The Tuesday, March 6th, 2018 Texas primary election to nominate candidates for the Tuesday, November 6th, 2018 general election is little more than one year distant. All primary candidates of each political party must file an application with their respective party's county or state chairperson to have their name placed on the party's primary ballot.
The 2018 primary election filing period runs from November 20, 2017 through the filing deadline date of 5:00 PM, December 19, 2017. An application for the office of precinct chair may be filed from the 90th day before the date of the regular filing deadline - September 20, 2017. (Texas election code Sec. 172.023, if not changed during the 2017 legislative session.)
All of Texas' state executive officers and state representatives, and half of the state senators will be up for election, as well as a United States Senate seat, and all of Texas' thirty-six seats in the United States House of Representatives. A number of county level offices will also be on 2018 ballots.
Collin County will likely have nearly one hundred thousand more voters for the November 2018 election than for the 2014 election when 36 percent (177,000) of the then 489,032 registered voters turnout out to vote.
If the trend of only 36 percent of registered voters turnout repeats again for the November 2018 election, turnout will top 210,000 ballots cast.
But for the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate to win Collin County, Democrats must increase turnout to 47 percent of registered voters for a total turnout of 276,000 ballots cast.
Increasing Collin County turnout to 47 percent in 2018 means Democrats must turnout nearly all of the 140,000 people who gave their vote to Hillary Clinton in the November 8, 2016 election.
More localized and focused political organizing activity often achieves greater success in building a base of voters who regularly turn out to elect Democrats to office. That means Democrats must build organizations of grassroots activists at precinct and district levels who come together to build organizing activities that identify Democratic leaning voters and then maintain connections with those base voters across election cycles.
Scheduling monthly house district meetings is essential so local area activists have a regular time and place to come together, and bring their friends and neighbors, to organize activities and discuss issues. Those local organizations can support their Democratic incumbent or where a Republican is the incumbent office holder, help build a foundation for candidates to step forward and build their campaign teams.
Offices on the 2018 primary ballot in Collin County
|2018 Office||Incumbent||D R||Reg
|U.S. Senate||Ted Cruz||(R)||489,032||540,010||583,373|
|Congressman, U.S. House of Representatives||Sam Johnson||(R)||439,126||482,402||521,139|
|Congressman, U.S. House of Representatives||John Ratcliffe||(R)||22,479||26,646||28,786|
|Congressman, U.S. House of Representatives||Pete Sessions||(R)||27,427||30,940||33,424|
|Lieutenant Governor||Dan Patrick||(R)|
|Attorney General||Ken Paxton||(R)|
|Commissioner of Agriculture||Sid Miller||(R)|
|Commissioner of General Land Office||George P. Bush||(R)|
|Commissioner, Railroad Commission of Texas||Christi Craddick||(R)|
|Comptroller of Public Accounts||Glenn Hegar||(R)|
|Justice, Supreme Court of Texas Pl 2||Don Willett||(R)|
|Justice, Supreme Court of Texas Pl||Jeff Brown||(R)|
|Justice, Supreme Court of Texas Pl 4||John Devine||(R)|
|Justice, Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge||Sharon Keller||(R)|
|Justice, Court of Criminal Appeals Pl 7||Barbara Hervey||(R)|
|Justice, Court of Criminal Appeals Pl 8||Elsa Alcala||(R)|
|Justice, 5th District Court of Appeals Chief Justice||Carolyn Wright||(R)|
|Justice, 5th District Court of Appeals Pl 2||David Evans||(R)|
|Justice, 5th District Court of Appeals Pl 5||Craig Stoddart||(R)||489,032||540,010||583,373|
|Justice, 5th District Court of Appeals Pl 9||New Appointee||(R)|
|Justice, 5th District Court of Appeals Pl 10||Molly Francis||(R)|
|Justice, 5th District Court of Appeals Pl 11||Douglas Lang||(R)|
|Justice, 5th District Court of Appeals Pl 12||Robert Fillmore||(R)|
|Justice, 5th District Court of Appeals Pl 13||Elizabeth Lang||(R)|
|State Senator, Senatorial District 8||Van Taylor||(R)||416,091||453,804||490,244|
|State Senator, Senatorial District 30||Craig Estes||(R)||72,941||86,184||93,105|
|State House of Representatives, House District 33||Justin Holland||(R)||59,403||68,789||74,313|
|State House of Representatives, House District 66||Matt Shaheen||(R)||104,588||110,523||119,398|
|State House of Representatives, House District 67||Jeff Leach||(R)||105,607||113,397||122,503|
|State House of Representatives, House District 70||Scott Sanford||(R)||112,662||130,541||141,023|
|State House of Representatives, House District 89||Jodie Laubenberg||(R)||106,772||116,738||126,112|
|State Board of Education, SBOE District 12||Geraldine "Tincy" Miller||(R)|
|District Attorney||Greg Willis||(R)|
|County Court at Law 1||Corrine Mason||(R)|
|County Court at Law 2||Barnett Walker||(R)|
|County Court at Law 3||Lance S. Baxter||(R)|
|County Court at Law 4||David Rippel||(R)|
|County Court at Law 5||Dan Wilson||(R)|
|County Court at Law 6||Jay A. Bender||(R)|
|County Court at Law 7||David Waddill||(R)|
|219th District Court||Scott Becker||(R)|
|296th District Court||John Roach, Jr.||(R)|
|366th District Court||Ray Wheless||(R)|
|417th District Court||Cynthia Wheless||(R)|
|429th District Court||Jill Willis||(R)|
|Probate Court 1||Weldon Copeland||(R)|
|District Clerk||Lynne Finley||(R)|
|County Clerk||Stacey Kemp||(R)|
|County Judge||Keith Self||(R)|
|Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1||Paul Raleeh||(R)||67,244||77,062||83,250|
|Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2||Terry Douglas||(R)||51,891||58,780||63,500|
|Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3, Place 2||John Payton||(R)||223,153||239,189||258,396|
|Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4||Mike Yarbrough||(R)||146,744||164,957||178,203|
|County Commissioner, Precinct 2||Cheryl Williams||(R)||113,461||124,991||135,028|
|County Commissioner, Precinct 4||Duncan Webb||(R)||118,395||124,506||134,504|
|Democratic Party of Collin Co. Precinct Chairs||All||(D)|
|Republican Party of Collin Co. Precinct Chairs||All||(R)|
|Democratic Party of Collin Co. Chair||Mike Rawlins||(D)|
|Republican Party of Collin Co. Chair||George Flint||(D)|
All 150 State House seats are up for election in 2018. Texas state representatives serve two-year terms, with all seats up for election every two years. Republicans have controlled the House since 2002. As of December 2016, the Republican Party holds a majority 99 seats to 50 seats for Democrats and 1 seat held by an Independent in the Texas House of Representatives:
The house district club concept can be applied to any election district division - Senate District, Congressional District, Commissioner District, Court of Appeals District, etc.
A total of 15 seats out of the State Senate chamber's 31 seats are up for election in 2018, including Collin County's Districts 8 and 30 incumbent Republicans. Texas state senators serve 2-4-4 terms, where senators serve one two-year term and two four-year terms each decade. Republicans have maintained control of the Senate since 1996. Since 2002, the GOP has kept their majority steady at around a 7-seat advantage. As of December 2016, the Republican Party holds 20 senate seats to 11 seats for Democrats. District 30 of the Texas Senate includes all of Archer, Baylor, Clay, Cooke, Grayson, Jack, Montague, Palo Pinto, Parker, Shackelford, Stephens, Throckmorton, Wichita, Wilbarger, Wise and Young counties, and portions of Collin and Denton counties. District 8 is completely within Collin Co.
15 Seats of State Senate Up for Election
|2||Bob Hall||R||Edgewood||Dallas (part), Delta, Fannin, Hopkins, Hunt, Kaufman, Rains, Rockwall, Van Zandt|
|3||Robert Nichols||R||Jacksonville||Anderson, Angelina, Cherokee, Hardin, Henderson, Houston, Jasper, Liberty, Montgomery (part), Nacogdoches, Newton, Orange, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Trinity, Tyler|
|5||Charles Schwertner||R||Georgetown||Brazos, Freestone, Grimes, Leon, Limestone, Madison, Milam, Robertson, Walker, Williamson|
|7||Paul Bettencourt||R||Houston||Harris (part)|
|8||Van Taylor||R||Plano||Collin (part), Dallas (part)|
|9||Kelly Hancock||R||Fort Worth||Dallas (part), Tarrant (part)|
|10||Konni Burton||R||Colleyville||Tarrant (part)|
|14||Kirk Watson||D||Austin||Bastrop, Travis (part)|
|15||John Whitmire||D||Houston||Harris (part)|
|16||Don Huffines||R||Dallas||Dallas (part)|
|17||Joan Huffman||R||Southside Place||Brazoria (part), Fort Bend (part), Harris (part)|
|18||Lois Kolkhorst||R||Katy||Aransas, Austin, Burleson, Calhoun, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend (part), Goliad, Gonzales, Harris (part), Jackson, Lee, Matagorda, Nueces (part), Re fugio, Victoria, Waller, Washington|
|23||Royce West||D||Dallas||Dallas (part)|
|25||Donna Campbell||R||New Braunfels||Bexar (part), Travis (part), Comal, Hays, Kendall|
|30||Craig Estes||R||Wichita Falls||Archer, Clay, Collin (part), Cooke, Denton (part), Erath, Grayson, Jack, Montague, Palo Pinto, Parker, Wichita, Wise, Young|
|31||Kel Seliger||R||Amarillo||Andrews, Armstrong, Bailey, Briscoe, Carson, Castro, Cochran, Collingsworth, Coke, Coleman, Dallam, Deaf Smith, Donley, Ector, Gaines, Glasscock, Gray, Hall, Hartley, Hemphill, Hansford, Howard, Hutchinson, Jones, Lipscomb, Loving, Lynn, Martin, Midland, Moore, Motley, Ochiltree, Oldham, Parmer, Potter, Randall, Roberts, Sherman, Swisher, Wheeler, Winkler, Yoakum|
Precinct Chairs are party officials elected by voters of their respective precinct in Democratic Primary Elections scheduled on the first Tuesday of March in even numbered years.
A county precinct is the smallest political subdivision in Texas. Texas counties are divided into individual precincts based on voting eligable population census. Precincts can have as few as a few hundred registered voters to a maximum of 5,000 registered voters.
Precinct chairs file to have their name placed on primary ballots, just like every other person seeking election to public office. When only one person within a precinct files for a ballot position, their name is not placed on the ballot and they are considered automatically elected to hold that public office. The term of office is two years, beginning on the 20th day following the Primary runoff election. The county executive committee (CEC) may fill precinct chair vacancies between elections by majority vote appointment.
It is the responsibility of Precinct Chairs, who are public representatives of their party's precinct voters, to represent precinct residents and to mobilize them into an active base of voters for their party's candidates. Whether you are a Precinct Block Captain for your district waiting to win the vote against the incumbent Precinct Chair at primary election time, or an elected or appointed Precinct Chair you have the same duties:
- Get the Voter List for your Precinct.
- Visit everyone in the Precinct who is on the list (or assigned blocks if only a Block Captain) and make yourself known.
- Ascertain for which presidential and or gubernatorial candidate people last voted. If they are registered but never voted, ask two or three questions about their positions or views on issues such as jobs, public school funding, property taxes, Social Security, Medicare, prescription drug cost, school vouchers, conservative judges, fiscal attitude, etc. Build a database of district voters who will likely vote for Democrats.
- Start to meet all those NOT on the voter list to determine who will vote for Democrats.
- Add these to your database with notes. Try to define the Independents as to the issues. They might be amenable to voting for Democrats in the right circumstances.
- Stay in touch with all those who you have identified as with you on the crucial issues. You will want to add them the Facebook group.
- Appoint Block Captains of your own if you are already Precinct Chairman.
- Be prepared to walk the Precinct with the candidates toward election time.
- Attend all district group meetings.
- As the Party Primary season arrives (every two years) be prepared to work your contact lists to get out the vote.
- Learn the protocol for the party, county or senatorial district convention.
- Remember the SD/County Convention leads to State and National Conventions. Voting members of the Democratic National Committee and state executive committee - who set the party's agenda at the state and national levels - are elected by state convention delegates, who are themselves elected at SD/County conventions.
County Party Chairpersons must also file to have their name placed on primary ballots. Their names always appear on ballots, even when unopposed. All partisan voters in the county vote for county Chair candidates.
Texas Courts of Appeal are distributed in fourteen districts around the state of Texas. Like the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, Justices of the Texas Courts of Appeals are elected to six-year terms by general election.
The Fifth District Court of Appeals includes one Chief Justice and twelve Justices. The 5th District Court of Appeals is one of our region's most important courts with jurisdiction over criminal, family and civil appeals cases for Dallas, Collin, Rockwall, Kaufman, Grayson and Hunt counties.
The Courts of Appeal have intermediate appellate jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases appealed from district or county courts. Like the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, Justices of the Texas Courts of Appeals are elected to six-year terms by general election.
Both civil and criminal appeals are typically heard by a panel of three justices, unless in a particular case an en banc hearing is ordered, in which instance all the justices of that Court hear and consider the case.
The unusually high number of 8 of the 5th district's 13 seats, including the Chief Justice's seat, are up for election in 2018.
Texas' 36 Congressional Districts have some peculiar designs. An analysis of them shows just how gerrymandered the state has become. (See an interactive map of the districts; read an analysis on the map here). Each Texas district has an estimated population of 698,488 people. However through a strategy called “packing-and-cracking,” redistricting packs Democratic voters into a few districts and dilutes the rest, leaving the GOP with a comfortable majority in the remaining areas. Sam Johnson's 3rd congressional district falls completely within Collin County. Texas' 4th Congressional District covers counties of the northeastern portion of the state, including Bowie, Camp, Cass, Delta, Fannin, Franklin, Grayson, Hopkins, Hunt, Lamar, Marion, Morris, Rains, Red River, Rockwall, and Titus counties, along with areas of Collin and Upshur counties. Texas' 32nd Congressional District includes portions of Dallas and Collin counties.
The Texas Constitution requires that each county in the State establish between one and eight Justice of the Peace precincts, depending upon the population of the county. Also, depending on the population of the precinct, either one or two justice of the peace courts are to be established in each precinct.
Justice of the peace courts have original jurisdiction in Class C misdemeanor criminal cases, which are less serious minor offenses. These courts also have jurisdiction over minor civil matters. A justice of the peace may issue search or arrest warrants, and may serve as the coroner in counties where there is no provision for a medical examiner. These courts also have jurisdiction over small claims matters.
Collin County Justices of the Peace Precincts PDF Map
The office of Criminal District Attorney is statutorily created by the legislature. A Criminal District Attorney is legally bound to handle all felony and misdemeanor criminal matters within the county and all civil matters related to representation of the county, county officials, as well as all associated matters.
The Texas Constitution provides for the office of County Attorney in each county. However, the legislature may abolish the office of County Attorney by establishing a Criminal District Attorney for such a county. The statutory duties of a Criminal District Attorney include the following:
- Represent the State of Texas and victims of crimes in all criminal cases in the District Courts, County Courts-at-Law, and Justice Courts and in appeals therefrom.
- Represent the best interests of our children in Child Protective Services cases.
- Represent the victims of domestic abuse by obtaining protective orders against abusive family members.
- Represent the State of Texas and victims of crimes in ensuring that justice is rendered for juveniles accused of criminal offenses.
- Provide County Officials with written opinions or advice relating to the official duties of that official.
District courts have original jurisdiction in felony criminal cases, divorce cases, cases involving title to land, election contest cases, civil matters in which the amount of money or damages involved is $200 or more, and any matters in which jurisdiction is not placed in another trial court. While most district courts try both criminal and civil cases, in the more densely populated counties the courts may specialize in civil, criminal, juvenile, or family law matters.
The District Clerk performs the duties assigned by the Texas Constitution as registrar, recorder, and custodian of all court pleadings, instruments, and papers that are part of any legal cause of action in the District Courts of Texas counties.
In performance of those duties, District Clerks indexes and secures all court records, collects filing fees, manages court registry funds, and handles funds held in litigation and money awarded to minors. The District Clerk also coordinates the jury panel selection process and may process passport applications.
The Texas Constitution vests broad judicial and administrative powers in the position of County Judge, who presides over a five-member Commissioner's Court. Four Commissioners, each elected to a commissioners precinct representing approximately a quarter of the county's population, serve with the Presiding County Judge on the Commissioners Court.
The County Judge is both presiding officer of the commissioners court (Tex. Const. Art. V, Sec. 18) and judge of the constitutional county court (Tex. Const. Art. V, Sec. 15). As such, the judge is often thought of as the chief executive officer of the county. The duties of the county judge vary depending on the population of the county. In most rural counties, the judge has broad judicial responsibilities and is often the principal source of information and assistance.Members of the Collin County Commissioner's Court also serve as Trustees of the Collin County Health Care Foundation, Collin County Housing Finance Corporation, and the Collin County Substance Abuse Foundation.
The judge's duties as presiding officer of the commissioners court includes carefully abiding by statutes requiring that meetings of governmental bodies be open to the public. Additional specific statutory charges are enumerated in the following: elections, finance, bonds and sureties, court operations, mental health, special districts, and general administration.
In addition to assuring that county roads are maintained, commissioners vote with the county judge to set the budget for all county departments and adopt a tax rate. The County Commissioners Court also:
- Sets the yearly property tax rate and approves the budget and employment level for the county;
- Sets commissioners and justice of the peace precinct boundaries;
- Calls, conducts and certifies elections, including bond elections;
- Sets employment and benefit policy;
- Establishes long-range thoroughfare, open space, land use, financial and law enforcement/jail needs plans;
- Acquires property for rights-of-way or other uses determined to be in the public's best interest;
- Reviews and approve subdivision platting and wastewater treatment for rural areas;
- Provides rural ambulance services and subsidizes rural fire protection;
- Oversees the construction, maintenance and improvement of county roads and bridges;
- Appoints non-elected department heads and standing committees;
- Supervises and controls the county courthouse, county buildings and facilities;
- Adopts a county budget;
- Determines county tax rates;
- Fills vacancies in elective and appointive positions; and
- Has exclusive authority to authorize contracts in the name of the county.
Collin County Commissioners Precincts PDF Map
The Legislature created statutory County Courts at Law in more populous counties to aid the constitutionally created single county court of each county in its judicial functions.
The Texas Constitution provides for one county court in each of the 254 counties of the state. In the more populous counties, where the legislature has created county courts at law, the county judge may devote his or her full attention to the administration of county government as the presiding member of the County Commissioner's Court.The legal jurisdiction of the statutory county-level trial courts varies considerably and is established by the statute which creates the particular court. The jurisdiction of statutorily-created county courts at law may be concurrent with the jurisdiction of the single constitutional county courts and district courts in the county. The civil jurisdiction of most county courts at law varies but is usually more than that of the justice of the peace courts and less than that of the district courts. County courts have original jurisdiction over all criminal cases involving Class A and Class B misdemeanors, which are the more serious minor offenses. County courts usually have appellate jurisdiction in cases appealed from justice of the peace and municipal courts.
In more heavily populated counties, like Collin County, the Legislature created specialized Probate Courts to hear probate matters exclusively. Statutory probate courts are located in 10 of the state's 15 largest metropolitan areas and have original and exclusive jurisdiction over their counties' probate matters, guardianship cases, and mental health commitments.
The County Clerk is the clerk for county courts at law, including probate courts, and the commissioners court. The clerk is also the recorder for the county. All instruments filed for record are done so in the county clerk's office. The clerk carries out issues marriage licenses, maintains vital statistics, and may administer elections for the county where a separate office of county elections has not been created by the county commissioners.
County Clerk are custodians of records for the Commissioners Court, Constitutional County Court and Statutory County Courts. The clerk also acts as a recorder and custodian of important public records, including all bonds, deeds, marriage, birth and death certificates, assumed names and livestock brands, ensuring records are maintained in a secure, archival manner.
In order to become the Republican or Democratic Party nominee for a particular office, you must file an application (PDF) for a place on the ballot with the county or state party chair, as appropriate. Tex. Elec. Code Ann. §172.022. The application for a place on the primary ballot must be accompanied by either a filing fee or a nominating petition (PDF) signed by a certain number of qualified voters. Certain judicial candidates in Bexar, Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Travis must file additional petitions (PDF). Certain Statewide judicial candidates must also file additional petitions using the Statewide Judicial Office on Primary Ballot petition form (PDF). (Filing fee amounts and signature counts are subject to change by under possible bills enacted by the Texas State Legislature during the 2017 legislative session.)
|Public Office Sought in 2014||Filing Fee||Nominating Signatures
in Lieu of Fee h
|United States Representative||$3,125||500|
|Justice, Supreme Court g||$3,750||5000|
|Justice, Court of Criminal Appeals g||$3,750||5000|
|Justice, Court of Appeals b||$2,500/$1,875 e||500|
|District Judge b||$2,500/$1,500 f||500|
|Criminal District Judge b||$2,500/$1,500 f||500|
|Family District Judge b||$2,500/$1,500 f||500|
|County Treasurer||$1,250/$750 d||500|
|County Commissioner||$1,250/$750 d||500|
- File with county chair if district is composed of only one county.
- For candidates running for Courts of Appeals in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 14th Districts and all candidates running for judicial offices in Bexar, Dallas, Harris, and Tarrant Counties, a 250-signature judicial petition is required in addition to the filing fee, or 750 signatures must be collected on the petition in lieu of filing fee. Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 172.021(e).
- Percentage of all votes for all gubernatorial candidates cast in the applicable territory in the 2010 general election. If number is less than 50, a larger percentage may be required. Consult Secretary of State for further information.
- Pay higher fee if county has at least 200,000 inhabitants according to 2010 Census.
- Pay higher fee in Courts of Appeals Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 14. Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 172.024(7), (8).
- Pay higher fee in Bexar, Dallas, Harris, and Tarrant Counties. Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 172.024(10), (12).
- A candidate for the office of chief justice or justice, supreme court, or presiding judge or judge, court of criminal appeals, who chooses to pay the filing fee, must also accompany the application and fee with a petition. The minimum number of signatures that must appear on the petition is 50 from each of the fourteen court of appeals districts, for a total requirement of 700 signatures. Tex. Elec. Code Ann. §172.021(g).
- The minimum number of signatures that must appear on candidate’s petition for statewide office is 5000. The minimum number of signatures that must appear on candidate’s petition for district, county, or precinct office is the lesser of (1) 500, or (2) 2% of the total vote received in the district, county, or precinct, as applicable, by all gubernatorial candidates in the 2010 general election, subject to (c) above. Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 172.025.
The Office of Lieutenant Governor is part of the executive branch. The Lieutenant Governor serves as acting governor when the Governor is out of the state or incapacitated, and is the first in the line of succession should the Governor be unable to perform his or her duties.
The Lieutenant Governor's primary powers lie in the office's authority and influence in the legislature as President of the Texas Senate. The Lieutenant Governor serving as President of the Texas Senate appoints the committees of the Senate and assigns bills to specific Senate committees, a considerable power since committees generally control governmental policy legislation.
The Lieutenant Governor also casts the deciding vote in the Senate in case of a tie vote, and serves as chairman of the Legislative Budget Board and the Legislative Council. He or she is vice-chairman of the Legislative Audit Committee and the Legislative Education Board, and when the Legislative Redistricting Board convenes (if the legislature is unable to approve a redistricting plan for both houses), the Lieutenant Governor serves as one of the five members. These official roles, coupled with the legislative influence of the office, make the Texas Lieutenant Governorship significantly more powerful from Lieutenant Governors in most other states.
The Lieutenant Governor has exerted growing influence in lawmaking and in administration and public policy since World War II. This may result partly from two changes to the office over the course of the 20th century.
First, the length of the term of office was constitutionally extended from two to four years beginning with the election of 1974. Second, lieutenant governors have served ever more numerous terms since the 1890s. The increased longevity in office can significantly increase the informal influence and legislative expertise of lieutenant governors, and enables them to consolidate their control over the committees.
The Texas Attorney General (AG) is the chief lawyer for the state government and is elected to a four-year term. Unlike the office's counterpart at the national level, the Attorney General's legal role is primarily civil rather than criminal. Any time a suit is filed against or by the state, the AG's office handles the related legal activities.
Though candidates for Attorney General usually emphasize crime issues to bonify their law and order credentials when they campaign for office, most law enforcement and criminal matters are handled at the city and county level. The Attorney General's role is limited to providing support and advice to these officials and promoting public awareness on crime and safety issues. The Attorney General may also assist in a particular criminal case at the request of local prosecutors if the case involves a state interest.
The Attorney General can have a significant impact on public policy when he or she issues opinions on the legality or constitutionality of proposed or enacted laws or on the actions or policies of government agencies. Any state or local government office can request a legal opinion from the Attorney General, and the resulting opinion has the effect of law unless it is altered or overturned by the legislature or a court. Opinions thus have an impact on existing law and can become a powerful public platform for the Attorney General to further his or her political ambition. Many opinions, though, are largely technical and mundane.
The Attorney General can become involved in a wide range of high-profile public policy issues, which often puts the office in the public eye. Among the issues various office holders have promoted in recent years are environmental issues, health protection, civil rights, and consumer issues such as product safety, deceptive advertising, election fraud and commercial fraud protection. In most of these cases, action on particular issues reflected the priorities of specific officeholders.
Because the office also defends the state against suits, attorneys general are not able to choose all of their battles and can find themselves defending policies they would not otherwise choose to defend. Recent attorneys general have been involved in defending state law and policies on public school financing, Texas's method of selecting judges, the constitutionality of the state prison system, and state redistricting plans.
The Supreme Court of Texas is composed of a Chief Justice plus eight Justices and it is the court of last resort for civil matters in the State of Texas. The Supreme Court of Texas was first established in 1836 by the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, which vested the judicial power of the Republic in “…one Supreme Court and such inferior courts as the Congress may establish.” The later Texas state Constitutions also established the Supreme Court as head of the judicial branch of Texas government.
A different court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, is the court of last resort for criminal matters. The Justices of the Supreme Court are elected to staggered six-year terms in state-wide elections.
The Supreme Court has statewide appellate jurisdiction in most civil cases, which include contract, personal injury, family and juvenile cases. The Court’s jurisdiction is discretionary; that is, the Court decides what cases it will take. Parties do not have a right to have their cases fully heard by the Court. Instead, they petition the Court to review their cases. Only about 10% of the cases are granted review. The Supreme Court’s caseload consists of three primary categories:
- Determining whether to grant review of the final judgment of a court of appeals or certain interlocutory orders via a petition for review;
- Disposition of regular causes which include review of a final judgment, petitions for writs of mandamus or habeas corpus, certified questions, accepted parental notification appeals, and direct appeals;
- Disposition of numerous motions related to petitions and regular causes.
Five of the current Justices, a majority, have been appointed by Governor Rick Perry (R) and all the current Justices, like all the Judges of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, are members of the Republican party. All justices are elected to a "court place position" in state-wide general elections. Other than Place 1, which is reserved as the Chief Justice place position, the Supreme Court place numbers have no special significance.
To stand for election a person must be at least 35 years of age, a United States and Texas citizen, licensed to practice law in Texas, and must have practiced law at least 10 years. There are no other qualifications to be a justice — the rest is up to the voters of Texas, or in the case of a vacancy, the Governor.
By statute, the Texas Supreme Court has administrative control over the State Bar of Texas, an agency of the judiciary. The Texas Supreme Court also has the sole authority to license attorneys in Texas, and appoint members of the Board of Law Examiners, which under instructions of the Supreme Court, administers the Texas State Bar Examination. Administrative duties include:
- Promulgating the Rules of Civil Procedure for the Texas judicial system (Gov’t Code §22.004);
- Promulgating rules of administration for the Texas judicial system (Gov’t Code §72.024);
- Equalizing the dockets of the 14 courts of appeals (Gov’t Code §73.001);
- Promulgating the rules of procedure for the Commission on Judicial Conduct, and disciplining judges or removing judges from office (Gov’t Code, Ch. 33, art. V, sec.1-a);
- Supervising the operations of the State Bar of Texas and the rules and regulations for the admission, discipline, supervision, and disbarment of lawyers, and approving the law schools of the State (Gov’t Code, Ch. 81); and
- Promulgating the rules for the operation of the Court Reporters Certification Board and the disciplinary rules enforced by this Board (Gov’t Code §52.002).
By statute, the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court has the responsibility to:
- Confer with the presiding judges of the administrative judicial regions to promote the prompt dispatch of judicial business (Gov’t Code §74.001);
- Assign judges between administrative judicial regions (Gov’t Code §74.057);
- Assign retired appellate justices to the various courts of appeals on a temporary basis (Gov’t Code §74.003);
- Deliver a “State of the Judiciary” message at the commencement of each regular session of the Legislature (Gov’t Code §21.004);
- Ensure that the Supreme Court executes and implements its administrative duties and responsibilities (Gov’t Code §74.006).
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is the court of last resort for all criminal matters in the State of Texas and is composed of a Presiding Judge and eight Judges.
The Presiding Judge and eight remaining Judges are elected to "court place positions" in staggered six-year terms by state-wide general election. The court place position has no special significance. The appeal of all cases in which the death penalty has been assessed go directly to the Court of Criminal Appeals from the trial courts. The appeals of all other criminal cases go to one of the fourteen Courts of Appeals in Texas, however, their decisions may also be reviewed by the Court of Criminal Appeals.
To stand for election a person must be at least 35 years of age, a United States and Texas citizen, licensed to practice law in Texas, and must have practiced law at least 10 years. When a vacancy arises the Governor of Texas may appoint Judges to the Court of Criminal Appeals, subject to Senate confirmation, to serve out the remainder of an unexpired term until the next general election. Like the Texas Supreme Court, the Judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals are currently all members of the Republican Party.
There are three individuals who serve together on the Texas Railroad Commission. Railroad Commissioners serve six year terms, with one commissioner seeking state wide election every two years, including this year. The Texas Railroad Commission is the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, gas utilities, pipeline safety, safety in the liquefied petroleum gas industry, and surface coal and uranium mining.
As is suggested by its name, the Railroad Commission was initially created to regulate railroads, terminals, wharves and express companies within the state. Pipelines were added to the commission's jurisdiction in 1917, followed by the oil and gas industry in 1919 and gas utilities in 1920.
Effective October 1, 2005, the Railroad Commission of Texas no longer has regulatory authority over railroads, nor does it have jurisdiction over public utility companies.<
The General Land Office administers the use of all state-owned lands. This responsibility includes leasing for gas and oil production, mining, and grazing, and monitoring the environmental quality of public lands and waters. The office also operates the veterans' land program, in which state bonds are used to underwrite loans to military veterans for land purchases.
Nearly 12 percent of Texas, or about 32,000 square miles is state controlled public land. This land area is larger than the total land of South Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island. Unlike most western states, little more than 1 percent of Texas is public land. Managed by the General Land Office, most of the public land in Texas is in west Texas or submerged along the Gulf of Mexico coast. Valuable mineral leases on parts of this land generate money to support primary and secondary public schools and universities across Texas.
The Land Commissioner authorizes exploration and exploitation of public lands, so the Commissioner's decisions affect hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity. This also has a significant impact on state government and services, as the General Land Office generates hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties on oil and gas extracted from state lands. The Land Office has often come under criticism for doing too little to protect coastal areas of Texas.
As with similar offices in other states and the Federal Department of the Interior, the Texas Land Commissioner must reconcile the economic use of natural resources with environmental protection and conservation. State lands are a valuable source of revenue, particularly given that the state cannot draw on an income tax for revenue and that a significant share of oil and gas royalties are dedicated to public education. These issues are particularly acute in the coastal areas, where the state owns four million acres of submerged lands and all of the beaches. The General Land Office must balance the competing goals to both to exploit and preserve public lands.
Oil and gas production on state-owned lands has helped fund public education and keep taxes low. The economic activity generated by the energy sector has been key to fueling our economy. But it’s no secret Texas' oil and gas hey days are behind us and the state can rely solely on this a non-renewable asset to fund public education forever.
With over 20 million acres of state-owned land, much of it on the windy Gulf coast and in windy and sunny West Texas, the state should be a leader on renewable energy production, but it is not. Moving quickly into a 21st century renewable energy market would generate additional revenue produced on state lands from energy production, which in turn would help fund public education and keep taxes low. It would produce economic activity in communities across Texas, in both the manufacturing and construction sectors. It would provide jobs in some of the communities in Texas most in need of them. And transitioning away from a petrochemical economy into a renewable clean energy economy would help protect our environment.
The Texas General Land Office should aggressively take the lead on renewable energy development rather than continuing to focus exclusively on depleting non-renewable fossil energy reserves to fund public education.
The Christmas Mountains, in the heart of the Big Bend region of southwest Texas, were donated to the State of Texas in 1991. The foundation that gave the land to Texas stipulated that the Christmas Mountains were to remain public. The land should have been transferred to the National Park Service (NPS) and been made part of Big Bend National Park years ago. However, Republican Land Commissioners have blocked making the Christmas Mountain area a part of the Big Bend National Park.