BURNET — Local Republicans came out strong Tuesday during the Burnet County primaries, but Democrats say they now have a shot at a county office after a decade with few candidates.
One thing is certain — when Nov. 2 arrives, the race for the District Clerk’s Office will see a Democrat square off against a Republican.
Local analysts say that hasn’t happened in years. The last time a Democrat challenged a Republican for a countywide seat was 2002.
Democrat Cynthia Chisolm will run against either Sheila Frazier or Casie Wills of the GOP during November’s showdown. The two Republicans are in a runoff April 13.
Chisolm will get some help, a state party official said.
“We have a real quality candidate with Cynthia,” Burnet County Democrat Party chairman Richard Maddern said Thursday.
Overall, more than 6,900 voters turned out for the county Democratic and Republican primaries. There are about 25,000 registered voters in Burnet County.
In other words, about 27 percent of registered voters went to the polls Tuesday.
During the 2008 primary, more than 10,000 Burnet County voters turned out — or 41 percent of registered voters. That was the year of a presidential election, which traditionally brings more residents to the ballot box.
Still, local party officials are happy with the turnout in this year’s races.
“We had a great turnout,” said Burnet County Republican Chairwoman Linda Rogers. “It was one of the better ones we’ve had in a while.”
The Burnet County GOP fielded three contested local races — district clerk, county treasurer and Precinct 2 justice of the peace.
The district clerk’s race brought out the most challengers with three candidates including incumbent Dana DeBerry. Wills is an employee in that office, meaning she ran against her boss.
Rogers said having so many people seeking local offices on the Republican ticket shows how strong the party is.
“It’s definitely healthy for the party to have so many good candidates who want to run for county offices,” she said. “We also have so many young leaders coming up which, I think, shows the party has a strong future as well.”
The turning of the political tide marks a drastic change from a decade ago, political wags noted.
Through the late 1990s, Democrats held most of the Burnet County offices including every one of the county commissioners’ seats.
Now every member of Commissioners Court and all county offices are held by Republicans.
Maddern is well aware of the current political climate in the county. But it’s not stopping him from looking for qualified people interested in seeking public office, whether it’s in a county or state race along party lines or local offices that are nonpartisan.
“We’re always looking for people who would make good candidates,” he said. “I try to identify and encourage people to seek public office whether it’s to run as a Democrat or to run for one of the other local nonpartisan races.”
The Democratic chairman said the nonpartisan races such as school boards, city councils and groundwater districts need quality people on them.
“I think we often get comfortable and we have people in those positions for years who run unopposed — and then we complain that things never change,” he said. “Well, it’s up to us to run or encourage folks we think would do good jobs in those offices to run.”
Both the Burnet County Republican and Democratic parties aren’t done with their local events.
On March 20, the two parties will hold their county conventions at the second-floor courtroom at the Burnet County Courthouse, 220 S. Pierce St.
The GOP will go first at 8 a.m. followed by the Democrats at 1 p.m.
The state requires all county conventions to be held on that date, Maddern said.
“The precinct and county conventions — that’s where it all starts,” Rogers said. “It’s truly a grassroots effort. At the precinct and county conventions, we elect delegates for the next level and send forth resolutions we want the party to consider for its platform.”
Maddern said the county convention is where they chose the delegates for the state convention but it also gives the local Democrats an opportunity to discuss issues they want addressed at the state convention.
In order to vote in the convention, an individual must have participated in his or her party’s primary election, officials said.
“But other than that it’s open to anybody,” Maddern said. “It’s really an interesting part of the process that very few people see.”
For more information on the local parties, go to www.burnetcountydemocrats.org or www.burnetcountygop.org.