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Growth trends open doors to Democrats, Libertarians
Kelsey Kruzich / Staff Photo – Political signs at Collin College Spring Creek campus reflected support not only for Republican and Democratic candidates, but for Libertarian ones as well. The third party received .79 straight ticket votes in Collin County on Tuesday, a number party members see as a sign of progress.
It's no secret that Collin County is traditionally steeped in red, but its exponential growth may be creating shifts in the political landscape as demographics continue to change.
Bryan McAnich has been chair of the Libertarian Party of Collin County since 2010, and said he noticed an increase in membership over the past several years, the most the party has experienced since it began roughly 10 years ago.
With 750 members and counting, McAnich said the party's platform has been well-received among local community colleges and among voters within the 24-36 age bracket.
Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson snagged a little more than 1 percent of the popular vote in Tuesday's election, a number that, although might be small, is a step in the right direction, McAnich said.
"A lot of people tend to agree that a lot of people are getting a little suspicious of having Republicans and Democrats in office for so long. We have all of these problems and only two different people to blame," he said. "I think people are beginning to start to question this political duality, especially among the younger crowd."
With urban areas traditionally known for reflecting a larger Democratic presence and rural suburbia carrying a more conservative stance, Collin County is unique because the urban sprawl that has accompanied the population boom brings the potential for political shift with it, McAnich said.
And that, he said, gives the Libertarian Party a bit more room on the playing field.
"I think it's going to bring a little bit more socially tolerant viewpoints," he said. "Republicans typically are very fiscally conservative but also socially conservative. When you bring some of the big city Democrats into the suburbs it may bring more socially tolerant viewpoints along with it."
Since campaign financing for Libertarian frontrunners pales in comparison to the pockets of their red and blue counterparts, social media has been an important tool for gaining support, McAnich said. With no central office, Collin County Libertarians typically lease out rooms at local colleges or hold gatherings at public venues. Even though limited resources are a struggle with any third party, it hasn't prevented Libertarians to continue the momentum they have been slowly gaining since the party's founding in 1972, McAnich said.
"Being a third party is always a challenge. Democrats and Republicans have kind of colluded and created very high hurdles for third parties to clear in order to get into debates and things like that," he said. "Both really do have something to lose, [however], because Libertarianism takes the best from both worlds. I think both parties are a little intimidated by the fact that we might come in and take a few of their votes away."
Noting a new and slightly more polished presidential candidate than they've had in the past, McAnich said the Libertarian Party has evolved in terms of politicking, something that will help them in the coming elections, both in terms of following and financing.
State Senate District 8 candidate Ed Kless received a little more than 3 percent of the popular vote on Tuesday. The Allen resident lost the race for the seat in 2010 with 16 percent of the vote in the general election, a favorable number given the fact that Kless only faced a Republican candidate that year.
"It's an honor so many people turned out and voted for me," Kless said. "The purpose of me running is to get the Libertarian message out, and I think I've been effective in doing that. I certainly view [Tuesday] as a victory for myself and for the party."
The biggest problem for Libertarians in Texas, Kless and McAnich said, is straight ticket voting. Both projected "major shifts" in local Libertarian voting over the next four to six years, as they see more Republicans joining the cause. Either that, Kless said, or Libertarian ideology will "grow radically inside the Republican Party."
"The limited resources force the party to be more effective with their strategies, McAnich said. "When people talk about wasted votes, it's not wasted vote because it's getting us on the ballot. Even if we don't win the seat, we'll still be on the ballot next time. We don't consider it a loss by any means."
Republicans in Collin County have their own challenges, however, which focus primarily on maintaining presence in the area. Expanding where the party is weak and focusing on neighborhoods that other political parties have had success in are crucial aspects of the party's current strategy, said Fred Moses, chair for the Republican Party of Collin County.
The party also needs to work on attracting more minorities and young people, he said.
Moses credited the party's success in Collin County to its history of solid candidates who represent the conservative principles and values in their actions and deeds. Having an office in the county for the past 40 years and holding annual fundraisers to rally supporters year round have also helped the Republican Party of Collin County stand out in the community, he said.
"There are lots of people who have interest in running for public office, so we have a good number of candidates to select from when we have open positions," Moses said. "Generally, we have a lot of people who have been involved in the party for a long time who continue to support the party, which helps keep the party strong with their passion and commitment."
Republicans currently control all elected positions in the county. The last Democrat to represent Collin County was Wallace Webb, who represented Precinct 3 on the Commissioners Court from 1980-1988.
Democrats have been doing their best to increase their presence in Collin County, as well, said former Plano city councilman David M. Smith. Smith ran against Republican Keith Self for county judge in 2010 and served three terms on the Plano City Council from 1993 to 1999. The move from city to county was a profound one in terms of running a campaign, Smith said, as city council elections are nonpartisan, while county races are partisan.
"It's no secret I was a Democrat," said Smith of his time spent on the city council. "But it's a different electorate [at the county level]. There's a much larger group of people who vote in general elections. Unfortunately for people who are in minority political parties, a lot of those general election voters just vote straight party."
Today, Smith serves as an environmental and political consultant. While his run for judge was an "uplifting experience" thanks to his Plano constituents, Smith said it simply wasn't enough to overcome Collin County's straight party voters.
But demographics may change the landscape for partisan groups here in the future, Smith said.
"There are more people of color, more immigrants are becoming citizens and children of immigrants who are becoming 18," he said. "The question is how many of these folks will actually be inspired to vote, and what changes might we see in the traditional Republican/Democratic split here in the longer term."