Huey Fischer

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign event at the Somers Furniture warehouse in Las Vegas Tuesday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

After months of delay, the long-anticipated Texas primary election yielded few surprises for both Democratic and Republican candidates.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney took 69 percent of the Texas vote for the Republican presidential race, pushing him past the required 1,144 delegates required to be nominated at the August 27 Republican National Convention.

Despite being challenged by Tennessee lawyer John Wolfe, who received 42 percent of the Arkansas primary on May 22, Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama’s 88 percent Texas victory was expected well ahead of time, said Huey Fischer, government junior and University Democrats president.

“Obama is the Democratic party leader,” Fischer said. “Everybody has accepted that. What happened in Arkansas, whether they were just doing a protest vote or if they thought it would be funny, who knows. I honestly don’t believe a majority of that 42 percent actually believe John Wolfe would be a better president.”

Fischer said the real surprise to Democratic voters in Texas is the current runoff election between Grady Yarbrough and former Texas legislator Paul Sadler for the Democratic U.S. Senate seat. Runoff elections, which will take place July 31, occur when no single candidate receives the majority of a primary vote. Fischer said a runoff between Sadler and candidate Sean Hubbard had previously been expected.

“It certainly was a surprise to see Yarbrough come in second,” Fischer said. “It now seems like he concentrated his campaign in [East Texas] and while he was reaching the larger constituency, Hubbard was targeting established Democrats that had made up their minds about Sadler.”

Sadler’s previous experience in the Texas House of Representatives and his focus on educational reform make him a popular choice among established Democrats, said Texas Democratic Party spokesperson Rebecca Acuna.

“Paul Sadler did serve in the state House and he’s a renowned expert on education,” Acuna said. “I think he’s got a lot more experience and more name recognition.”

Fischer said a major concern to Democrats in Austin was the near loss of Congressman Lloyd Doggett due to redistricting. Austin currently resides in District 35, a newly created district that includes San Antonio.

“If we had lost Lloyd Doggett, we would have been the largest city in the United States without its own congressman,” Fischer said. “With the overwhelming support he got not only in Austin, but in Hays County and Bexar County, we showed that the entire Central Texas region wanted an experienced congressman who really supports education and its funding.”

The Republican Senate race ended with former Solicitor General Ted Cruz holding 34.2 percent of the vote and current Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst having 45 percent. The two candidates are also scheduled for a runoff in July. Republican Party of Texas spokesperson Chris Elam said each candidate’s extensive experience in Texas politics makes each a solid competitor for the position of senator.

“Their campaigns have been hard at work for the past several months, and in fact Cruz has been running for the past several years,” Elam said. “They are two established candidates who have been campaigning hard for a long time. To see them together in a runoff is not surprising.”

Krista Aguilar, human development junior and College Republicans of Texas executive vice president, said the runoff process shows a strong tendency in voters to think critically about each candidate.

“There are going to be many Republican runoffs in July,” Aguilar said. “I’m glad to see that we as Republicans are really voicing our opinions and not settling for just one candidate. We’re standing behind who we think is best qualified, especially for the position of senator.”

Aguilar said the next two months of campaigning will be among the most exciting to watch in the elections process as runoff candidates attempt to appeal further to voters.

“I think just for me, as a Republican, that this is a very exciting time being here in Austin,” Aguilar said. “I’m really anxious to see what happens in the upcoming months because I know the candidates are really going to hit the ground running.”

Unhappy with the influence of super political action committees in the 2012 election season, Texans — and especially young people — have turned to satire for political expression.

By January, Texans had raised more money for television comedian Stephen Colbert’s half-serious super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow than Mitt Romney’s leading super PAC in Texas, Restore Our Future, according to Federal Election Commission documents analyzed by the Houston Chronicle.

On his television show, Colbert said he started the PAC to highlight the impact that super PACs would play following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which has allowed PACs to become super PACs that can raise unlimited amounts of money for political campaigns. Colbert’s PAC has since run a number of melodramatic and sometimes nonsensical ads in key primary states that bring attention to the influence of super PACs.

University Democrats president Huey Fischer said he would not be surprised if the $6,716 from Texans was raised mainly by people younger than 40.

“Young people really find a connection with Stephen Colbert because he’s able to throw a light on the corrupt, shameless and often non-transparent nature of politics today,” Fischer said. “There is a definitely a frustration with Citizens United on both sides of the aisle, and I don’t think it’s surprising at all that Stephen Colbert is successful even in Texas.”

Fischer said the University Democrats, which is registered as a PAC and has to report its donations to the Texas Ethics Commission, does not donate money to candidates and spends the money it receives on increasing voter awareness and putting time forward for sponsored campaigns.

“Our members often don’t have the money to contribute to campaigns so we ask them to pitch in their time in the forms of meetings and service,” Fischer said. “We definitely see the money side of politics, but we did our fundraising last semester and we are now spending it on voting information.”

While Colbert’s PAC is still dwarfed by the millions raised by other PACs nationally, it still managed to raise more money than Romney’s PAC within Texas. This may be partially due to Romney’s weak standing among social conservatives in Texas, said University Democrats spokesman Andre Treiber.

College Republicans president Cassandra Wright said Colbert’s success is not strictly a political issue and that Colbert’s PAC poses a problem for American society.

“The fact that Stephen Colbert could raise more money than Mitt Romney isn’t a Republican problem but a problem of the power of the entertainment industry trivializing politics,” Wright said. “I think that people who really care about the issues in today’s election are not going to be enthusiastic when they hear people have been donating millions of dollars to the entertainment industry and making a mockery of the political world.”

The College Republicans do not act as a PAC like the University Democrats and instead focus solely on acting as a student organization to appropriate their manpower, hoping to use their resources to represent a cohesive conservative voice in 2012, Wright said.

“It’s understandable that social conservatives might not be as willing to throw their support behind Romney right now, but I’m sure we will unite to support a Republican candidate,” Wright said. “The Republican party is more about principles than politicians.”

Social media and politics combined Wednesday when the University Democrats hosted a Twitter town hall meeting with Austin mayor Lee Leffingwell.

The audience was able to field questions to Leffingwell by tweeting to #UDemsATX, inquiring on issues ranging from energy rate increases to Occupy Austin’s recent eviction. Leffingwell also announced his support at the meeting for a medical school at UT and the creation of six-and-a-half mile high-speed rail in central Austin.

“Rail is the future of Austin, as it is the future of every great city in the United States,” Leffingwell said. “It would be a tremendous economic stimulant, and eventually we could get it across the river to Riverside [Drive] and towards the airport.”

The mayor is running for reelection this year, and Leffingwell said he hopes to receive the continued endorsement of the UDems as he prepares for his fourth city race.

“We try to maintain a close relationship with guys in the University Democrats,” Leffingwell said. “UT is both the cultural and the economic center of Austin, and we have to keep close ties with the university that brings so much incentive to the city.”

Politicians and electioneers have been making sustained use of Twitter since President Barack Obama’s supporters used the service to mobilize grassroots support for his campaign in 2008. Obama also hosted a national open town hall meeting last year using Twitter, which inspired UDems president Huey Fischer to host Wednesday’s meeting, Fischer said.

“Social media is a huge component of the UDems,” Fischer said. “We have Twitter, Facebook, a Youtube account, Foursquare and a website. All of these tools are just really valuable to connect with supporters and with students especially.”

Using Twitter to enhance discussion and promote interaction is exciting for the UDems, said communications director Andre Treiber, and this is the first time the organization has been able to do this with social media.

“With Twitter, things can be discussed in a public forum without interrupting the flow of the meeting,” Fischer said. “It lets us advertise to members and get discussion going by directly communicating with the speaker. In the past it was just commentary and discussion.”

Peck Young, director of Austin Community College’s center for public policy and political studies, spoke at the meeting after Leffingwell in support of the 10-1 plan for geographic representation. The plan would divide Austin into 10, one-member districts, and Young said that the city needed the help of students to legalize the plan.

Young said he believes the plan will make Austin more democratic, continuing a tradition of progress that the UDems have been fighting for since the 1970s.

“Today we have two progressives running against each other to decide who’s the more liberal,” Young said. “We’ve obviously changed a lot since the time when electing a mayor depended on picking someone who looked good in a KKK sheet. That change was largely the result of the University Democrats 40 years ago.”

While the nation is fixated on the Republican primaries, University Democrats are busy preparing for November 2012 as they support their candidates in local elections, said Huey Fischer, University Democrats president.

The University Democrats are working to make students aware of the issues that affect them by bringing guest speakers to campus and leading voter registration drives, helping the Democratic vote that has already been put in a good position by competition between the Republican candidates, Fischer said.

“We’re pretty confident that President [Barack] Obama has reelection in the bag after watching the Republican debates,” Fischer said. “It’s pretty clear from the campaign trail that no matter who the candidate is, they aren’t going to get the support of the entire Republican party.

President Obama has accomplished a lot in the last few years, and the debates are making us think that we aren’t going to have as much difficulty in 2012 as we initially thought we would.”

The Democrats and other political organizations on campus are still concerned that a recent redistricting battle will take away the student vote this spring. A January circuit court ruling has now pushed the primary into the middle of exam week or possibly the summer, said Andre Treiber, spokesman for the University Democrats.

“For the University Democrats, this is a nightmare,” Treiber said. “As an organization that has participated in voter registration drives such as Hook the Vote, it will be unfortunate to see very low voter turnout among college-aged students in the event of a summer primary. Since many students leave Austin over the summer, they would have to jump through some amount of hoops to vote in Travis County, and it is already hard enough to get people to simply vote in the [Flawn Academic Center].”

University Democrats will still be meeting with the Central Austin Democrats on Feb. 18 to decide whether or not local candidates will receive their Austin Progressive Coalition

Endorsement, an award that places 30,000 yellow door hangers in central Austin and guarantees the support of the two organizations, said Rick Cofer, president of the Central Austin Democrats.

“Going back for 30 years, the University Democrats have held an endorsement forum in conjunction with the Central Austin Democrats and folks who participate in that program,” Cofer said. “They are a pretty influential group in the local democratic ecosystem, and they are able to draw a lot of big names because of it.”

Alumni Randi Shade and Ian Davis discussed their experiences as political activists as UT students and in their careers in a panel titled “Moving Austin Forward” on Monday evening.

Photo Credit: Victoria Montalvo | Daily Texan Staff

Students should have a working knowledge of how to effectively advocate for their interests on the local level because so much of what the city does impacts the UT community, said Huey Fischer, Plan I honors government junior, before a Liberal Arts Council discussion.

The Liberal Arts Council hosted a discussion session Monday with UT alumni Randi Shade and Ian Davis, to discuss how to get involved in and begin a successful career in public service.

“Being able to connect the dots and being able to see something in one place and apply it somewhere else, I think is critical thinking and learning this through the College of Liberal Arts you are getting great knowledge for the future,” Shade said.

The alumni discussed city issues that were relevant to students, such as single member districts, traffic and parking and Capital Metro. They discussed how it is essential to get involved with these issues and to vote for what you believe is right.

“If [the city council members] don’t hear from you then they don’t think you care,” Davis said.

One major issue that was discussed was the future plan of changing elections from May to November. Shade and Davis encouraged elections to be moved to November due to the fact that students would be more likely to vote because school is in session.

“There’s only 60,000 votes that happen in May and there’s 50,000 students here,” Davis said. “A lot of students are not in the city due to summer internships in other cities, so obviously it would be a lot better to have voting in November.”

Shade agreed.

“November elections make a huge difference,” Shade said. “That will definitely affect the vote.”

Shade, a Plan II Honors graduate who later earned an MBA from Harvard Business School where she was awarded a Public Management Fellowship, served on the Austin City Council from 2008 to 2011.

“Shade has always been an active friend of the UT community, especially as a former Student Government president,” said Fischer, who was the discussion moderator. “As a former member of the Austin City Council, she brings to [the] discussion a unique perspective on the inner workings of city government.”

Davis, a Liberal Arts Council and SG alumnus, serves as senior regional field manager for the Texas Sierra Club and is an activist in local and state politics.

“Mr. Davis is an alumnus who is involved in city politics from an activist role,” Fischer said. “He has worked on several city council campaigns and brings to the discussion his knowledge on how to ‘get things done’ in Austin.”

The purpose of this event was not to advocate any particular agenda but was designed solely for informational purposes, Fischer said. He said he hoped students would walk away with two things: awareness and empowerment.

“Students need to be aware of the local issues that impact their campus,” Fischer said. “They need to be empowered with the knowledge of how they can effect change.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 22, 2011 as: Students encouraged to engage locally