Across the state yesterday, TEXPAC-backed candidates beat back well-funded attacks from outside their districts to win their parties’ nomination for re-election. The results of Tuesday’s party primary elections once again prove that all politics is local.
All told, 92 percent of the candidates TEXPAC endorsed won their elections.
“Physicians and our patients benefit from having fair and reasonable members in office who are willing to look for solutions - not create problems,” said TEXPAC Board of Directors Chair Robert Rogers, MD.
Rep. J.D. Sheffield, DO (R-Gatesville), offered a near-textbook example of how a candidate should defend his seat. Since he first won election to the eight-county West Central Texas district in 2012, the “country doctor” has stayed in close touch with voters, provided outstanding constituent service, and listened to the concerns of the men and women who elected him. That left Dr. Sheffield well prepared when outside groups endorsed his primary opponent this year and blanketed his district with mailers that tried to paint the family physician as someone his constituents knew he was not.
The result: Representative Sheffield won easily with 58 percent of the vote. With no Democratic opponent in November, he’s assured of returning to office in 2019.
In her district centered on the Texas Medical Center in Houston, Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) fended off the same extremist outside groups as well as anti-vaxxers led by disgraced immunization researcher Andrew Wakefield. Her district is home to more physicians than any other state legislative district in the country, and Representative Davis represents them well.
“As both a legislator and cancer survivor, Representative Davis is responsive and accessible to physicians,” Dr. Rogers said. “She has been a steadfast supporter of important population health policies, including strong vaccine legislation to protect Texans from preventable diseases.”
Representative Davis wasn’t the only candidate to beat the anti-vaxxers. Public health also won in a race for the Republican nomination for State House District 45, outside of Austin. Ken Strange, an emergency medical services supervisor from Wimberley, beat a candidate endorsed by “vaccine choice” supporters as well as three other contenders to nab the GOP spot in this open seat.
Meanwhile, in a congressional seat in Denton County, an expected strong challenge to U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-Lewisville), certainly didn’t show up at the polls. The eight-term congressman – a former Ob/Gyn and the only Texas Medical Association member in the U.S. House – beat his primary opponent Tuesday by better than 3 to 1.
Similar stories played out in many other parts of Texas. TEXPAC-supported candidates who successfully defended their turf included:
- State Sen. Charles Schwertner, MD (R-Georgetown), an orthopedic surgeon who chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, won by 50 points;
- State Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo), chair of the House Public Health Committee and a staunch mental health advocate, won by 57 points;
- State Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas), a champion for graduate medical education funding, trounced two challengers;
- Rural legislators such as state Reps. Ken King (R-Canadian) and Ernest Bailes (R-Shepherd), who helped TMA pass a landmark new telemedicine law, both won handily; and
- On the border, state Reps. Mary González (D-Clint) and Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) overcame heavy opposition from special interest groups.
“This election cycle was one of the most expensive and aggressive, and there are harsh realities medicine needs to face,” TEXPAC Director Christine Mojezati said. “The fringe groups are getting stronger, and the only way we can combat them is to increase our membership. Increased membership means more money to be able to contribute to our candidates so they can fight the enemy.”
In addition to Drs. Sheffield, Burgess, and Schwertner, the other four incumbent physician-legislators (all of whom are TMA members) running for re-election this year came away with victories Tuesday. Sen. Donna Campbell, MD (R-New Braunfels), an emergency physician, was the only one running in a contested primary. State Reps. Greg Bonnen, MD (R-Friendswood), a neurosurgeon; Tom Oliverson, MD (R-Cypress), an anesthesiologist; and John Zerwas (R-Richmond), also an anesthesiologist, all won their party’s nominations without opposition. State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, MD (R-Lakeway), an ophthalmologist, still has two years remaining in her four-year term.
For many candidates – including TEXPAC-endorsed incumbent state Reps. René Oliveira (D-Brownsville) and Scott Cosper (R-Killeen) – the primaries aren’t over. Neither of them won more than 50 percent of the vote yesterday, and both will fight on in the May 22 runoff elections against the second-place finishers. The runoffs, in both parties, include eight congressional races and seven additional Texas House of Representatives contests.
If you were not able to vote in the primary because you were not registered, you can rectify that before the runoff through the Secretary of State’s website.
In terms of raw numbers, here is why primary voting matters so much in Texas:
- More than 1.5 million Republican primary votes were cast – the second highest turnout ever – yet turnout barely surpassed 10 percent of eligible voters.
- More than 1 million Democratic primary votes were cast – nearly double the 2016 primary turnout and greater than 1 million for the first time since 2002 – yet participation was less than 7 percent.
- More than 50 percent of voting occurred during early voting.
- For the most part, in races that avoided a runoff, the winning candidate received more votes than the other party’s entire slate in that race. To illustrate: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz received 1,315,468 votes in the GOP primary, while the three Democrats running for the same seat amassed a total of 1,037,054 votes.
TMA will keep you apprised of developments during the run-off, and certainly during the general election this fall.