Central Texans still need to decide who their candidates will be in several races

(RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
(RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Have you noticed those “Vote Here” signs hanging outside a public library, grocery stores or public schools? No, they aren’t simply leftovers from the Uber/Lyft ordinance election that took place earlier this month. They’re evidence that the job of an involved voter is never done.

Those signs are there to remind us that Tuesday’s Runoff Election Day will determine several Republican and Democrat nominees for state and county offices. Those signs are there to remind you that your voice needs to be heard.

Yes, most of Austin is either chattering about the failed Proposition 1 Transportation Network Company ordinance — like most of the tech world, for that matter — or talking of the upcoming presidential election. It’s easy to understand how Tuesday’s runoff election may have slipped some minds.

Never the less, it is important for voters to show up to the polls. After all, there’s still plenty of business to take care of locally – and it’s this business that most directly affects the lives of Texans. Because a larger than usual number of incumbent officeholders locally have chosen not to run for re-election, the there will be plenty of new faces.

The good news is the ballot is short since only a few items from the March primaries went unresolved, including a very tight primary race for Texas Rail Road Commissioner for both parties, the Democratic race for Travis County Commissioner Precinct 1 and the Republican race for Williamson County Commissioner Precinct 1.

Today, the surviving candidates in each of those races face off in their party’s runoff. And there is plenty to consider.

In the Railroad Commissioner race, for instance, Texans have the opportunity to elect a moderate candidate. Back in March, seven Republicans and three Democrats ran for an open seat on the three-member Commission. Now, it’s down to the final four: Two in each race. While the Editorial Board has endorsed Gary Gates, one of the two Republicans left standing. The board chose not to endorse either of the Democrats left in the race.

Why, you ask, does the Railroad Commission even matter? Simple. The incorrectly named agency regulates the oil and gas industry, and as such the decisions made here determine the state’s energy and environmental future. That’s a huge responsibility. And yet, the agency is not one with controversies including growing criticism for its close ties to the oil and gas industry.

A progressive candidate, some experts say, would be a welcome change.

Even closer to home are the Travis County Commissioner Pct. 1 and Williamson County Pct. 1 races. The candidates in each position will help shape how their respective county handles transportation, health care, criminal justice and other challenges wrought by explosive population growth in those areas. Experience will go far in these seats.

Earlier this month, the editorial board made the following endorsements in those races:

  • Democrat Jeff Travillion for Travis County Commissioner Precinct 1.
  • Republican Landy Warren for Williamson County Commissioner Precinct 1.

Victories in these races will be determined by those who take the time to vote.

A USA Today poll from 2012 showed that 59 percent of nonvoters said they were frustrated because “nothing ever gets done” in government, while 54 percent cited “corruption” and 42 percent pointed to the lack of difference between the Democratic and Republican parties as their reasons for not voting. That same year, voter turnout was lower than in 2008, dropping from 62.3 percent of eligible citizens voting to 57.5 percent in 2012.

Today, voter confidence only deteriorated. Only 2 percent of Americans said they were “very satisfied” with the way things are going in the country, while 71 percent of Americans said they were dissatisfied with the state of the nation, according to a 2015 Quinnipiac poll.

With so much change in leadership coming to Central Texas, this is not the time to be disgruntled and removed from the polls.  People say they don’t vote because they feel elected officials don’t serve their interests. But elected officials can only reflect the interests of those constituents who actually show up to vote.

The solution is simple. If you want change, make yourself heard at the polls.

Yes, eligible and soon-to-be-eligible voters are already looking forward to November’s big show, but pressing matters in our own back yard need your attention.   Don’t miss your opportunity to have your voice heard. Go vote.

In an economically segregated city, Super Tuesday voting makes sense

rbb voting 3
Early voters wait in line at the Travis County Clerk’s office at Airport Boulevard. Who county voters chose in the primary depended largely on where they live and where they fall on the socioeconomic spectrum. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Politics are local, and if you doubt that, just take a look at the maps of Travis County’s Super Tuesday polling results.

Recall for a minute that Austin is one of the most economically segregated cities in America. That fact alone makes maps like these that show how precincts broke in Tuesday’s primary races very compelling.

Let’s take the Democrats first.

Who is “Feeling the Bern” in Travis County? Well, they are the folks living in the tight corridor between Interstate 35 and Mopac Boulevard. The same Austinites who are screaming the loudest about skyrocketing property taxes and rents. They are not as wealthy as their neighbors to the west — in West Lake Hills, Lost Creek and Steiner Ranch — who also grouse about their bills, but have more of a cushion to absorb the financial hit.

At the same time, the precincts that went for Sen. Bernie Sanders are also generally better educated and less ethnically diverse than their neighbors to the east, who appear to believe that Hillary Clinton is the better, safer bet.

And the economic realities don’t just apply to Democrats. Take a look at Travis County Republicans and you see a three-way split. Marco Rubio took Travis County to the tune of 29 percent with Ted Cruz coming in second with 28 percent — one big reason Travis County tracked differently than the rest of the state had to do with economics (and maybe a little bit of Democrats trying to damage Donald Trump by voting in the the opposite party primary according to anecdotal reports.)

Looking at the same precinct map on the Republican side, wealthier voters in the center city and increasingly gentrified areas of East Austin went for Rubio (plus Circle C, Westlake Hills and Lakeway) and Ted Cruz held strong with suburban voters from Pflugerville to Lago Vista. Trump’s constituency is in the less affluent corners of the county — the rural far northeast corner and the corridor along U.S. 183 between I-35 and the airport. The precinct that tied with Ted Cruz? Home to Circuit of the Americas. The one area that breaks the economic mold? Steiner Ranch which appears to be Trump country for reasons that are still unclear.

So how do such dynamics play out in local races? Just look at the Democratic race for Travis County commissioner in Precinct 1. The two front-runners, Jeff Travillion and Arthur Sampson are headed to a runoff in May, but the votes from this week are telling about where their base lies, especially in a race where all five candidates were African American men.

Travillion, a City of Austin division  manager who is deeply connected and lives in Pflugerville, did well in the more diverse areas of the precinct, which have relatively higher incomes and and more education — Pflugerville, Manor and near East Austin. He and James Nortey, who lives in Mueller, were essentially fighting for the same voter, especially in the precincts closer to the heart of Austin which were more familiar with his neighborhood association work and efforts on the city’s planning commission.

Arthur Sampson did better in City of Austin neighborhoods that have not felt the effects of gentrification as strongly and are hungry for economic development that will not speed the exodus of African Americans from the city. They represent some of the poorest families in the city with the fewest college graduates. The third place candidate, Richard Franklin, succeeded in his home turf of Del Valle, where he is known for his work on the school board. It’s an area that is more than 60 percent Hispanic and relies the most heavily on Travis County for public safety and other services.

For those casting about trying to make sense of this crazy election cycle, some things have not changed. Voters still cast their ballots based on their common interests and the view is very different from where one sits  on the wage and education spectrum. Clearly, Austin’s economic segregation in Austin can make it hard to see that other political point of view.