What We Learned From Thursday’s Campaign Finance Reports In Local State Races

Candidates for public office in Texas filed their financials this week and as there always is there is plenty to discuss—it wouldn’t be Texas politics if there wasn’t. But what we learned and what may actually become of it might be two very different outcomes.

In both Texas House Districts here in Nueces County we saw both the Democrat and Republican challengers raise more money than their incumbent opponents.

Over in House District 32, Democrat challenger Eric Holguin marginally out raised incumbent Republican Todd Hunter. Over in District 34, republican challenger James Hernandez also marginally out raised Democrat incumbent Abel Herrero. So what does this mean? Could the challengers for office be getting the footing to oust the incumbents?

The short answer is probably not. Both Herrero and Hunter decided to scale back fundraising efforts amid the coronavirus pandemic while the challengers still had to go out and raise funds at the grassroots level. The fact of the matter is that money really does always come to the incumbent and that is a political fact of life, that puts a short-fund challenger at a real disadvantage.

Over in House District 32, challenger Eric Holguin has a litte under $19,000 cash on hand. Rep. Hunter has over $2 million stashed away in his war chest. When it comes to spending, Hunter has already spent nearly $300,000 compared to Holguin’s almost $27,000. While some might question that, it is only worth noting that the incumbents are spending what is in their war chest while challengers are living day-to-day.

Herreo has not spent nearly as much over in 34 and for good reason. Where the “Battle of the Tenderloin” over in HD 32 will require a bit more capital to influence many deeply rooted Republicans to sway their opinion, HD 34 between Herrero and Hernandez is much different.

Holguin is taking taking on a well-known and properly funded Republican incumbent in a solidly GOP district. HD 34 is much different and the burden is all on the hands of Hernandez, the GOP candidate.

HD 34 is much more Democrat and for the most part, in places like Robstown and Calallen, the Democrat base is able to be activated well by Herrero without too much effort. A problem for the GOP and Hernandez.

Hernandez is struggling for capital with most of his funding coming from the Hispanic Republicans of Texas and the longtime Republican lawmaker and former state representative Gene Seaman. Seaman has dumped over $20,000 into the Hernandez campaign so far and that is likely not going to be enough—especially as Hererro begins to eye ad spends in the local market.

Meanwhile, it seems that over in tenderloin battle, Holguin is taking a more modern Democrat approach by doing ad spends on social media and focusing on getting small dollar contributions from around the country. Hunter is sticking more to the “run with what brung ya” style of campaign of signs, traditional media spends and local spending.

But then there is the PAC money issue. Reality is that PAC money and hardcore donor support is a reality of public office and it has been largely in-play ever since Moses was a pup.

PAC money comes to any candidate who gets elected to public office and this campaign finance report is no big shocker to see it. Incumbents get PAC money and candidates get get funded from it, too.

While some tend to argue that PACs are partisan, they are really just part of political life. Longtime and well respected Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a Democrat, reports financial contributions from many of the same PACs as Republican Todd Hunter and Abel Hererro. Groups like the Aransas/Corpus Christi Pilots Association and The Texas Association of Realtors are prime examples. Not to mention the Independent Bankers Association, Chevron Employee PAC and the various public safety PACs that are out there who traditionally give money to incumbents—and that is part of life.

However, it does seem that Republican James Hernandez over in HD 34 is coming up on the short end of the stick when it comes to fundraising and individual donors, save Gene Seaman. Hernandez is not attracting the big donor base and that could cause problems for him in the long term because money is just part of politics.

Holguin, over in HD 32 did some significant fundraising from PACs and PAC donors himself and it is going to depend on how he uses it to potentially sway voters in the deeply GOP district.

Holguin so far has accepted money from Corpus Christi attorneys Gregory Hermann and Charlie Webb. He was also able to grab decent contributions from Victoria housed Democrat donor Lisa Prenzler, who has heavily donated to the Act Blue PAC and from the Run For Something PAC, a Washington D.C. based Democratic Special Interest Group that focuses on grassroots campaigning.

So the truth is that nobody is void of PAC money and PAC donor support—regardless of how they spin it.

The big focus on Thursday was certainly the campaign finance reports and where the money came from and how it was being circulated. Fact is that incumbents were able to hold off asking for money during a pandemic and economic downturn while challengers were forced to grab their cash from a few large donors and a bunch of small chippers who add up to roughly the amounts of their largest contributors. But then there is the strategy with the money and the overall points of order pertaining to the incumbents and the challengers.

One thing that we are seeing Hernandez and Holguin shy away from is talking about the issues pertaining to the actual governance of the state that, should they win, would start almost immediately.

Texas is facing the toughest economic forecast possibly in history and even incumbents and longtime lawmakers aren’t totally sure what they are playing with yet—but experience teaches Senator Hinojosa and Reps. Hunter and Herrero that they had better start looking at the situation now and preparing for what is sure to be a very long and heated session with at least a few specials to boot.

Items like school funding, state budgetary demands, basic “gubmint” (what we call “government” here in Texas) oversight and practical policy implementations will be key. There will also be re-districting, which will likely take place “in a special” and things like local/government control oversight issues and lawmaking that will still be needed to be dealt with. Not the kind of things that you would really want to learn on-the-job and especially from candidates who are not talking about these things and presenting viable solutions to these matters out on the stump—and their campaign finance reports seem to indicate that well.

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