Lost in the shuffle early Wednesday morning, as progressives everywhere were celebrating victory by Wendy Davis and the Senate Democratic Caucus, was news that affects local Austin representation. With a quick tweet and a blog post, Mark Strama made an announcement: he was resigning immediately, and he won't be running for Mayor of Austin.
Instead, he will lead Google Fiber's operations in Austin. For those who don't remember, Google Fiber is the super-duper fast internet that we'll be getting. And as he said of the move, “it does mean I'm getting out of politics.” There's no indication of whether he will return to elected life, but he will no doubt be continuously watched by the most active observers.
Immediately, this means that House District 50, in the northeast corner of Travis County, will be without a representative during the second special session. There will also be a special election to replace Strama. Governor Perry hasn't called the special election, but it will likely be this November, when Texas Constitutional Amendments are on the statewide ballot. Already, four Democrats had announced their intention to run: Celia Israel, Ramey Ko, Rico Reyes, and Jade Chang Sheppard. They're all expected to run in the special election.
But that's just the basics. Read on for more analysis.
- This could affect transportation legislation during the Special Session. Republicans are trying to pass transportation funding through a Constitutional Amendment that would utilize the Rainy Day Fund, even though the Fund is so often off limits for other important matters, like education. As a Constitutional Amendment, however, leadership needs 2/3 support – that means 100 votes. True, Strama voted against SJR 2 during the first special session, but that's one less vote for them to get. They only got 102 last time, but Democrats – now angry in general – might play hardball during this special session. There is no HD50 representative whose vote they can win over.
- This is bad news for any other Democrat that wants to run in HD50. An election in November is a lot closer than an election in March, and four candidate have already begun fundraising and organizing. Four months is a very short time to play catch-up when you start from nothing. Consequently, even though there were rumors of others thinking of entering the race, that may be less likely now.
- The special election to replace Strama will be all about the field campaign. Like past special elections for legislative seats, this election will likely be an open primary — meaning a free-for-all between any Democrats and Republicans. But also, as with other special elections, this will probably be low turnout, and there's a good chance of a run-off with lower turnout. That means a candidate wins with field, field, field.
- Republicans can make a move. This won't be just about Democrats, even though the only Republican declared for the seat is Michael Cargill. A special election in off-year November means much lower turnout. And while HD50 leans Democratic in the general election, low-turnout elections often favor Republicans, Indeed, HD50 has significantly more Republican primary voters than Democratic primary voters. In 2012, HD50 had 4,880 Democratic primary voters to 6,022 Republican primary voters. In 2010, that ratio was 4,443 to 7,628.
- This might be good news for Jade Chang Sheppard, for two possible reasons. First, so close to the special sessions, abortion will likely be a big motivating factor for some voters — and Sheppard has been pretty active with and supportive of Planned Parenthood for the past several years. Second, Sheppard doesn't have the Democratic activist history of people like Ramey Ko and Celia Israel, but this open primary won't just be composed of Democrats. Her several past donations to Republicans will be a smaller problem.
- This will likely affect the Affordable Housing bonds that the City of Austin will try to pass. The HD50 special election will bring up turnout, and 12.6% of Austin's population is in HD50. Will that be good or bad for the bonds?
- Finally, this is good news for Mike Martinez and anyone else that wants to run for Mayor. Mark Strama is quite popular among the same people who frequent our city elections, and his strong Name ID would have benefited in a 2014 November election. There's good reason he was the prohibitive favorite without even being a candidate. Now, there will be a much more open field to replace Lee Leffingwell.