It’s finally here, folks!
Almost two years after a totally new City Council was elected, we will have another election in Amarillo. But, that’s not to discount the other offices up for election. Voters will have a lot of big decisions to make in May, but Wednesday will mark the start of filing for the upcoming elections.
Filing runs for almost a month, and candidates will have a variety of chances to get their applications in, but Wednesday is the official kick off. With that in mind, here are a few things to watch for as Amarillo gets its first glimpse into Election 2019 next week.
1.) What will Elaine Hays do?
This perhaps the biggest question mark of the upcoming election. Councilwoman Elaine Hays endeared a business Republican base to herself when she challenged Mac Thornberry for his congressional seat in 2014, and parlayed her support into claiming a spot on the City Council in 2017. Now, with rumors that Thornberry could be in his last term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Hays has yet to announce her plans for the upcoming election, making her the only incumbent whose seat is yet to have an announced holder.
Elaine Hays’ decision to run for re-election or not run again could have profound impacts on how this election will go in Amarillo. Perhaps we will find out next week what Hays’ plans will be.
2.) Will it just be a party of three in the mayoral race?
Mayor Ginger Nelson and two challengers - Claudette Smith and Rich Herman - have announced bids for Amarillo’s mayoral seat. As of today, the field is as large as it was in 2017, when Nelson cruised to victory against Renea Dauntes and Jim Lowder. But, will this field hold? The entry of new candidates into the mayoral race certainly would not be a surprise, and repeat candidates could easily return to take on Nelson, whose political career is showing the effects of several national scandals. Next week might give us our first glimpse into whether the mayoral race will be a frenzy or if it will be a table for three again.
3.) Does AC still interest prospective candidates?
In 2017, Dr. Neal Nossaman retired from the Amarillo College Board of Regents, leading to a frenzy of nine candidates looking to fill three seats on the board. As one of the candidates in that race, I can tell you that the field in the contest was a diverse, qualified group that led what was, in my opinion, one of Amarillo’s top contests that year.
Today, it looks like three incumbents will be up for re-election, and one challenger - Jack Westbrook - has already announced. Next week, we might find out if AC is going to be a hot contest again, or if the field will look more like the 2015 AC Board field, which included four candidates vying for three seats.
4.) Will Canyon have contested races?
Canyon’s politics always seem to have a uniqueness about them that is hard to find in other places. For being such a prominent board, the Canyon City Commission typically goes unopposed. For example, out of five seats, just two were opposed in 2017, with both seats being won by challengers. In 2015, just one seat was opposed.
After Mayor Gary Hinders’ first term, and the completion of the first term for new commissioners Paul Lyons and Cody Jones, it will be interesting to see whether new candidates show up looking for change in 2019, or if the people of Canyon will be happy with their picks from two years ago.
Issues like a proposed ban on public camping, which opponents say would have unfairly targeted homeless people in Canyon, brought major attention and criticism to the City Commission. Could an issue like this carry interest over to the May 2019 elections?
5.) One-on-one for the Amarillo City Council?
In 2017, the Amarillo City Council’s contests, with the exception of the race for mayor, had just two candidates running for each spot, with most posting margins of over 30 points for the winning candidates. Will 2019 include a repeat of just one-on-one races for the Amarillo City Council, or will a large group of candidates, much like the one from 2015, show up looking to take the incumbents’ jobs?
6.) What will happen at Amarillo ISD?
Out of all of the races on the ballot, this might be the most interesting one.
In 2017, voters ousted one incumbent - Eric Darnell - to put retired teacher Cristy Cooper Wilkinson on the Amarillo ISD Board of Trustees, with three other incumbents retaining their seats. Now, Jim Austin, Scott Flow, and John Betancourt will face re-election, and one new trustee will face her first chance to introduce herself to voters. Robin Malone was appointed to replace longtime trustee James Allen after his abrupt resignation last year, but has not yet announced whether she will run for a the final two years of Allen’s term in a special election.
Additionally, numerous controversies have involved the AISD Board of Trustees over the past two years, including a highly-publicized fight over renaming Robert E. Lee Elementary School. That fight eventually led to a 4-3 vote to remove “Robert E.” from the school’s name, which left many disappointed. Add on to these issues a $100 million bond passed by AISD in November 2017, and the abrupt retirement of district superintendent Dana West, and AISD looks like it could have the makings for a big election in 2019.
Of course, in all of these issues, we will have to wait until February to get a full resolution. But, hopefully, next week can help begin to paint a picture on these important questions for election day 2019. I can’t wait to find out, and I can’t wait to vote.
For everyone running, I wish you the best of luck. And for everyone considering running, I hope you will take the leap. Amarillo deserves to have bold choices in 2019, and it looks like we might have the makings for an all-time classic election in Amarillo this May.
-Thomas Warren III, Editor-in-Chief