By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Republicans and Democrats have loaded the ballot for the March 6 primary in Williamson County.
At the federal and state level, candidates from all over the state have filed, including four Republicans challenging incumbent Senator Ted Cruz, with three on the Democratic side vying for the shot to face the winner of that race in the General Election Nov. 6.
Ten Democrat candidates are lined up for the chance to take on incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, if he emerges victorious from his three-way race in the Republican Primary. Two candidates from each party are in the lieutenant governor’s race.
Up and down the list of state-wide races, multiple candidates from each party are gearing up to win votes over the next 60 days.
Closer to home, both parties believe they have the answer for local voters, with Republicans reflecting on a history of results and Democrats pointing to a growing wave of change.
Williamson Democrats plan to rally voters
Williamson County Democrats hope that the recent national success in special elections is a sign of good things to come locally.
County Democratic Chair Jose Orta also wants to remind local voters that Texas is not simply a Republican state.
“Texas is not a Republican state – it is a non-voting state,” he said. “During the 2012 presidential general election, Texas was 48th place in voter turnout. More people stayed home than voted. I can’t stress enough that voting matters. This year, you have a clear choice at the polls, more of the same or change that benefits all of Williamson County.”
To create opportunity for change, Democrats have rallied candidates for nearly every place on the ballot.
“I am extremely pleased that we have candidates challenging Republicans in most of the races up and down the ballot,” Orta said. “We had a strong recruitment push this election cycle and were able to ensure that voters are given a choice come November. The one area where we could have done better were in the local Judicial races, and we are working on it for 2020. As we gear up to the Midterms in 2018, there is the potential for Democrats to make large strides as there is a lot of Democratic enthusiasm in Williamson County.”
Recent gains, including in the 2016 General Election, tell Orta that this election could bring big success for Democrats.
“As someone who has been involved in the Democratic Party since the 1990s, I have seen the ebb and flow of party politics,” he said. “We were once the major party in the state and the county. In 2004, John Kerry, our Presidential nominee carried only one precinct in Williamson County. In 2016, we carried 40 percent of all precincts in the county.”
While some issues may be more important than others in a given race, local Democrats are focusing on jobs, education and government leadership.
“We need new leaders who are focused on building a future where jobs pay a living wage that can not only provide for a family but provide economic security,” Orta said. “Education funding must be a priority in Texas, but it is not. Texas has had the second highest rate of budget cuts to our education system in the last decade. We now rank 43rd in the National Education Quality Report (2016). Short-sighted decisions at the State Capitol hurt middle class families in Williamson County. Families, like yours and mine, are paying more for less – for our schools, for our roads, and for our healthcare.”
Democrats hope the local nature of many of the races on the ballot will help avoid the national-level strife in current politics.
“There does appear to be a lot of negativity bellowing down from the top,” Orta said. “It’s not as easy to be negative to those that are your neighbors and friends. I may disagree with my political opponents, but ultimately, we must share the same roads, the same schools and abide by the same laws – shouldn’t we work together to make them as good as we can for all and not just a select few?”
There is excitement in the Democratic Party over the array of candidates put forth for the March primary, but locally a few races stand out.
“From the U.S. Senate race, which has Beto O’Rourke who is currently outraising his opponent, to our four candidates in Congressional District 31, we have some strong candidates that have mass appeal to voters in Williamson County,” Orta said. “We also have the two legislative races in House District 136 and House District 52 which have exceptional candidates in John Bucy and James Talarico.”
For Democrats, helping voters remember that diversity in political thought in Williamson County mirrors that of the nation is key.
“Williamson County can be a bellwether for all the good that can happen when we all work together for the benefit of all,” Orta said. “I am a firm believer that voters will support a party that strives to better their lives.”
Republicans: Results have earned support
Despite a long list of incumbents seeking re-election, Republicans in Williamson County will have many decisions to make on Election Day.
Whether remaining confident in a familiar face or considering a new one, Republican County Chairman Bill Fairbrother believes a track record of results demonstrates why voters should support Republicans.
“We’ve shown results,” he said. “Williamson County is booming. Local Republican leaders have planned for the future with regard to infrastructure, have kept taxes low, and have created an environment where businesses want to be. Williamson County is a safe place to live and raise a family. Our leaders are pro-family and support limited government.”
In more than a dozen races, incumbents have drawn opponents this year, including District 31 US Rep. John Carter and State Senator for District 5 Charles Schwertner. On the county level, Pct. 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long has drawn an opponent from Liberty Hill, Bart Turek.
“Since Republicans continue to hold the vast majority of partisan elective offices, anyone serious about holding elective office will be running as a Republican,” Fairbrother said. “With our explosive growth, there are more people interested in serving their community and stepping forward to serve.”
The crowded ballot is not a sign of dissatisfaction to Fairbrother. He believes the Republican hold on local spots is something his party can continue.
“With the 2016 election results, all partisan elected officials representing Liberty Hill are Republicans,” he said. “We have the ideas, ideals, and a proven record of nominating common-sense conservatives to offices up and down the ballot. While we take no election for granted, we are confident we will once again earn the trust, support and votes of Williamson County voters.”
There are also three races in Williamson County with no Republican incumbent on the ballot, including County Judge, as Dan Gattis – in office since 2007 – steps aside.
“All races are important,” Fairbrother said. “Since there is a vacancy for the first time in 12 years, there does seem to be a great deal of interest in the primary race for county judge.”
On the east side of the county, the Texas House District 52 race has three seeking the post after Rep. Larry Gonzales announced he will not seek re-election. Four new candidates are on the ballot in the Pct. 4 Commissioner’s race.
While issues and focus vary depending on the position, Fairbrother said for the most part, Republicans continue to focus on three main issues for guidance.
“We believe in fiscally conservative policies at all levels of government so that our economy can continue to prosper,” he said. “We believe in supporting law enforcement and other first responders at all levels to keep our communities safe, and we believe in protecting the sanctity of life.”
Hoping to keep these contested races focused on such issues and the qualities of candidates, Fairbrother said the political strife seen on the national level can be avoided in Williamson County.
“I encourage all Republicans to live by Reagan’s 11th commandment (Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican),” he said. “We also need to be firm, but respectful in political discourse with those who disagree with us.”
With only 60 days until the election and just over a month to the voter registration deadline, Fairbrother said all voters should be preparing now.
“If you have moved or married in the last two years, be sure your voter registration is up to date,” he said. “Study our candidates, their platform, qualifications, and agendas, and participate in the process. If you are one of the many newcomers to Williamson County, the Republican Party has a place for you. Or maybe you have lived here many years and are just now realizing the need to get involved. We have a place for you as well. Join us in continuing to improve the quality of life for all residents of Williamson County as we gear up for the 2018 election.”