Early voting for the March 1 primaries starts next week. Republicans and Democrats will go to the polls and choose who represents their party on the ballot in November. But in many races around the state — ones where candidates from only one party are running — this primary could decide the winner.
Of the 150 house districts in the state, 40 have no Democrats on the upcoming primary ballot. Just over two dozen have no Republicans, according to a ballot search on the Texas Secretary of State website.
The race for Lubbock’s House District 84 is an example of that. Four Republicans are vying for the open seat. With that many candidates, there will likely be a runoff election.
A small district in a swath of big ones
Most Texans would not describe the South Plains as particularly urban. The area is known for wide-open spaces, and in politics, for sprawling voting districts. That did not change much during the 2021 redistricting process.
Texas House District 84 is different. It’s geographically the smallest district for hundreds of miles. It covers most of the City of Lubbock, including Texas Tech University.
The district has been represented for a decade by Lubbock businessman John Frullo, a well-respected Republican known for quietly getting things done. In the most recent legislative session, he served on committees for higher education and culture, recreation and tourism.
“During the last six sessions, together we have passed tougher human trafficking laws, dramatically increasing your second amendment gun and knife rights and strengthening the pro-life laws to the strongest in the county,” Frullo said in a November statement. “We have reduced business taxes and fees and put more controls in the hands of voters with respect to property taxes. Texas Tech University has had historical success in a number of areas including achieving ‘Tier 1’ status and the opening of the School of Veterinary Medicine.”
Frullo announced last year that he would not seek another term. Soon after, other Republicans announced their bids for the seat. David Glasheen, Cheryl Little, Carl Tepper and Kade Wilcox each describe themselves as conservative Republicans.
Texas Tech University Political Science Professor Zoe Nemerever said a single-party election like this one means voters are looking at more than candidates’ stances on key issues.
“What we see in a race with four Republicans is a move towards the right with each of those four candidates trying to prove how they are the most Republican or the best type of Republican,” she said.
Nemerever said voters will consider a candidate’s character and qualifications when deciding who to cast their ballot for. Things like how long they have lived in Lubbock, what they are involved in and if they seem like a strong leader.
Still, there are political issues Lubbock County voters are keeping an eye on. Nemerever said the myriad of public education issues conservatives across the state are campaigning on will be brought up locally. She pinpointed border security, taxes and the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic as other voter concerns.
A more local issue that has been talked about often during this election is the Permanent University Fund (PUF). The PUF generates money from millions of acres of state-owned West Texas land and gives it to certain public universities east of Interstate 35. The fund was established in the Texas Constitution — and it only benefits the two university systems that were around in 1876, the University of Texas and Texas A&M. That leaves out several other institutions in the state, like Texas Tech University.
There was momentum to see that change at the end of last year’s legislative session, after UT announced they would leave the Big 12 athletic conference at the possible financial detriment of the remaining Texas schools. But, that momentum has yet to lead to change.
Each of the four Republicans running for House District 84 has expressed an interest in pursuing legislation to reform the PUF.
“That is a very important issue as well — to make sure that Texas Tech remains strong,” Nemerever said. “Both for the young adults who are getting their education there, but also for the economic role it plays in Lubbock.”
While the four candidates may have similar stances on key issues, Nemerever said it is still important for voters to cast a ballot. Less than 14% of Lubbock’s registered voters participated in the 2018 primary election cycle.
“These smaller elections,” Nemerever said, “some people think are unimportant, but really they’re the springboard for who may one day fill Governor Abbott’s seat.”
Early voting for the primaries starts Monday and continues through February 25. Election Day is March 1. For a preview of your ballot, visit the Lubbock County Elections website.
Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.