Abbott gives his party its most credible candidate for statewide office in memory. Early polling suggests O’Rourke faces an uphill battle, not for the first time. Actor Mathew McConaughey, like a cat with a mouse, has toyed with his own entry in the race, but his fans likely will be disappointed.

O’Rourke is certain to increase Democratic turnout in Bexar County and across the state’s other metro areas, just as he did in his 2018 race against Sen. Ted Cruz, the best statewide performance of a Democrat in 40 years.

Bexar County Republicans likely will continue their strong support for Abbott as he fends off three poorly-funded longshot challengers, former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas, former Texas GOP Chair Allen West, and conservative commentator Chad Prather.

With an estimated $60 million in his campaign chest and 83% approval from likely primary voters, according to an October Quinnipiac University poll, Abbott seems more focused on O’Rourke and the November general election. His embrace of far-right wedge issues throughout the four legislative sessions this year was interpreted by many as a defense against any primary challengers.

One wild card hand not yet played or folded in the statewide races is held by former House Speaker Joe Straus. Many of his supporters, including state Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) in a commentary published here, have urged the moderate San Antonio Republican to run for governor or lieutenant governor as an independent.

With the filing deadline looming, a decision by Straus will be public knowledge soon enough.

It all adds up to a year when every eligible citizen should register to vote, and for those who intend to vote absentee or need a mail-in ballot, to understand how to request a ballot. This year the Texas Legislature passed a law that restricts local election officials from employing innovative ways for more people to vote by mail, to vote after hours, or at drive-thru poll sites.

If you want to exercise your right to vote, be prepared.

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