Candidates have voting records too

The chart in this story was updated at 9:50am August 14, 2022, to correct the age of District 3 candidate Bertha Marie Rendon Delgado.

This story was updated at 9:22am August 14, 2022, to recognize that District 5 candidate Kenneth O. Craig Jr., like mayoral candidate Kirk Watson, is also the truest-bluest by having voted 27 times in a Democratic primary election.

This story was updated at 9:42am August 12, 2022, to correct the middle name of District 9 candidate Zohaib Ahmad Qadri.

Some vote often, some not much at all

Natasha Harper-Madison
Paige Ellis

When it comes to the 2022 Austin mayoral and City Council election set for November 8th, voters can examine the actual performance of the two incumbents seeking reelection. They are Natasha Nicole Harper-Madison in District 1 and Paige Johanna Ellis in District 8. Both were elected for the first time in 2018.

But what of the other 31 candidates whose names may be on the ballot and vying to be the new mayor or one of the five council members on the dais? None have held elective office except former Austin mayor and State Senator Kirk Preston Watson and former State Representative Celia Marie Israel. So aside from what these candidates say on the campaign trail, publish on their campaign websites, or post on social media, how do we judge their fitness for office?

To answer one aspect of that question, this article focuses on how much and how often each of the 33 candidates have participated in democracy by casting their votes at the ballot box. The Austin Bulldog’s analysis of voter registration and voting history records is presented in the accompanying chart.

Our chart indicates each candidate’s age, the year in which each candidate first voted in a Travis County election, the number of times the candidate voted in Democratic and Republican primaries or runoffs, and the total number of times the candidate has voted in a local election. This information was culled from voter registration and voting history files maintained by the Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector, whose office also registers residents to vote.

Travis County computer records for voting history go back to 1990, so these numbers will not reflect voting in prior years. Nor will this analysis reflect when candidates may have voted in other jurisdictions.

Field of candidates not quite final

So far eight candidates are running for mayor and 25 want to fill one of the five council seats on the dais, based on having appointed a campaign treasurer. Others might jump in at the last minute and file for a place on the ballot by the August 22nd deadline, as District 1 challenger Melonie House-Dixon did yesterday. On the other hand, if past election-cycle trends hold true, some of those who appointed campaign treasurers will fail to apply for a place on the ballot and the field will be narrowed.

Austin’s elected officials are limited to two terms but may get on the ballot again by petitioning. Four current incumbents—Mayor Steve Adler and Council Members Ann Kitchen, Sabino Renteria, and Kathie Tovo—are term-limited, did not conduct petition drives, and are not running for reelection.

Political party affiliations

While these are nonpartisan elections, anyone familiar with Austin politics knows that donors, supporters and volunteers in this deep-blue city want to know where loyalties lie. In one incident in recent memory, Laura Pressley, a District 4 candidate in 2014, caused considerable consternation when she was seen driving away from a meeting of Travis County women Democrats in a car with a Ron Paul bumper sticker. (Not that the bumper sticker caused her loss but Greg Casar, the youngest person ever elected to the City Council crushed her 65-35 percent.)

Up until the 2014 election that initiated representation through geographic districts, Democrats had pretty much dominated at-large elections for mayor and council seats. That changed dramatically in the 2014 election when Republicans won three of the 10 council seats. In time all three either resigned or were defeated for reelection. Today, Mackenzie Kelly representing District 6 is the sole Republican on the council.

Jennifer Virden

Four of the 33 candidates voted consistently in Republican primaries: Jennifer Marie Virden, who got nearly 49 percent of the votes in the December 2020 runoff against Alison Alter for District 10, is running for mayor, Yvonne Takako Weldon who is running for the District 3 seat, William Otis Welch who is running in District 5, and Clinton Steven Rarey who is running in District 1.

Not surprisingly, the voting records indicate that a majority of this year’s candidates are Democrats. Twenty-one of the 33 candidates for mayor and council have voted in two or more Democrat primaries.

Three candidates had a more mixed record: Richard James Smith, a candidate for District 8, voted in three GOP primaries and one Democrat primary since 2001. Gregory Patrick Smith, running in District 9, voted in two GOP primaries and one Democrat primary since 2012. And Joah Spearman, also running in District 9, voted four times in Democrat primaries and once in a GOP primary.

Another four candidates had voted in just one party primary. In other words, they didn’t have a consistent pattern of primary voting. Mayoral candidate Phil Campero Brual, age 21, only recently became eligible to vote and voted four times overall, including once in a Democrat primary. Anthony Bradshaw, another mayoral candidate, tends to vote in general elections but not in primaries. He voted nine times since 2006 but only once in a primary. Likewise, mayoral candidate Gary S. Spellman voted 13 times since 1998 but only once in a primary. District 5 candidate Aaron Talin-Velazquez Webman, an attorney and filmmaker who moved to Austin in 2020, voted in one Democrat primary.

Candidate demographics

This year’s youngest candidate so far is 21-year-old University of Texas student Brual, who wants to be mayor. The oldest is District 9 candidate Linda H. Guerrero, 67.

The average age for all 33 candidates is 48.

Brual is the only candidate in his twenties. In addition to Guerrero, seven others are in their sixties. Ten are in their thirties. Six are in their forties. Eight are in their fifties.

Kirk Watson

Nine of the 33 candidates have voted in a GOP primary. Twenty-six have voted in a Democratic primary. Mayoral candidate Watson, seeking to recapture the job he held 1997-2001 before winding up in the state senate, is among the truest-bluest of all with 27 votes in his party’s primary. District 5 candidate Kenneth O. Craig Jr. is the only other person to match that record. District 5 candidate Welch leads the deep-red primary voting with 26 votes.

Watson also has voted in Travis County more than other candidates, 80 times in all. On the other end of the spectrum, mayoral candidate Anthony Bradshaw voted just nine times overall despite first voting in 2006, and his opponent Craig Allan Blanchard voted only five times since 2010. Blanchard and District 8 candidate Antonio Devorjaka Ross are the only candidates who have never voted in a primary election.

We cannot assess the racial or ethnic statistics because that information is not collected by the City.

The eight mayoral candidates reside in six council districts. District 9 fielded two: Brual and Watson. District 10 also included two: Blanchard and Virden. Bradshaw lives in District 1, Gary S. Spellman lives in District 6, and Israel lives in District 7.

Underlining their longtime residency, records show that five candidates have been voting in Travis County for as far back as 1990, which is as far as the computer records stretch. Those are Guerrero, Israel, Virden, Watson, and Welch.

In contrast to these longtime voters, five candidates voted in Travis County for the first time in 2020, indicating they are either relative newcomers or slow to participate. Those are mayoral candidate Erica Ann Nix, District 1 challenger Rarey, District 3 candidate Daniela Michelle Silva, District 8 candidate Ross, and District 9 candidate Zohaib Ahmad Qadri.

Campaign reporting

Our detailed analysis of campaign spending is a work in progress and will be published later. But we do take note that four candidates who appointed campaign treasurers before June 30th failed to file campaign finance reports due July 15th: These include mayoral candidates Bradshaw and Spellman, District 3 candidate Bertha Marie Rendon Delgado, and District 8 candidate Ross. (Those who appointed campaign treasurers after June 30th were not required to file the July 15th reports.)

Chapter 2-2-5(A) of the Austin City Charter states that a person who knowingly violates this chapter “commits a Class C misdemeanor punishable…by a fine not to exceed $500.”

Under Chapter 2-7-26, the Ethics Review Commission, which has jurisdiction over Chapter 2-2 of the Charter, hears and rules on sworn complaints alleging violations of campaign finance. Procedures governing complaints may be found in Chapter 2-7-41.

Editor Ken Martin
Editor Ken Martin
Ken Martin, founder, editor and publisher: Ken got interested in journalism while a career officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. After serving more than 20 years on active duty, including a tour in Vietnam, he completed his career as a major and moved to Austin in 1978 to earn a humanities degree with a minor in journalism at the University of Texas. Today Ken may be the only living journalist who has worked full-time for publications located in the three major counties of the Austin metropolitan area: Travis, Williamson and Hays. He has been a reporter and editor in the tri-county area since 1981, including associate editor of Third Coast magazine (1981-84), managing editor and janitor of the Dripping Springs Dispatch (1984-85), and county and political editor of the Williamson County Sun (1986-89). His aggressive reporting twice garnered first-place national awards for investigative reporting. Both of those projects resulted in successful criminal prosecutions. In launching The Austin Bulldog, Ken returned to his roots in investigative reporting, covering both the public and private sectors. Ken was an investigative reporter for the Austin Business Journal 1989-1990 and served as editor 1990-1994, a period in which the newspaper won numerous awards for journalistic excellence. In 1995, he started the In Fact weekly newsletter covering Austin City Hall and local politics. Beginning in 1998, while still publishing In Fact, he also owned and edited Texas Public Utility News for 13 months, producing a twice-monthly newsletter covering the Texas Public Utility Commission. In 1999, Ken began publishing the In Fact newsletter five days a week, making it In Fact Daily, Austin's first online newsletter. Meanwhile, in 1997, Rebecca Melançon and Ken founded The Good Life magazine, which he edited for more than 11 years. The magazine published numerous special reports, including five in 2008 alone, before ceasing publication in January 2009 due to the economy.