Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
Texas Republicans are increasing their involvement in local races, hoping to do more to influence municipal and school board elections that have turned into political battlegrounds during the coronavirus pandemic.
The state Republican Party announced Monday it had formed a new Local Government Committee to work with county parties on backing candidates in nonpartisan local elections, where issues like mask mandates and the teaching of what some conservatives call critical race theory have become flashpoints.
"That's really been the match that totally" ignited this, said Rolando Garcia, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee who chairs the new group. "School board races have always been important, but it's been hard to get the attention and resources to them, and so they've been sleepy affairs."
The state GOP is emboldened by recent wins in places like Carroll Independent School District, where opponents of a district proposal to address racism in schools captured a majority on the school board last month. Republicans are also looking to build on victories like that of Javier Villalobos, a Republican who won his election earlier this year as the mayor of McAllen, which traditionally votes for Democrats.
"Democrats across the country see the importance of local elections in the fight for America, and so does the Texas GOP," Matt Rinaldi, chair of the Texas GOP, said in a statement.
The state Democratic Party has been supporting local nonpartisan candidates through a program, Project LIFT, that started in 2015. The program, which stands for Local Investment in the Future of Texas, recruits, trains and provides resources to people running for municipal offices and school board.
"We've got to take an aggressive approach in these races," said Odus Evbagharu, chair of the Harris County Democratic Party. "Our democracy's on the line, and it starts at our most local level."