In fact, less than half the people who voted Republican for governor that November had cast a ballot in the GOP primary just eight months earlier. In other words, about 1.4 million Texans who felt compelled to vote Republican in the general election did not take part in choosing the Republican nominees.
Small primary turnout creates a disconnect between the 28 million people who live in Texas and the small number of us entrusted with its leadership. Low turnout in primaries gives elected officials an excuse to focus on pleasing a narrow set of voters, interest groups and priorities. In fact, at the end of last year’s legislative session, I lamented the fact that there had been more urgency surrounding so-called bathroom bills (which were not a priority of mine) than fixing our school finance system (which was a priority of mine). But many in the state Capitol felt greater pressure from primary voters to act on misguided bathroom proposals than on the more difficult work of improving the way we fund public education.
The primary campaigns playing out across the state right now are about much more than choosing nominees for November’s general election. These elections are a chance for voters–not party leaders, but voters–to declare which solutions and governing approaches best fit this moment in our state’s history.
The ongoing primary campaign season is the time to have those conversations, because it’s the time that candidates and officeholders are listening most closely. A campaign should be an exchange of ideas rather than a battle of interest groups, and the transformation begins when we bring more people into the discussion.
Much has been made of the need for the business community to get involved in primary elections, and I agree. Texans on the front lines of growing our private-sector economy need to take a more active role. But the same also goes for educators, veterans, senior citizens, young people and anyone else who cares about the future of our state. A larger electorate will make officeholders consider a broader set of concerns.
The next Legislature will face some very significant challenges, from disaster relief to school finance to needed reforms at state agencies. That’s to say nothing of the many important decisions that will be made in the years to come by county commissioners, judges, sheriffs and other local officials who will be on the March primary ballot. The primary is not your last chance to influence government’s direction from Washington on down, but it is one of your best chances.
….Early voting in the primaries begins February 20. Between then and 7 p.m. on Election Day on March 6, we will all have a golden opportunity to tell our elected leaders what their priorities should be.