Politics & Government

Does red or blue matter in local elections? Here’s how candidates have voted

In today’s highly charged political climate, it should be little surprise that nonpartisan races are becoming, well, partisan.

That often happens.

But this year is different.

The May 4 municipal and school board elections — the nonpartisan ones, where candidates run without party labels — partisanship seems to be coming into play much more than it has in the past.

In some cases, candidates are looking up opponent voting histories and party affiliations to use in campaigning. In others, candidates are being asked about who they voted for in last year’s mid-term election. They know that could be a factor in some people’s votes in May.

“Through much of the state, partisanship has infused itself into local elections for a number of years,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU. “But Fort Worth traditionally has not had as much of that.

“Obviously it’s changing,” he said. “We used to say in national politics that all politics is local. But now it seems that all politics has become national.”

And that changes the way politics is viewed.

Local officials have long tried to stay away from partisanship, saying that people want safe streets, clean water, good schools, operating sewer systems — and for their potholes to be filled. Those issues, officials have long said, have nothing to do with one party or the other.

But growing partisanship across the country in recent decades — particularly in the wake of the divisive 2016 presidential race and fiery 2018 Senate race in Texas — has seeped into local races.

“Few of us old-timers can remember when local politics were anything but partisan,” Riddlesperger said. “It will never go back to the way it was.

“Can we get the equilibrium back to where we can have more issue-based, or debate-based, politics and less pure partisanship? I hope so.”

Republican vs. Democrat

No race is more prominent than the battle for Fort Worth mayor — pitting longtime Republican leader Betsy Price and Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairwoman Deborah Peoples.

If Price wins a fifth term she will become the city’s longest-serving mayor. Peoples is using the campaign slogan, “It’s time,” to call for change.

Though nonpartisan on the ballot, the race follows clear party lines.

The Texas Working Families Party, a progressive campaign organization that backs left-leaning candidates, on Friday endorsed Peoples. In the endorsement, the group connected Price to national Republican politics and referenced a January statement from President Donald Trump calling Price and Pascagoula, Miss., Mayor Dane Maxwell “fantastic friends.”

“Her Republican politics don’t really match the desire and needs of voters,” said Jorge Contreras, state director Working Families Party.

Working Families will target voters with digital ads, texting and phone banks with an emphasis on voter turnout, he said. Fort Worth has historically low turnout, about 7 percent in the last mayoral election.

That could be a boost for the Peoples campaign. Price has more cash on hand, $432,000 compared to Peoples’s $150,000, according to last week’s campaign finance reports. Those reports also show close connections to parties.

Price’s mayoral campaign has supported Republican efforts in North Texas, including giving $1,500 to the Tarrant County Republican Party and $1,000 to Sen. John Cornyn’s campaign in February, campaign finance reports show. Her campaign also gave $150 to the Republican Party of Texas and $250 to the campaign for U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth.

Peoples has spent about $700 with the Democratic Party, including a payment for voter files, according to campaign finance reports.

“These races are not nonpartisan,” said Peoples, who plans to step down from the Democratic party if she wins.

Brian Mayes, Price campaign spokesman, challenged the notion of partisanship in the mayoral race calling it “bitter divisiveness.”

“Streets are not partisan, public safety is not partisan,” he said. “Mayor Price has always led for everyone in the community regardless of which party they link to.”

Working Families also endorsed Michael Matos, who is running for City Council District 7 against incumbent Dennis Shingleton and David Hawthorne.

In the race for District 6, newcomer Daryl Davis has been backed by United Fort Worth, a grassroots group that bills itself as nonpartisan. The group has targeted incumbent Jungus Jordan on social issues related to immigration, including his vote against joining a lawsuit challenging SB4, a ban on so-called sanctuary cities.

Democratic organizers have said they are looking at the May 2019 elections as a way to build on successes at the ballot box last year, such as when Republicans Konni Burton (state Senate) and Andy Nguyen (Tarrant County commissioner) were ousted from office.

“We are definitely interested in the municipal races this year,” Allison Campolo of Tarrant Together, which is trying to turn Tarrant County blue, has told the Star-Telegram. “The results from the November 2018 election have given some clear indications as to voter preferences, even as can be translated to a nonpartisan race.

“We see that people are interested in goals which keep everyone safe and give everyone equal access to opportunity.”

Political activism

Educators were politically active in the midterm elections with some running for office and others pushing issues at the state and national level under the banner of both parties. These political themes continued into school board elections.

Trustee Ann Sutherland, a Democrat who is not seeking another term on the school board, said politics can matter at the local level.

“On the basis of my past experience as a long-term member of the education establishment, it is clear that Democrats are stronger supporters of education than Republicans,” Sutherland said. “The best example of this is the cuts proposed by Trump in the education budget for the fiscal year 2020.”

Fort Worth school board candidate Carla Morton, a pediatric neuropsychologist and Tanglewood mother, said she has experienced some of the hyper-partisanship that is characterizing this year’s local elections.

Morton is seeking the District 5 seat on the Fort Worth school board after an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the State Board of Education as a Democrat. She is running against Carin “CJ” Evans, an attorney who voted in the Republican primary in 2018 and 2016, Tarrant County election records show.

Morton said it’s no secret she is a Democrat since she ran in the 2018 Democratic primary. Still, she said she was dis-invited from a recent event hosted by the Fort Worth Republican Women. She posted the issue on Facebook.

In response, the local GOP group posted an explanation on its Facebook page: “Member only luncheon for local elections forum: Candidates were invited (or not invited), based on their voting records and past party affiliations per the Bylaws of Fort Worth Republican Women.”

“It’s disappointing because the school board is a nonpartisan race,” Morton said, who made her sentiments about the issue public with a social media posting.

Evans, an attorney whose children attend North Hi Mount Elementary and Stripling Middle School, said there have been various candidate forums and groups decide who they want to invite.

“There have been some my opponent has been invited to and I have not and vice versa,” Evans said in an email. “I think we need to focus on the important things in the race like student outcomes and how to help every student on every campus of FWISD.”

Early voting in the May 4 election runs from April 22-April 30.

Voting records

Here are the primary elections in which candidates in Fort Worth voted in 2018, 2016 and 2014 in Tarrant County. NR (no record) notes when someone didn’t vote, or wasn’t in Tarrant County to vote.

Fort Worth Mayor

Candidate201820162014
Betsy PriceRRR
Deborah PeoplesDDD
James H. McBrideNR

NR

R
Michael Haynes

NR

NR

NR

District 2

Candidate 201820162014
Carlos E. FloresDDD

District 3

Candidate201820162014
Brian ByrdRRR
Tanner SmithD

NR

NR

District 4

Candidate201820162014
Cary MoonRR

NR

Max J. Striker

NR

R

NR

District 5

Candidate201820162014
Gyna BivensDDD
Thomas Brown R

NR

NR

Waymond Brown

NR

D

NR

Gina Monday

NR

NR

NR

Tammy PierceDDD
Bob WilloughbyRRR

District 6

Candidate201820162014
Jungus JordanRRR
Daryl R. DavisDD

NR

Rod Smith

NR

NR

NR

District 7

Candidate201820162014
Dennis ShingletonRRR
David Hawthorne

NR

NR

NR

Michael MatosR

NR

NR

District 8

Candidate201820162014
Kelly Allen-GrayDDD
Kevin “KL” JohnsonDDD
Chris NettlesDDD

District 9

Candidate201820162014
Ann ZadehDDD

Tarrant Regional Water District

Candidate201820162014
Mary KelleherRR

NR

Jim LaneDDD
Martha “Marty” LeonardRRR
Gary MoatesRR

NR

Charles “C.B.” TeamRR

NR

Fort Worth School Board

District 2

Candidate201820162014
Tobi JacksonDDD
Chad E. McCarty

NR

DD

District 3

Candidate 201820162014
Cleveland Harris Jr.D

NR

D
Quinton “Q” PhillipsDDD

District 5

Candidate201820162014
Carin “CJ” EvansRR

NR

Carla MortonDDD

District 6

Candidate201820162014
Anne DarrRDR
Lisa SaucedoR

NR

NR

Sandra A. SheltonRRR

Tarrant County College

District 6

Candidate201820162014
Gwendolyn MorrisonRRR

District 7

Candidate201820162014
Kenneth BarrDDD
Hunter CrowDDD
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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.
Diane Smith, a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 1997. Smith, who has covered municipal government, immigration and education, has won multiple awards for reporting, most recently as part of a Star-Telegram team recognized by the Headliners Foundation of Texas for coverage of child abuse and Fort Worth’s Las Vegas Trail area.
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