Local elections matter, and this year, Texas voters are deciding those key elections alongside state and federal races.
City council and school board elections usually held in May were moved to November due to concerns about the Chinese coronavirus.
These nominally nonpartisan local races are at the bottom of the ballot, but they should be a top priority for voters, says conservative activist group True Texas Project.
“Vote the whole ballot,” TPP posted on Facebook. “Yes, Trump is great, but make sure you know who you’re voting for locally. That affects you way more than POTUS.”
Propositions to increase local property taxes and issue millions or even billions in tax-backed bond debt are also on the November ballot. More taxes and spending may be a tough sell for families struggling with the financial fallout of government-mandated shutdowns.
Below are some of the North Texas local races Texas Scorecard will be watching on election night:
Denton City Council: Gerard Hudspeth
Denton city government is about to see a shake-up. In addition to a new mayor, at least two of the four city council seats on the November ballot will be won by newcomers.
Two current Denton City Council members are running for the open spot left by term-limited Mayor Chris Watt. Mayor Pro Tem Gerard Hudspeth, a Denton native first elected in 2017, is campaigning on keeping taxes low to attract families and businesses and improving core city services like public safety and roads/infrastructure. Hudspeth would be the city’s first African-American mayor. Three-term Councilmember Keely Briggs says she is cost-conscious as well but also focuses on issues like the environment and homelessness.
“I support Gerard because I support strong, sensible leadership,” local conservative activist Jennifer Moulton told Texas Scorecard, adding that all of the Republican precinct chairs in Denton also back Hudspeth.
The mayoral race opened up two council seats that have drawn a combined seven candidates, along with the two seats already up for re-election this November. Both incumbents face challengers—including controversial Councilmember Deb Armintor, a professor of LGBTQ studies at the University of North Texas who joined Black Lives Matter protesters in calling for police reform after a black UNT student was shot and killed by a Denton police officer.
Frisco City Council
No one is challenging first-term Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney, but a dizzying seven candidates are vying for the open seat of term-limited Councilmember Tim Nelson. That race is likely to go to a runoff.
First-term Councilmember Brian Livingston drew two challengers, including New York native Sadaf Haq, who says she is the first Muslim woman to run for Frisco City Council. Haq has raised over $100,000 to take on Livingston, according to campaign finance reports published by the city.
Local Republican activist group Frisco Conservatives endorses Livingston and Dan Stricklin, a Marine Corps veteran and electronic security professional who proposes an “intelligent spending initiative” to decrease city spending and lower citizens’ taxes.
Grapevine-Colleyville ISD School Board: Tommy Snyder
Snyder—who is an Army veteran who served in the Pentagon and White House, a financial expert who runs his own investment business, a musician, and a pastor—drew attention when he earned the endorsement of Republican Party of Texas Chairman Allen West.
“The most important elected position in the United States of America is school board,” West said. “If we want to make sure we shape our future generations of young Americans, we’ve got to get people on school boards that understand we’ve got to get back to a system of education, not a system of indoctrination.”
Snyder is one of three school board challengers recommended by True Texas Project and endorsed against by local Democrats. Colleyville City Councilman Chuck Kelley said he backs Snyder, Casey Ford, and Cacy Tischer.
“I am a taxpayer, and just like we do on council, I want fiscal conservatives leading this district with transparency,” said Kelley.
“I expect the leadership of our district to quit playing games and raising tax rates,” Kelley posted on Facebook. “GCISD raised the rates they could and only reduced the tax rates the state forced them to … elect financial experts and a classroom teacher, not volunteers.”
McKinney City Council: La’Shadion Shemwell
McKinney holds city elections in odd-number years, but Shemwell is the subject of a special citywide recall election initiated by local citizens. He claims the recall is racially motivated. The Black Lives Matter activist was elected in 2017 by voters in his majority-minority district and says only they should be able to remove him from office.
Shemwell filed a federal voting rights lawsuit against the city, alleging recall provisions in the city charter violate the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.
According to his complaint, Shemwell is the second black elected official in the city’s history, and no minority candidate has ever been elected to a citywide seat. The case is pending and won’t be decided before Election Day.
Waxahachie City Council: Melissa Olson
Two years ago, Olson was a stay-at-home mom who decided to run for city council to give citizens a voice in local government. In her first two-year term, Olson has kept her campaign commitment to advocate for lower taxes and higher transparency. She’s not afraid to be the lone “no” vote on tax hikes, and she publishes a weekly blog to keep constituents informed about upcoming council meetings and issues.
A city charter amendment approved by voters last year lets council candidates choose which place on the ballot they want to run for. Ten-year incumbent Councilmember Kevin Strength chose to run against Olson, hoping to knock the newcomer off of the council.
Dallas ISD: $3.7 Billion Bond
The largest local debt proposal in Texas history, Dallas ISD’s $3.7 billion bond package would cost local taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion with interest—a staggering sum on top of the $4.4 billion in bond debt and interest the district already owes. The new bonds wouldn’t be paid off until 2061.
Dallas is the second-largest school district in the state with around 150,000 students, but enrollment has been steadily declining, and after COVID-19 concerns closed classrooms for weeks, DISD lost track of thousands of students. Will voters decide spending billions of dollars on new buildings is the best way to stop the decline and provide better educational outcomes?
Allen ISD: $222 Million Bond
In May 2019, voters in Allen ISD—home of Texas’ first megamillion-dollar football stadium—rejected a $422 million bond package as too extravagant. This year’s proposal is scaled back by almost half ($308 million with interest), but it may still be too much for residents to support in the current economic environment.
The average Allen ISD homeowner’s school tax bill went up 38 percent over the past six years, to $4,826, while student enrollment went up just 7.7 percent.
Fort Worth ISD: Tax Rate Increase
Fort Worth ISD’s marketing materials say the proposed 10-cent tax rate hike would collect $44 million more in operating revenue from local property taxpayers, plus an additional $22 million from the state. But the ballot proposition says the new $1.38 rate will cost district taxpayers $49 million more.
The money would pay for higher salaries for teachers and staff, plus additional computer equipment to accommodate remote learning.
Early voting ends October 30. Election Day is Tuesday, November 3.