The Week in Politics: A $50 Million High School Stadium, an Assault Victim's Victory and More

The most important election news and political dynamics at the state and local levels.
by | May 13, 2016

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Voters Approve a Texas-Sized Stadium...

Texas held local elections this past Saturday, with an expensive campaign in Austin involving Uber and Lyft taking most of the attention. Despite spending some $9 mllion, the ride-sharing companies failed to roll back an ordinance requiring them to fingerprint drivers as a safety precaution.

By Monday, both companies announced they were pulling out of Austin.

That won't end the discussion. Don Huffines, the vice chair of the Texas Senate Transportation Committee, vowed to introduce pre-emption legislation.

"With its mob-rule vote against Proposition 1, effectively forcing Uber and Lyft to leave the city, Austin has used 'local control' as a thinly veiled excuse to trample economic liberty and drive out a popular, innovative, disruptive service," he wrote in The Dallas Morning News.

While the Austin vote hogged the spotlight, some other results are worth noting as well. In the May issue of Governing, I wrote about Crystal City, Texas, where the mayor, the city manager and most of the city council were indicted on federal bribery and conspiracy charges.

On Saturday, voters recalled the mayor and two members of the council, overwhelmingly ushering in a slate of fresh faces. Well, mostly fresh. Former Mayor Frank Moreno was re-elected to his old job after a nearly two-decade hiatus. He vowed to clean up the city's affairs.

"It's gonna take time," Moreno told the San Antonio Express-News. "There's a lot of work that needs to be done."

Elsewhere in the state, numerous communities voted on bond issues. One item stands out: Voters in McKinney, which is north of Dallas, approved a $220 million school bond issue. The $50-million bond will fund, among other things, a 12,000-seat high school stadium and event center. The old stadium dates from the 1960s and seats a mere 7,000 fans.

... and the Field Is Set in West Virginia

In West Virginia, Jim Justice, a coal billionaire and owner of the famed Greenbrier Resort, won the Democratic primary for governor on Tuesday. He took 50 percent of the vote, roughly double the total of his nearest competitor, former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, who took 26 percent.

Justice will face state Senate President Bill Cole, who ran unopposed in Tuesday's primary. Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is term-limited.

As noted last week, West Virginia has been trending strongly Republican in recent years.

"We've become a pretty red state, nationally," said George Carenbauer, a former chair of the state Democratic Party. "Donald Trump's favorability is very high in West Virginia."

But Carenbauer argues that overreach on labor issues by the GOP legislature gives Justice an opening.

In what was nominally the state's first nonpartisan state Supreme Court election, Beth Walker was elected over a field that included incumbent Justice Brent Benjamin and former Justice Darrell McGraw, who also served five terms as state attorney general.

Walker is the first Republican elected to the court in more than 80 years. She was the beneficiary of more than $3.5 milllion in spending from Republican and pro-business groups.

"If the intention of nonpartisan election of judges was to take politics out of Supreme Court races, it was not to be so in its first incarnation," the Charleston Gazette-Mail noted.

Finally, an oddity. On Sunday, state Senate candidate Richard Ojeda was assaulted at a political cookout. His injuries landed him in the hospital but apparently won him the sympathy vote. Ojeda unseated state Sen. Art Kirkendoll in the Democratic primary.

Kirkendoll denied any involvement in the assault, for which another man has been charged.

"It's an inspiring victory for Ojeda, to be sure, but what a tough loss for his opponent, who did nothing to lose the seat," tweeted political writer Nathaniel Rakich.

Odds and Ends

Winners and Losers in the Gubernatorial Popularity Contest: Morning Consult has released updated approval ratings for all governors. Republican Charlie Baker of Massachusetts scores the highest, with a 72 percent approval rating, followed closely by fellow Republican Larry Hogan of Maryland, at 71 percent. Republican Sam Brownback scores the lowest, with just 26 percent of Kansans approving of his job performance.

Eight of the 10 governors scoring best are Republicans. Jack Markell of Delaware ranks highest among Democrats, with a 66 percent approval rating. The governor who has seen the biggest swing since the publication's polling in January is Repubican Rick Snyder of Michigan, due to the Flint water crisis. His disapproval rating has shot up 17 points, to 63 percent.

How Oregon Increased Its Voter Rolls: Oregon holds primary elections next Tuesday. Some 100,000 residents are newly registered to vote this year. More than half of them -- 51,558 -- were added to the rolls by the state's pioneering automatic voter registration program, according to Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins.

If You Can Drive, Should You Vote?: The San Francisco Board of Supervisors gave approval to a measure that would allow citizens as young as 16 to vote in local elections. The 9-2 vote on Tuesday means voters will decide the issue on the November ballot.

Elections Shakeup in Wisconsin: After 33 years as Wisconsin's top election official, Keith Kennedy announced that he will step down on June 29. The next day, the state's independent Government Accountability Board (GAB) will be dissolved and replaced by ethics and elections commissions that will answer to the legislature.

Kennedy, who is 64, planned to work through the fall elections but moved up his retirement date in response to the structural changes in the state's watchdog functions. The changes were widely seen as political payback for GAB investigations into GOP Gov. Scott Walker and top legislators.

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