Runoff elections for congress, governor and other offices are upon us – and many of the races involve people of special interest to Hays County.
Early voting is May 14-18, with the runoff election May 22 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Check the Free Press website or HaysCounty.org/elections…. for where you can vote and when. Separately, school board elections are underway now.
Here are a few insights into the people who will be on the ballot locally. Most of these are low-budget races that won’t feature a lot of TV ads.
DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY RUNOFF
You’re eligible to vote in these runoffs if you voted in the first Democratic Primary back in March, or if you didn’t vote at all. You are ineligible if you voted in another party’s primary.
Governor: Andrew White or Lupe Valdez
White has long-standing ties to Hays County. His father, the former governor, owned property in the Dripping Springs area before his death. He has college classmates in the Kyle area.
Andrew White also showed up for the candidate debate in Kyle, where he impressed with an easy-going, self-deprecating manner and broad knowledge on issues. Lupe Valdez skipped the debate, and has kept a low profile in the runoff, perhaps hoping to coast to victory after running well ahead in the nine-person original primary, where no candidate won a majority.
Valdez is a former sheriff of Dallas County, where she made a name for herself standing up to Gov. Gregg Abbot and the Trump administration on immigration and sanctuary cities. She’s also a gay, Latina woman, with all the symbolism that carries in this fraught political year. Sadly, beyond that she has not shown she can master policy on critical state issues such as education, transportation, climate change, taxes and economic development.
Vote for Valdez — a good-hearted person with considerable criminal justice experience — if the symbolic statement is worth it to you. Vote for White if you want a candidate more deeply versed on the issues, more articulate, and with a much better chance to win in the general election. As a bonus, Andrew White has ties to Hays County and Central Texas that would be important if he wins.
Note: every major newspaper in the state where the editorial board has interviewed the candidates and then endorsed has endorsed White, including the Dallas Morning News in Valdez’s hometown. In addition, young Hispanic activists in a statewide group called Jolt this weekend voted to endorse White over Valdez.
Congress, 21st District: Mary Wilson or Joseph Kopser
This district includes most of the Buda-Kyle communities west of I-35, and stretches into the Texas Hill Country west of San Antonio
Business-tech innovator and Army vet Joseph Kopser, a Bronze Star winner in Iraq, is pushed by the national Democratic committee as the best chance to win this seat in what has traditionally been a Republican district. Kopser has garnered the most donations, raised the most money, won the most early endorsements, and by conventional wisdom, will have stronger appeal in the district’s rural counties and in the conservative San Antonio suburbs.
Mary Wilson, a long-time Austin activist and former math professor turned liberal minister, is generally to the left of Kopser and thinks that’s where the party should be. She ran a much less organized campaign, and raised little money, but – perhaps benefitting from being the only woman compared to three men in the race – she led Kopser slightly going into the runoff. Indeed, the votes were pretty evenly split in the first primary among all four candidates. She is endorsed by Stonewall Democrats of Austin.
Kopser is more the pragmatist who wants to reach across the aisle to get things done, the same way he says he reached across differences to lead troops overseas. Wilson is more the firebrand, concerned about compromise. Both say that Trump’s election inspired them to run.
Though a gun-owner, Kopser is endorsed by the national Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, and by the San Antonio Express-News, and by a number of prominent Democratic leaders, including former Austin mayor, now state senator, Kirk Watson.
Congress, 25th District: Chris Perri or Julie Oliver
This district includes parts of far western Hays County, including the Dripping Springs area. Both Perri and Oliver showed up for the Democratic debate in Kyle earlier this season.
Perri is an Austin defense attorney who received his degree from the University of Texas. He started his own practice in 2009 and was the supervising attorney for UT Law’s pro bono Texas Expunction Project. His wife hails from Burnet and teaches at Texas State University.
Oliver is a former teen Medicaid mom, now an attorney. During the Kyle debates, she emphasized how thankful she was about the government programs through Medicaid that she received, enabling her to raise her child. She said she fears that Congress is trying to cut Medicaid, and she believes that universal healthcare for everyone in the U.S. is important. Also an attorney, Oliver also has expertise in tax policy and works as a finance executive in the healthcare industry.
Early in the race, before the primary, Perri racked up many of the traditional Democratic clubs that make endorsements, including the Austin Area Central Labor Council, Austin Progressive Coalition, Our Revolution, and Wimberley Indivisible, among others. Oliver was endorsed by the UT Law School Dems.
State Representative: Rebecca Bell-Metereau or Erin Zweiner
All of Hays County is in one state rep district, along with smaller Blanco County to the west.
Two strong women are in this runoff. They’ve travelled much different paths to get here.
Rebecca Bell-Metereau is a decades-long resident of the district, a professor at Texas State University who spent years battling right-wing voodoo on the Texas Education Board, running many uphill battles for a regional seat on the board in the process. She’s been involved in the Texas State faculty senate and on the San Marcos planning and zoning commission.
Zweiner is new to Hays County, and new to politics, but has worked tirelessly to make herself known to Democrats in the fast-growing towns and suburbs. She moved to the Driftwood area so recently that there have been questions about whether she qualifies under state law that requires state reps to live in the state of Texas at least two years (she recently hired a legal expert who says she is eligible).
While there are differences of emphasis and nuance between them, both women are solid on core Democratic issues in the legislative race: choice, the bathroom bill, compassionate immigration reform, belief in science. In many ways, the choice here boils down to one of style and experience: the mature, seasoned fighter with background in the area, or the energetic newcomer eager to make a name and foment change.
Zweiner was in the race first; Bell-Metereau jumped in when incumbent Republican Jason Isaac decided to give up the seat to run for his party’s nomination to congress (he lost). Bell-Metereau led substantially going into the runoff.
Congress, 21st District: Matt McCall and Chip Roy
The first thing you see on Matt McCall’s website are the words “Conservative. Christian. Constitutionalist.” McCall’s business supplies surgical products to U.S. military hospitals around the world. He had sought to run for the Congressional district in both 2014 and 2016, losing both times to Lamar Smith, who announced late in the political season that he was retiring. McCall won 16.93% of the Republican primary vote in an 18-person race, that included Dripping Springs State Rep. Jason Isaac.
Chip Roy led the entire slate with 27.06% of the vote. Roy served as chief of staff for Sen. Ted Cruz and as a senior advisor to Rick Perry when he was governor. Both endorse Roy in this race. He is an attorney with his law degree from UT, and a former federal prosecutor. In addition, though he does not technically live in the district, living nearby instead Roy is a Hays County resident, residing in the Dripping Springs area.
Hays County JP. 4: Robert Avera and John Burns
Robert Avera is an attorney who grew up in the Austin area before heading to Colorado for college and fought forest fires for seven years in the Rocky Mountains. He ended up missing his family ranch in Dripping Springs, came home and got involved in the DS fire district. He has a law office in Dripping Springs.
John Burns, who moved to Hays County in 2013, is also an attorney and a former medical researcher and retired Naval commander. He was raised in a military family, living in five states by the age of 10, and in eight states before making his way to Texas. He has been endorsed by Hays County Commissioner Ray Whisenant. He has a practice in Dripping Springs.