Texas Politicians, Explained: Voting, titles, duties and more primary info

Primary Voting Day: March 4
Early primary voting period: Started Tuesday, February 18 and runs through Friday, February 28

Primary Party
Primary elections allow voters to pick the party’s candidates in federal, statewide, city and county races for the upcoming November general election. Candidates need to score more than 50 percent of the vote—if no candidate does so, expect a runoff election between the top two candidates (early voting for run-offs is May 19-23 and the election is May 27). Texas holds a “semi-open” primary, meaning you don’t have to formally register as a Democrat or Republican, but if you vote in one party’s primary you can’t switch over come a runoff election.


However, if you feel a change of political heart between now and November, you can make the jump.

The Right Idea
When you get to the polls, don’t forget your ID. Thanks to Texas’ controversial new voter ID law, only certain forms of identification will be allowed at the voting booth and others—like a student photo ID alone—won’t suffice. Those approved include a Texas driver license, an election ID certificate or personal ID card issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), a Texas concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a U.S. military ID with photograph and a U.S. citizenship certificate with photograph. And if the name on your approved photo ID doesn’t exactly match the name on your voter registration card (attention, recently married women), you will only be able to vote if the names are “substantially similar” and you’ll likely need to submit an affidavit confirming you are, well, you.

Know Their Role
You’ve cleared all the hurdles, you’ve found the right polling place and you’re ready to get your vote on. Now what?

You may be thinking, “I know the Texas governor has power but what does he really do?” Or maybe you’re fuzzy on what the Railroad Commissioner’s actual duties are (spoiler: it’s not all choo-choos and damsels in distress!) or what a County Judge’s responsibilities entail (signing off on beer licenses is part of the mix—really!) So, here’s a brief sampling of some of the powers of the candidates vying for a shot on their Party ticket. (For a full primer visit: The Handbook of Texas Online.)

GovernorThe guv is the head honcho (aka chief executive officer) of the state; he/she can execute laws, call special sessions, offer up emergency legislation, submit the budget to the lege, head the state military forces, appoint state officials (with the Senate’s approval) and sign or veto bills and specific items on a general budget bill. On the judicial side, he/she can revoke a parole or conditional pardon.

Lieutenant GovernorThe lite guv is the presiding officer of the Senate; he/she appoints Senate committees, serves as head of the Legislative Budget Board and the Legislative Council. When the governor is out of state (or unable to fulfill his/her role), the lieutenant steps in. This position holds a lot of power in terms of influencing the legislature and public policy.

Attorney GeneralThink of the AG as the state’s lawyer—when someone files suit against Texas, the Attorney General’s office is in court representing. The AG’s role focuses mainly on civil suits rather than criminal. Our lead attorney also issues opinions on the legality or constitutionality of laws or policies. Their star wattage can amp up when they take on high-profile issues like environmental regulation, health care and consumer issues.

Comptroller of Public AccountsA glorified Texas accountant who keeps the books in order. The comptroller keeps account of state funds, submits financial reports to the guv and lege (like outstanding appropriations and estimates of future revenue) and serves as the state’s tax administrator and collector.

Land CommissionerThis position is tasked with overseeing and administering the use of all public land and its resources. That means leasing oil- and gas-rich land for energy production and mining and monitoring environmental quality. The commissioner has to strike a balance between the economic benefit of natural resources and environmental protections.

Commissioner of AgricultureHead of all that is agricultural in the second highest ag-producing state in the country, the commissioner oversees food inspection. animal quarantine laws, disease and pest control and also checks gas pumps for accuracy. Don’t discount the ability to ascend from this post—three-term Republican Governor Rick Perry started out as Ag Commissioner.

Railroad CommissionerThere’s a bit of a misnomer here: While the three-member Railroad Commission regulates state railroads, it’s also in charge of regulating the powerful and profitable oil and gas industry (as well as trucking and mining) and is thus, “described as [one of the] most important regulatory bodies in the nation.”

State Board of EducationThis 15-member board often makes national headlines for falling into the culture war controversies, clouding an understanding of their actual duties. The SBOE doesn’t just manage public school curricula and textbook adoption but also oversees investment of the Permanent School Fund (which subsidizes Texas public education), approves the creation of charter schools and adopts standards for the operation of adult education programs.

County CommissionerDon’t be fooled by the name, the Commissioners Court is strictly executive and administrative—not judicial. Here’s a few of the responsibilities of the five-member body: sets the tax rate, adopts the County budget, establishes voting precincts, appoints precinct judges, calls County bond elections, builds and maintains County roads and bridges, approves speed and stop zones in unincorporated areas and builds, maintains and improves County facilities, including jails.

Bexar County JudgeAside from presiding over the Commissioners Court and overseeing all County government departments, the judge OKs beer licenses and mixed drink license waivers, signs delayed certificates of birth and may perform wedding ceremonies.

District ClerkCourt clerks maintain records for court hearings, and the District Clerk does so for County civil, criminal, juvenile and family court cases.

Precinct ChairA sort of local voting captain, he/she helps with voter registration, get out the vote efforts and promotes the Party.

Sources: The Handbook of Texas Online published by the Texas State Historical Association, The Texas Politics Project, bexar.org, gov.bexar.org, votetexas.gov.