Big news today: Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald is stepping down from his position. At a press conference today, he announced today that he will either run for the 17th Legislative District, anchored in Bastrop and currently held by Republican Tim Kleinschmidt, or for the 27th Congressional District, currently held by Republican Blake “Ducky Pajamas” Farenthold.
Running for CD-27 would be somewhat surprising decision given that the maps drawn by the San Antonio panel make the district R+19. Obama would have gotten 40% in the district in 2008 to McCain's 59%. The previous incarnation that accidentally elected Farenthold in 2010 was D+7. However, the district changed so dramatically in redistricting, one can argue that there isn't any huge benefit of incumbency here. But, make no mistake, it's still an uphill climb for any Democrat.
The old 27th ran down to the Mexican border; this iteration reaches up to Bastrop. Here's some maps to illustrate this point:
Basically, the southern counties in the former CD-27 were re-purposed into the new CD-34, a majority Hispanic, majority Democratic district. According to the whiz kids at DailyKos, only 54% of this new 27th was in the original district that elected Ducky PJ's in 2010, during a Republican wave and helped by what was largely described as an ineffective “machine” in Nueces County. Prior to The Duck's 799-vote upset victory in 2010, the old 27th had only been represented by Solomon Ortiz since its inception in 1992.
This version of CD-27 looks very much like what the Legislature gerrymandered, and at the time when the maps were voted in place, I was certain that the district would lead to a primary challenge or four for The Duck. Farenthold is known for a revolving door of Chiefs of Staff, which suggests that he's incompetent, impossible to deal with, or perhaps just not worth the effort. So far, Farenthold has only drawn one opponent — Don Al Middlebrook, who filed back in December. Don Al has only 69 Facebook fans and 3 Twitter followers, so I think we can safely assume he's not really all that serious. Oh, he also seems to have raised $0 dollars per the FEC.
House District 17, on the other hand, would be a much easier pick-up opportunity for Democrats. The district, pictured at left, encompasses Lee, Bastrop, Caldwell, Gonzales, and Karnes County. McDonald has the clear advantage in Bastrop, and Caldwell is a majority-minority county that has gone Democratic in downballot races in Presidential election cycles. Furthermore, since part of Caldwell is in the new CD-35, you can bet that whatever Democrat wins the primary will be beating the bushes hard to turn out votes in November. (Plus, you get to represent Lockhart, which, I mean, come on!) There's also some good data to back this up — the 2008 Democratic candidate for Court of Criminal Appeals Susan Strawn narrowly won in the district 48-47, and Democrats Mark Thompson (Railroad Commish) and Sam Houston (SCOTX) lost by less than 2 points in what is the new 17th House District. If McDonald makes a go for it, wins big in Bastrop and turns out Caldwell, he can win this thing.
Regardless of what office he chooses to run for, McDonald is a formidable candidate. He was the youngest-ever elected County Judge at age 27, and has served in the position for 14 years. He was very involved in the emergency response to the Bastrop wildfires last year, which devastated tens of thousands of acres of forest and land, and destroyed hundreds of homes.
It's no surprise to see McDonald seeking higher office. He has a significant amount of governing experience and some strong political connections. It will be interesting to see how his decision plays out, and who ends up being the GOP in the 27th Congressional district, as that could play a decisive factor in how high of a hill McDonald has to climb in that race. This post was revised from the original to include information about HD-17. Originally we declared that McDonald was running for Congress; in reality he hasn't yet made up his mind as of mid-day Monday March 5th.