Fewer than 14 percent of all registered voters in Texas cast ballots in Tuesday’s primaries to choose the nominees of the two major political parties for the November 4 general election. Some notable results of this low-turnout election:
–Republican and Democratic front-runners for the governorship, Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis, won their party’s nomination with ease. Their victories set up a major confrontation in the fall between Attorney General Abbott, who has stoutly defended the state’s underfunding of public education, and Sen. Davis, who has fought to restore school funding, expand pre-kindergarten programs, defend the teaching profession from attacks, and curb the overuse and misuse of standardized testing.
–The leader heading into the Republican runoff for lieutenant governor on May 27 is not the incumbent, David Dewhurst, but rather Sen. Dan Patrick, the Houston radio talk-show host who has been beating the drum for various private-school voucher schemes to drain funding from public schools. Patrick is also a promoter of even more excessive emphasis on standardized tests—in teacher evaluations, for example—despite the consensus among educational-testing researchers that scores on standardized tests are not a stable, valid, reliable indicator of an individual teacher’s effectiveness.
Patrick, assuming he prevails over Dewhurst in the runoff after they beat each other up for two and a half more months, will then face a very tough opponent in state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. She has done battle effectively against Patrick over all these issues on the Senate Education Committee, and she was the top vote-getter in the Democratic primary Tuesday.
–Strongly pro-public-education state representatives like Democrats Mary Gonzalez of El Paso and Sergio Munoz of Mission easily defeated their primary challengers and will be back in the 2015 legislature. They will join other strong public-education Democratic lawmakers like state Rep. Abel Herrero of Corpus Christi and state Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso, who faced neither primary nor general-election opponents this year.
–Not coming back in 2015 will be Naomi Gonzalez of El Paso, a Democrat backed by the privatizers through their so-called Texans for Education Reform who carried a bad bill in 2013 to turn neighborhood public schools over to private operators (the misleadingly labeled “parent trigger” bill).
–The privatizers had their wins on Tuesday, too. Late money pouring into Fort Worth from Wall Street types helped tip the balance, by a mere 111 votes, against state Rep. Lon Burnam in his Democratic primary. Burnam has been one of the strongest voices against school privatization and for neighborhood public schools in the Texas House, and he will be sorely missed.
–Also targeted and narrowly defeated by the radical, anti-public-school faction in the Republican primary were state Rep. Bennett Ratliff of Coppell and state Sen. John Carona of Dallas. Ratliff has distinguished himself on the House Public Education Committee as a thoughtful critic of the misuse of standardized testing; Carona has helped to keep the private-school voucher lobby in check on the Senate side of the capitol. These two level-headed conservatives will be missed, too, along with state Rep. Diane Patrick of Arlington. Rep. Patrick (not to be confused with Sen. Patrick) vanquished the extremist Public Education Committee chair, Rep. Kent Grusendorf in 2006, but she fell victim in her Republican primary this year to an attack fueled by Grusendorf disciples who steered tons of political money, some of it from unnamed contributors, into targeted races.
–At the same time, though, another pro-public-school Republican, state Rep. J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville, was able to win his primary race handily over similar opposition, and here and there around the state a significant number of other public-school advocates either won their Republican primaries outright or made it into runoffs.
–Promising legislative candidates also advanced toward the November election on the Democratic side, including Libby Willis in Fort Worth, who is seeking to succeed Wendy Davis in the Senate, and Susan Motley in Irving, who still has to clear a runoff before competing for a Texas House seat this fall.
–Another big win for educators and public education came on the congressional level, where freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth turned back a well-funded challenge in his primary.
Upcoming Hotline messages will offer further commentary on the prospects for the May runoffs and the November contests. Meanwhile, we would caution against overstating the predictive value of the primary results one way or another. The fact is that a much larger number of Texas voters will turn out in the fall. Appeals that work with a narrow slice of the electorate in March (like the 4 percent of all voters who boosted Dan Patrick into the driver’s seat in the Republican lieutenant governor’s race) may well fail when millions more Texans go to the polls and render their verdict on November 4.