Local elections 2019 in Tarrant County passed with increased turnout from Democrats. A few seats were flipped from Republican control to Democratic. Although the results look like the status quo remains unchanged in many cities and school boards, the underlying strength of Democratic votes were significantly visible in Democratic voter turnouts in many cities
Arlington will seat two fresh Democrats on its city council after decades of non-representation. Arlington voters’ confidence in Marvin Sutton resulted in a resounding victory despite his opponent Roxane Thalmans’ enormous campaign fund on top of resources spent by Police Association, Fire Fighters Association, realtor groups, Chamber of Commerce and all pro establishment groups in the city. Marvin showed the way to lead a grassroots campaign despite organized special interest groups.
Dr. Barbara Odom’s win came with a different style, as Democrats and Republicans all were agreed on Dr. Odom. She is clearly a reliable Democrat, as she is committed to progressive issues including opposing gas drilling and providing public transportation to Arlington. Though Dr. Odom campaigned as nonpartisan, Republicans ran a vicious campaign against her including robocalls by their leadership, propaganda and even calling her a socialist.
Arlington Mayoral candidate Ruby Faye Woolridge presented a real contrast to Republican leadership. Her candidacy not only benefited other Democratic candidates in this election but also provided a lasting platform for progressive candidates in the coming years. Democratic turnout in this year’s local elections was 220% higher than previous elections, which could not have been achieved without Ruby Woolridge’s participation in this election. With only a meager campaign budget opposing the enormous war chest of the incumbent, the Mayor managed an effective disinformation campaign that resulted in muddled information being sent to those voters who did turn out. Voting analysis showed that many early voting Democratic voters voted for incumbent Jeff Williams not for his policies but simply because they did not realize he is a Republican. Despite this, the campaigns of Woolridge, Sutton and Odom showed for the first time a foundational shift allowing active Democrats to challenge the status quo and change the direction of both Arlington and Tarrant County.
Fort Worth was a similar story. Republican Mayor Betsy Price, who had won the city with 71% of votes in 2017, came down to only 55% this year due to the efforts of the Tarrant County Democratic chairwoman Deborah Peoples. Previously, in 2017 Democrat Chris Nettle received 29% of the votes, while Deborah Peoples advanced that total to 43% of votes. This was Peoples’ first mayoral race. She is a charismatic leader and another run for Fort Worth Mayor office will certainly be on her radar.
The upward trajectory in Democratic votes in Tarrant County is a welcome trend. This was all achieved with only marginal participation from Democratic elected leadership. Tarrant Democratic grassroot workers and the candidates themselves were putting their own money, volunteer hours and technical skills into these elections. Due to its nonpartisan nature, the elected leadership stayed away from endorsing in this contest by tradition. Tarrant County has always been considered a bellwether in the effort to turn Texas blue. Change in Tarrant County will not only impact Texas with its 38 electoral votes (second only to California’s 55); it will certainly change the national political scene for a long time. Tarrant is certainly moving in that direction and has become a battle ground county, evident from the latest trends.
The conclusion from the 2019 local elections is not the end of autumn, but one can smell the freshness of springtime in the air. For grassroots Democratic workers, it is an early ray of dawn. The coming year of 2020 will bring an abundance of opportunities in local, county state and national levels. Optimism is an engine to success, and Democrats have a lot in these local election results to be optimistic about.