On May 1, four candidates will ask voters for their support to lead Amarillo for the next two years. The pack of candidates includes the incumbent and three candidates from varying backgrounds, all with their own platforms and promises. However, while the race is important to Amarillo, many voters may still be unaware of who the candidates are and where they stand on key issues.
In order to help voters better know the candidates, we asked each candidate to summarize why they are running and their goals if elected to office. Here is a look at the candidates, based on their backgrounds and what they told us about their campaigns.
Michael Hunt is an Amarillo restaurant and catering company owner, operating Michael’s Barbeque Shack. Prior to starting his business, Hunt was a program coordinator for Amarillo Independent School District and a teacher for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Hunt has also been involved in conservative politics for decades in Amarillo, having helped flip several offices in the Panhandle out of the hands of Democrats in the 1990s, including the successful defeat of Democrat Rep. Bill Sarpalius in Texas’ 13th Congressional District in 1994.
This year, Hunt says he is focused on bringing conservative representation to the Amarillo City Council, pointing to his proposals for increased communication and representation as benefits for Amarillo.
“I want to give back to folks of Amarillo by running to be their mayor and representing all the citizens of this fair city,” Hunt said. “I am conservative by nature and strongly believe in fiscal responsibility at all levels. I will bring to the table my business experience, ability to work within a budget, and a strong desire to have a transparent city government that is responsive and accountable to all citizens. Every career position I have held has been based on serving the needs of the people I had been tasked to work with. From teaching in the prison and AISD to customer service at Lowe’s, and now BBQ catering, I have shown leadership through listening, evaluating, and then acting to solve the problem. I will do the same for the citizens of Amarillo if chosen to lead us into this new decade.”
Hunt picked up a major endorsement last week from Save Amarillo PAC, the political organization responsible for the defeat of a proposed $275 million bond for downtown projects by Mayor Ginger Nelson and the Amarillo City Council last November.
Claudette Smith is a former paralegal and co-owner of Escape the Trap House. Smith previously ran for mayor in 2019, falling short with just under 25 percent of the vote. Seeking the office a second time, Smith has been a critic of the incumbent through her social media presence and says she became interested in running for office after attending city council meetings.
“I became interested in local politics when I began attending council meetings to address issues which personally affected me. After weeks of attending with zero resolve, I couldn’t help but observe numerous issues arise that were far more important than mine,” Smith said.
Smith also says she “witnessed skyrocketing taxes, cronyism, wasteful spending, nepotism, pay-to-play, backroom deals conducted, and corruption in our city government” and hopes to get the call from voters to move off the sidelines and into the mayor’s role.
“I have now sat on the sidelines for far too long and am ready to step in and correct the issues,” Smith said.
Carl Karas is a registered architect and political newcomer, making his first bid for office this year. Karas did not respond to our request for comment for this story, but in his profile in The Amarillo Pioneer’s 2021 Voter Guide, Karas identified issues such as “removing barriers of systemic racism” and preparing for “climate refugees” as key priorities he wants to address if elected.
Incumbent Mayor Ginger Nelson is an attorney and hotel owner. This year, Nelson is seeking her third term in office after cruising to re-election in 2019, albeit by a smaller margin than her first run for the job. In taking on three challengers this year, Nelson says she is focusing on key issues centering around recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While other cities across the country continue to struggle, the decisions and leadership of our current city council put Amarillo and its local businesses in a position to recover faster and stronger,” Nelson said in a statement to Texas Scorecard.
Nelson points to the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations in Amarillo as one of her accomplishments in office, which she believes warrants her election to another term.
“During the pandemic, I led community roundtables with over 20 industries to gauge the impact and needs of our local economy,” Nelson said. “I also led the city in its partnership with our health workers and hospitals. Since December 28, the City of Amarillo has vaccinated over 100,000 people and led the nation in the speed of its vaccine rollout. Governor Abbott praised our clinic as a ‘great model’ for other cities.”
The incumbent also says she will “continue our low tax rate and conservative fiscal management” and attract new jobs to Amarillo if re-elected.
Nelson is endorsed by Amarillo Matters PAC, an establishment political group aligned closely with State Sen. Kel Seliger (R–Amarillo), which was influential in backing her previous two campaigns for the office.
Early voting for the Amarillo City Council elections will begin on April 19. Election Day is May 1.