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Three Local Elections Highlight How Texas Politics Are Changing

The elections for the lone Republican seat on Dallas County’s Commissioners Court, Tarrant County judge and the Texas House seat for Collin County have become close races in which the Democrats just might win.

(TNS) — Over the last two decades North Texas has seen changes in demographics and politics, some gradual, some striking.

In Dallas County, Republicans controlled the political scene until 2006, when Democrats broke through to win every contested countywide race. Now Democrats are poised to totally wipe out the GOP from the county.

The changing political climate has impacted other areas, particularly in Tarrant and Collin counties. Demographic shifts have made those places less Republican, though the GOP still runs the show in those counties.

That sets up November elections that will provide a test of how firm a grasp Democrats and Republicans have on their strongholds, and whether Texas politics will move toward the fringes or closer to the middle.

The race for Texas governor between Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D- El Paso, is the headline attraction for the Texas midterm elections. The vast majority of the down-ballot congressional and state legislative races aren’t competitive because the candidates are running in gerrymandered districts.

As a result, operatives from both parties are looking to local races to protect their turf and develop political clout from the bottom of the ballot.

And then there’s the most practical explanation for pouring resources into local contests.

“With regard to our day-to-day lives, the most meaningful races are for County Commissioners Court, they are for local district attorneys and for county judges and such,” said conservative radio host Mark Davis. “They make the rules that are made every day that affect our daily lives in a far more direct fashion.”

As we steam toward the Oct. 24 start of early voting for the midterm elections, realize that your vote has more power than the musings of any politician — or pundit.

The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 11.

Here are three contests from three area counties that will impact North Texas politics.

Dallas County

Dallas lawyer J.J. Koch is the lone Republican on the Dallas County Commissioners Court. He won northern Dallas’ District 2 seat in 2018 by beating Democrat Wini Cannon by seven points. But last year the district was redrawn to make it more favorable for a Democrat. In November Koch takes on Democrat Andrew Sommerman, an election lawyer and ally of Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.

If Sommerman beats Koch, Democrats will control every seat on the court, which is currently composed of four Democrats and one Republican. An all-Democratic court was unimaginable in 2000, when George W. Bush was president and John Wiley Price was the lone Democrat on the court. Now Bush lives in a county where GOP office holders are going the way of the passenger pigeon.

Tarrant County

Tarrant County was once considered a bellwether for Texas politics with its electoral totals sometimes mimicking statewide results, while confirming Republican domination of the Lone Star State. The area remains the largest conservative county in the nation — but it’s changing.

In 2018 O’Rourke won the county in his unsuccessful Senate bid against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. Two years later, in the presidential race, Joe Biden narrowly beat Donald Trump in Tarrant County.

But just as Democrats started winning countywide contests with non- Tarrant County candidates, Republicans were still victorious in their down-ballot challenges. In 2020 Democrats targeted Republicans in five statehouse districts in an effort to seize the Texas House. Republicans easily won all of those races.

The November contests are fascinating because in part they feature Trump’s attempt to exact revenge. He’s backed candidates in the countywide contest for district attorney and county judge.

The county judge race is a battle between Republican Tim O’Hare and Democrat Deborah Peoples. Both candidates used to lead their county parties. The Trump-backed O’Hare is a former Farmers Branch mayor. In the March GOP primary he beat Betsy Price, a popular former Fort Worth mayor, by 33 percentage points. Peoples is coming off two unsuccessful runs for Fort Worth mayor.

This contest will reveal how close Tarrant County is from becoming a legitimate battleground area for local candidates. O’Hare is one of the most conservative candidates on the ballot, the polar opposite of Peoples.

Collin County

Collin County has seen its population explode, as companies move to the area and bring with them a diverse workforce.

Republicans control most of the elected offices in the county and all seats on the area’s delegation to the Legislature.

In November Democrats have a chance to win a Texas House seat in the redrawn District 70. In that race former Plano Chamber of Commmerce CEO Jamee Jolly, the GOP nominee, is running against Democrat Mihaela Plesa, a former legislative director in the Texas House.

In 2020 Biden easily carried District 70, which gives Democrats hope they can win the seat. But similar to Tarrant County, it’s unclear if a Collin County-based Democrat will have the juice to win on what’s long been Republican turf.

Plesa, an aggressive campaigner with grassroots flare, could be the best chance Democrats have had in years. Jolly, who is a former executive director with the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association, also has strong ties to the Collin County community.

The race will test the effectiveness of both major political parties in an area undergoing population growth and demographic shifts.

©2022 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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