‘Minor’ parties impact 2010 polls
When operatives with Republican ties paid for the petition drive that got the environmentally oriented Green Party on the Texas ballot this year, it set the stage for problems for Texas Democrats beyond 2010.
Under Texas law, if a party gets more than 5 percent of the vote in an election for any statewide office, the party automatically qualifies for the ballot in the next election cycle.
That has become routine for the Texas Libertarian Party, which since 2004 hasn’t had to go the route of getting on the ballot by gathering tens of thousands of petition signatures. They’ve gotten on in recent years when their candidates scored above 5 percent in one or more statewide races, because the Democrats haven’t put up candidates for some statewide offices.
This year, after the Greens got on the ballot and the Texas Democratic Party decided not to contest the circumstances surrounding the qualification, it didn’t have much impact on the 2010 election. Shocked Democrats watched on Election Day as a national Republican tsunami left dozens of Texas Democrats as former officeholders.
But the longer-term damage could come in 2012. While Democrats will be on what is called in sports circles a “rebuilding effort,” the Green Party will automatically be on the ballot, for the first time since 2002.
What happened is relatively simple. When former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson decided just before the filing deadline that he wouldn’t run for state comptroller after all, no other Democrat filed.
But Green Party candidate Edward Lindsay did, as did Libertarian Mary J. Ruwart.
No big damage to the Democrats when the Libertarian candidate got 10.49 percent. The Libertarians also qualified in two other statewide races, for Court of Criminal Appeals judgeships. Besides, Libertarians siphon away more votes from Republicans than Democrats.
But Lindsay’s 252,233 votes totaled 6.34 percent of the total vote for comptroller. And now the Greens, who didn’t learn until early July that their candidates would qualify for the 2010 ballot, will have well over a year to recruit candidates, with the added bait that they will be on the 2012 ballot.
That could be a problem for Democrats in tight races in 2012. While the Libertarians draw away votes from Republicans, the Greens pick up votes that in most cases would otherwise go to Democrats.
In most cases, it won’t matter. But it’s hard for Democrats to forget that Ralph Nader’s Green Party candidacy for president in 2000 in Florida drew 97,448 votes – 181 times more than the 537 by which the U.S. Supreme Court declared Republican George W. Bush the victor over Democrat Al Gore.
That gave Bush Florida’s 25 electoral votes, without which he would never have been president.
The other two 2010 statewide races in which Libertarians topped 5 percent – both for Court of Criminal Appeals judgeships -- were J. Randall Stevens’ 684,005 votes, for 17.65 percent, against Republican incumbent Lawrence “Larry” Myers, and Libertarian Dave Howard’s 661,160, or 17.09 percent, against Republican incumbent Cheryl Johnson.
The Greens did not field candidates in either of those races.
As opposed to 2008 and 2006, when the Libertarian draw-off arguably made the difference in Democrats winning several tight state House races, in 2010 there was just one.
That was Austin’s House District 48. Democratic incumbent Donna Howard, with a 16-vote margin and 48.54 percent, edged Republican Dan Neil, with 48.51 percent.
Libertarian Ben Easton got 1,518 votes, or 2.94 percent, almost certainly siphoning off the bulk of them from Neil. Neil understandably has called for a recount.
If the recount finds Neil to be the winner, Republicans will have an even 100 of the 150 seats in the House. That’s a two-thirds majority, which can do many things if the Republicans stick together. (Republicans sticking together is a subject for future discussion.)
There were several state senate and congressional races in which Libertarian candidates scored percentages in the high teens when Democrats didn’t field candidates. In fact, that happened in all five of the 32 congressional races and six of the 31 state senate races that Democrats passed up.
Seldom do Libertarians break 5 percent in a race when both major parties are represented. However, Libertarian Ed Mishou got 5.04 percent in the sleeper 27th District congressional race (Corpus Christi to Brownsville), in which Republican Blake Farenthold upset longtime U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz by less than a percentage point.
Libertarians usually seem to get between 2 and 3 percent in most races. For instance, Libertarians Kathie Glass got 2.19 percent for governor, and Scott Jameson 2.47 percent for lieutenant governor.
Longtime Texas political columnist Dave McNeely, who retired from the Austin American-Statesman in 2004, writes a weekly column on Texas politics for three dozen Texas newspapers. With longtime Dallas journalist and author Jim Henderson, McNeely is the author of “Bob Bullock: God Bless Texas.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 458-2963.