Beto O’Rourke is not in a punk band anymore, but he’s still pretty punk rock. Despite the Texas Democratic representative’s narrow loss to Republican incumbent Ted Cruz in his bid for the US Senate, the long-shot candidate’s campaign efforts brought change to local courts at the trial and appellate levels.
The Beto effect was felt throughout Texas, which has what’s called a “straight-ticket voting” option. When used, a single vote for either Democrats or Republicans will decide the choice for every candidate on the ballot. And since O’Rourke’s campaign brought out the most midterm election voters in decades, Democratic candidates down the line benefited when his supporters chose that option. “The O’Rourke phenomenon has been so remarkable,” Jay Kumar Aiyer, an assistant professor of public policy at Texas Southern University, told the Texas Observer just days before the election.
As a result of the straight-ticket option, which ends with this most recent election, and increased turnout by Democrats, local Democratic candidates for judgeships won in unprecedented numbers and in places where Republicans traditionally prevail. At the appellate court level, Republican judges lost control of the Third Court of Appeals and the Fifth Court of Appeals, for example.
Meanwhile, Democratic candidates for trial courts swept elections in Harris County, home to the city of Houston and the third-largest county in the US. There, a staggering 59 candidates for county, family, and juvenile court judgeships unseated Republican judges and will transform the local judiciary. Nineteen of these new judges are black women in a county that’s traditionally elected white men.