Houstonians may have grown weary of what has been a lengthy and highly contentious campaign season, but the city’s mayoral race is not yet over.
Since none of the 12 candidates competing for mayor of Texas’ most populous city garnered more than 50 percent of the vote, incumbent Sylvester Turner and attorney Tony Buzbee will face each other again in a runoff election scheduled for December 14.
Unofficial election results posted early this morning show Turner capturing 46.4 percent and Buzbee in second place with 28.8 percent. Bill King, who narrowly lost to Turner in a 2015 runoff, holds third place with 14 percent.
Unlike most other election divisions around the state, as of 6:00 a.m. Wednesday, Harris County District Clerk Diane Trautman (D) had not yet reported full election night results.
Trautman, who was elected in the 2018 ‘blue wave’ that swept Harris County, said that her office had been blindsided by an election advisory issued by the Texas Secretary of State in the midst of the early voting period.
Both State Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson disputed Trautman’s reasons for the delays.
“To ensure election integrity, a 10-year-old Texas statute forbids connecting voting equipment to an external network such as the Internet, yet that is exactly what Trautman planned to do,” said Simpson.
But Senator Bettencourt said the Secretary of State had advised Trautman she could transmit results via internet if Mobile Ballot Box memory cards from electronic voting machines were duplicated and originals kept separate.
At 6:34 a.m. Wednesday, Trautman posted results from 754 of 757 voting centers confirming Turner and Buzbee were the top two vote-takers.
In the course of the campaign season, Mayor Turner withstood an onslaught of criticisms and allegations on a vast array of issues including Hurricane Harvey response and recovery efforts, a firefighters pay referendum, diversion of drainage and street repair funds, and creation of a $95,000 internship for a friend during a city-wide hiring freeze.
Tony Buzbee and Bill King both relentlessly hounded the mayor over “pay to play” allegations, noting that donors to the Turner campaign are often recipients of lucrative city contracts.
A recent Houston Chronicle report confirmed that Turner received more than $4 million from companies and donors that do business with the city.
Buzbee and others also decried a $6.8 million city contract awarded to Turner’s former law partner taken out of funds intended to help flood-impacted residents find housing.
A highly successful trial attorney, Buzbee entirely self-funded his campaign to the tune of $10 million. If elected, he has promised to enact a one-year ban on contractors who have donated to any politician at city hall.
Texas city elections are technically non-partisan, but as a former state representative, Sylvester Turner is a known Democrat. Buzbee is a self-proclaimed independent, has supported candidates in both parties, and previously served as chair of the Galveston County Democratic Party.
Buzbee initially supported Donald Trump in 2016, repudiated Trump after the Access Hollywood tape release, then donated $500,000 to Trump’s Inauguration Committee.
The Turner campaign worked to highlight Buzbee’s association with President Trump prior to Tuesday’s election; a strategy that may prove effective in a city that has become increasingly Democratic over the past few election cycles.
In addition to the mayoral race, the city controller and all 16 council seats were on yesterday’s ballot. Incumbent controller Chris Brown fended off challenger Orlando Sanchez despite allegations that Brown inappropriately benefited from a city land deal.
According to the unofficial results, 11 of the 16 City Council seats will go to a runoff, but four incumbents seem to have won outright: Dave Martin, Greg Travis, Robert Gallegos, and Martha Castex-Tatum.
Harris County voters have also overwhelmingly approved a $3.5 billion METRO bond package for public transportation and roads.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.