Saturday, June 5, 2021

Election Selection, Texas Edition

Republican mayors are close to extinct in big-city America. And there might be one fewer after Saturday’s mayoral runoff in Fort Worth, Texas.

While Democrats hold City Hall in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin, the fifth-largest city in Texas — Fort Worth — is a holdout. Retiring GOP Mayor Betsy Price has held office through a decade of explosive growth that has seen the city’s population add more than 200,000 new residents, bringing it to nearly 1 million people.

The race to succeed her is officially nonpartisan, but the political backdrop is hard to miss: Fort Worth is not only one of the few remaining big cities with a GOP mayor, it’s part of the last major urban county in Texas — Tarrant County — that remains Republican.

What happens in Tarrant County is closely watched, both inside and outside the state. Once a Republican stronghold, Tarrant has seen its GOP margins decline in recent years — President Joe Biden’s narrow victory there in November marked the first time in over a half-century that a Democratic presidential nominee carried the county. If the county continues to move leftward, it stands to affect the balance of power in statewide elections.

“We've never had a race that was this partisan,” said Kenneth Barr, the former Democratic mayor of Fort Worth who led the city from 1996 to 2003. “In Texas, you're not allowed, for city governments, to hold partisan primaries. And this particular election has moved as far in the partisan direction as any we've ever had.”

The runoff features Republican Mattie Parker, a former chief of staff to Price, and Democrat Deborah Peoples, a retired AT&T executive, both of whom insist they are running nonpartisan campaigns.

To some extent, it’s true: Parker declined any GOP endorsements in her general election campaign and Peoples backed away from joint events with the national Democratic groups backing her campaign. Central to the contest are questions related to how Fort Worth will change as the city continues to grow — it’s currently the 12th largest city in the nation. The population influx has increased the need for more city infrastructure, and brought public safety issues into sharper focus for voters in light of a rise in violent crime in 2020.

Yet the county Republican Party continues to make calls and knock doors on Parker’s behalf. And Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott endorsed her on Wednesday, specifically underlining her support for law enforcement — and contrasting it with Peoples’ record.

For her part, Peoples, a former Tarrant County Democratic chair, has been endorsed by a slew of national Democratic groups and prominent state and national Democrats including former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, and Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison.

The Collective PAC — which helps elect Black candidates to office — poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race in an effort to turn out the city’s Black voters in support of Peoples, who would be the city’s first Black mayor.

Republicans worry that Fort Worth’s rapid growth is not only altering the city’s traditional character and politics but moving it in the same direction as the state’s four largest cities — Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin. Those cities typically power Democratic candidates in statewide elections.

“There's a great concern here that if you end up with a Democrat mayor, it will change what people know Fort Worth to be,” said Rick Barnes, chair of the Tarrant County Republican Party.


I'd say something like "Republican racism aside at Fort Worth having a Black mayor" except that's the entire point of the GOP campaign here to help Parker. Fort Worth and Tarrant County is to Texas what Cincinnati and Hamilton County is to Ohio, the bellwether urban/exurban red/blue dividing line in the state. In Ohio and Texas, that line has favored the GOP for years now.

Unlike Ohio, in Texas that may actually change, and we'll get a good sense of that in today's runoff election.

(Un)Vaccination Nation, Con't

As Kentucky becomes the latest state to offer lottery incentives for getting vaccinated against COVID-19, getting the rest of the country vaccinated is becoming more difficult each day. Getting to 50% was easy. Getting past that is going to be grueling challenge, and we may not even get to 70% before the end of the year.
The partisan divide in Covid-19 vaccinations is becoming starker as the nation inches toward President Joe Biden’s goal of providing at least one shot to 70 percent of adults by July 4, complicating efforts to reach the unvaccinated in areas still vulnerable to virus outbreaks.

All but one of the 39 congressional districts where at least 60 percent of residents have received a coronavirus shot are represented by Democrats, according to a Harvard University analysis that presents one of the most detailed looks yet at the partisan split behind the nation’s diverging vaccination drive. By contrast, Republicans represent all but two of the 30 districts where fewer than one-third of residents have received a shot.

The data underscore how vaccinating the holdouts has become the latest political fault line in a nation that throughout the pandemic has been divided over mask-wearing, business restrictions and even the severity of a virus that’s killed nearly 600,000 Americans.

House members representing districts with low vaccination rates and public health experts, discussing their efforts to reach the unvaccinated, described what essentially has become two distinct conversations. One is aimed at chipping away at vaccine hesitancy among conservative white Republicans, while the other is centered around reducing socioeconomic barriers to vaccination for poorer populations and communities of color.

Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), the leader of Congress’ GOP Doctors Caucus, said he has focused on understanding and responding to vaccine hesitancy in conservative communities across the country and his Cincinnati district, where 42 percent of residents have received at least a first shot — about 9 percentage points behind the national pace. He has sat in on focus groups with Donald Trump supporters and has cut a public service announcement with fellow Republican physicians in Congress.

“People say, ‘We don’t know what [the vaccine] will do long term,’” he told POLITICO, listing off concerns he’s heard from people resisting vaccination. “There are people in the lower age group who are saying: ‘I’m young and don’t have other comorbidities and I just haven’t felt like it.’ Some people are just afraid of needles. I can tell you that as a doctor — some people pass out when they see one. And I’ve heard everything all the way down to: ‘They’re putting a chip in me.’”

But Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said the struggle to ramp up vaccinations looks much different in districts with large low-income and minority populations, like his own in Tucson that until recently had one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates. The same barriers that prevented his constituents from getting tested when the virus emerged — poor transportation, lack of child care, little familiarity with the health care system — hampered their ability to get vaccinated, despite federal efforts like mass vaccination sites the government prioritized to get as many shots in arms as quickly as possible. His district has made up ground over the past few weeks — 44 percent have now received at least one shot — after the county health department boosted outreach, particularly in Hispanic communities, Grijalva said.

“For people who have traditionally limited-to-no access to health care, the revelation that they have to go to the vaccine does not come easily,” he said.

In fact, the magnitude of the struggle to broadly vaccinate low-income, minority communities that have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic is obscured by the high levels of vaccine resistance among white conservatives. The stark racial disparities in vaccination would otherwise be far worse.

“Among the remaining unvaccinated people, white people are much more likely to say they are definitely not going to get the vaccine, whereas Black and Hispanic people are more likely to say they haven't gotten it yet but are hoping to get it soon,” said Liz Hamel, vice president and director of public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Hamel said Black and Hispanic adults, according to surveys, are more likely to be concerned about taking time off from work, having to get a ride to get a shot or the cost of vaccination, even though the Covid vaccines are free. Lotteries and prize giveaways recently embraced by numerous governors to boost vaccination rates would do little to address these access barriers, said Brian Castrucci, president of the de Beaumont Foundation.

So yes, we know that the majority of Trump voters will never get the vaccine. But in red states run by Republicans, there's little effort to get the vaccine to Black and brown folks that want and need it, and these states certainly won't make any effort to help those who can't afford to miss work.

Yes, there are still systemic racism barriers to vaccines. It must be nice to not want it. That's privilege, full stop.
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