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Analysis: Running a Texas election while voters are distracted — by politics

By Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune

Analysis: Running a Texas election while voters are distracted — by politics” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Texas candidates trying to win voters’ attention and support have some hefty competition this year: The political news happening outside of the 2022 campaigns is more interesting than the elections themselves right now.

From school board meetings to courtrooms to hospitals, the most engaging political issues seem to be taking place everywhere — except on the traditional battlefield.

Early voting is less than three weeks away, and politicians seeking office — especially challengers and newcomers who have little time to tell voters who they are and why they’re running for office — are competing with political problems unlikely to be resolved by the votes cast in the primaries.

After state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, started his since-abandoned campaign for attorney general, he sent Texas public school districts a list of 850 books, asking the superintendents to confirm whether any of them were in use in libraries or classrooms.

That was in late October. Since then, Krause decided to run for Tarrant County district attorney instead of AG. But inquiries like his and from the Legislature in general about what’s being taught about racial history and sociology and about gender have metastasized into loud debates and protests at school board meetings that were already arenas for disputes about how to operate public education during the pandemic. The book banners have also moved on to public libraries.

It’s not that voters aren’t interested; similar arguments turned the Virginia governor’s race Glenn Youngkin’s way late last year. That was a general election; the issue doesn’t ring many “us vs. them” bells in party primaries. It’s a way to get attention, but not a great way to differentiate one Republican from another or one Democrat from another. The primary candidates are unlikely to disagree with one another on these issues.

Gov. Greg Abbott uncorked a set of proposals aimed at parents this week, cribbing from Youngkin and reviving previous efforts to get parents’ rights bills through the Texas Legislature. Among other things, it would give parents the right to decide whether their kids should repeat a grade or be promoted to the next one — an option they currently have only through the third grade.

Texas hospitalizations and death rates have been rising from the omicron variant of COVID-19 as the pandemic begins its third year. Caseloads and positivity rates are dropping, a good sign. Masking and vaccination are persistent subjects for argument and political debate but haven’t caught on as points of division in the primary campaigns. The public is engaged, but the March elections don’t offer the kind of this-or-that choices that arose in 2020 and could return in the November 2022 general election.

The federal courts, not the voting booths, are where disputes over political maps for Texas elections are being fought — as well as challenges to new laws for voting and counting votes in those elections. Those issues are important but out of the hands of candidates.

State judges will ultimately decide whether Attorney General Ken Paxton should be convicted of securities fraud charges that have remained outstanding for more than six years. That’s a campaign issue — his opponents certainly want to talk about it — but his guilt or innocence will be decided by judges, not by voters.

Border security and immigration are a central topic for Republican candidates in Texas, one that will play bigger in election politics in the general election than in the primaries.

And that issue, too, is one for the courts, where the state is being sued by lawyers for migrants who they say were illegally arrested as part of the state’s multibillion-dollar border security effort. That crackdown pits Abbott and other state leaders against President Joe Biden and other Democrats in Washington, D.C.

It’s a loud and partisan political argument about a longstanding issue in Texas and other states on the Mexican border. It’ll be part of the fight in November in the general election, when Democrats and Republicans face off. Voters are interested and engaged.

But despite the primary campaigns already underway, that is, for now, another fight for judges, not voters.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/01/26/texas-election-redistricting-covid/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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