Harris County Democrats Do Well in Down Ballot Races

Turnout in early voting was so heavy that election day voting was ultra light.
Photo by Anna Ta
Turnout in early voting was so heavy that election day voting was ultra light.

Whatever happens in the presidential race, Harris County’s Democrats needn’t have worried about voters paying attention to the down ballot spots. Even without straight-ticket voting, turnout for local down ballot races still exceeded 1.3 million, with Democrats winning several races.

In the high-profile race to be Harris County’s head prosecutor, incumbent Democratic District Attorney Kim Ogg bested her Republican opponent Mary Nan Huffman with all voting centers reporting. Ogg had her work cut out for her as a Democrat who happens to be the top prosecutor in a city whose police force has been roundly criticized over the past two years for a spate of officer involved shootings, including the high profile HPD killings of Rhogena Nicholas, Dennis Tuttle and Nicolas Chavez.

The results suggest Ogg has successfully walked the tightrope of supporting criminal justice reform while still convincing voters she can keep them safe all the way to a second term. Huffman — a lawyer for the Houston Police Officers’ Union who’d fit right in on Fox News — never stopped beating the drum that her opponent was too soft on crime, going so far as to say Ogg is personally responsible for the murder of HPD Sgt. Harold Preston by Elmer Manzano. It looks like Harris County voters didn’t take the bait.

Former Republican County Clerk Stan Stanart was unable reclaim his old job, as Democrat Teneshia Hudspeth took a significant lead which she held onto throughout the night. After losing his gig in 2018’s blue wave that swept several prominent county conservatives out of office, Stanart amusingly announced his reelection campaign by accident to the Houston Chronicle this summer, mistaking reporter Zach Despart’s phone call for that of a Republican colleague. Stanart’s tenure as county clerk was marred by slow vote counts and Tea Party fear-mongering about a potential socialist takeover if Democrats came to power, so it was always a longshot that he’d win the day, especially given how blue Harris County has turned in recent years.

Chances are we won’t be hearing nearly as much about the next Harris County Clerk as we have Interim County Clerk Chris Hollins, whose tireless efforts to dramatically expand voting led to record-shattering turnout, as the clerk’s election administration duties have been handed over to newly appointed county Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria. Given Hudspeth’s 15 years of experience in numerous roles within the clerk’s office, the county’s record-keeping apparatus appears to be in good hands.

In a hard-fought race to fill retiring Republican Steve Radack’s seat on the Harris County Commissioners Court, Republican Tom Ramsey prevailed over Democrat Michael Moore. Moore was hoping his record as chief of staff for former centrist Democratic Houston Mayor Bill White would help sell Precinct 3 voters on his moderate bona fides, but Ramsey’s experience as a well-regarded engineer, small business owner and former mayor of Harris County municipality Spring Valley were more in line with what this conservative-leaning part of the county was looking for.

A Ramsey victory preserves the current balance of power on Commissioners Court, with the likely Precinct 3 Commissioner-elect and incumbent Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle in the minority against Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia, all Democrats.

Democrat Christian Menefee beat out Republican John Nation in the race for Harris County Attorney. Nation, who practices civil law, ran on a platform of protecting abused or neglected children and at-risk adults. Menefee, a local litigator who defeated longtime incumbent Vince Ryan in the primary to snag the Democratic nomination, ran on a platform of expanding the office’s environmental law section and standing up to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for more county-level control. Menefee fielded endorsements from influential progressive groups in the primary, with critics pointing to Ryan’s reticence towards bail reform.

In the race for Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector, incumbent democrat Anne Harris Bennett will keep her seat in the race against Republican Chris Daniel. Daniel’s campaign pushed for the office to be more efficient and embrace technological advancement. Harris Bennett faced stiff competition in the Democratic primary from former city councilwoman Jolanda Jones, with Harris Bennett detractors pointing to her stumbles while in office. In 2018, her office mistakenly suspended more than 1,700 voters and failed to update boundary maps, leading to ballot errors in Baytown.

Both Harris Bennett and Daniel pushed back on the county commissioners decision to take away the responsibility of voter registration from the office. Last week, Harris Bennett voted against the appointment of the county’s first elections administrator and penned a letter claiming that her office has been successful in that role.

And as expected, there wouldn’t be a new sheriff in town as Democratic favorite Ed Gonzalez coasted to re-election over Republican Joe Danna.