Municipal candidates react to election delay due to COVID-19

Candidates for the Denton city council

Article Originally Published by Will Tarpley on North Texas Daily

Candidates for the Denton city council suddenly have more time to campaign, as the council voted on March 20 to postpone the May 2 elections in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The North Texas Daily asked multiple candidates about the delay. Gerard Hudspeth, district 1 councilperson and mayoral candidate, At Large Place 5 councilperson Deb Armintor, Place 5 candidate Rick Baria, At Large Place 6 councilperson Paul Meltzer, Place 6 candidate Liam York, District 2 candidate John Hohman and District 2 candidate Daniel Clanton responded to our questions.

With elections postponed to the fall, what you will you do with this time?

Hudspeth: The delay is due to COVID-19 … and people are really suffering in our area, particularly from the … economic consequences. I am working to do what I can to help people through this crisis. During this time, my number one job is to help other people make it through this, both in my official capacity on the council and personally.

Armintor: I will be using this time to continue to do my job of representing the public on city council, which now includes fighting coronavirus and ensuring that our essential workers are giving all the protections they need to do their job.

I have been fighting on both fronts, but it has been a losing battle, and the wins have been far too little and too late. It’s a 24/7 job, in addition to my work of being a professor, and my role as a parent and family member. I love my job on council, but I believe in term limits, and regret that the absence of a universal mail-in ballot option has extended term limits. It would be far worse, however, to deny so many voters access and create unnecessary barriers for tens of thousands of city voters.

Baria: I have several home repairs in mind — new shingles for my roof, some landscaping and painting.

Meltzer: I’m really focused right now on two things — getting useful information out to Denton residents that will help them weather the emergency and doing what I can personally to assist getting food out to people who are shut in or don’t have resources.

There will be time enough for campaigning. Mostly I see people distressed about job and income loss and rent. They need to know to apply for unemployment as soon as possible, even if they were doing self-employed, gig-type work. The new [stimulus] package is designed to bring average working people basically up to their accustomed income level for several months. If they could cover rent before, they’ll be able to cover rent for some time with this assistance while scoping out next steps.

York: Well, with the extra time I will essentially have been planning this campaign for over a year and a half at that point. I’d say I’m upset it had to be like this but I like the idea of having local elections on Election Day in general.

Hohman: I’m keeping in close communication with all my family and helping and organizing my neighbors with Aid Network Denton along with a regenerative fleet farming project.

Clanton: I will continue to work to get my name out into the public. Without the ability to talk face-to-face, I am working on a set of videos about issues and concerns, so people can get to know me better.

How do you feel about the delay?

Hudspeth: Compared to what is happening to families, businesses, and individuals, the impact on the election is consequential.

Armintor: My feelings are very mixed. Given the unfortunate absence of an assured mail-in ballot option for everyone (currently, mail-in ballots are only an option for seniors, people with disabilities and people planning to be out of town on election day), it would obviously be irresponsible from both a public health perspective and a democracy perspective to hold the elections in May when people cannot safely gather in public.

If we had a universal mail-in ballot option for May, that wouldn’t be a problem. But right now it appears that we have a majority on city council who does not even want to try for that. without a mail-in ballot for May, November 3 is the best option. I suppose I am relieved that we are not making people vote in May.

Baria: I think of it as similar to the recent construction on the roads. You take the detour and stay out — your presence is not helpful or welcome during the repairs.

Meltzer: It was simply the right thing to do in the absence of a safe way for voters to participate. I was certainly geared up and ready to engage. We’ve made many strides on homelessness, green space protection [and] gas well setbacks.

Many Denton residents who care about voting their values don’t realize how much influence they can have at the local level, and how the progress that has been made could easily be erased in one election. But there will be time for all of that later.

York: It seems either silly or shady to have them be at the end of spring when people aren’t as focused on campaigns.

Hohman: It was sad, yet the delay only made sense — nobody wants to put anyone at risk. I had, and must still have, hopes for a mail-in process.

Clanton: It would have been nice to have the election in May. The first concern has to be for the public’s safety.

How will campaign operations be affected?

Hudspeth: I enjoy campaigning and putting my views of lower taxes, more effective government for the taxes we pay and allowing individuals and businesses owners to achieve their life dreams. But now is not the time.

Now is the time to join together to get through this crisis. In particular, I want to protect the most vulnerable, like our senior citizens. When the crisis is past, the whole world will be changed, including our elections, but no candidate should be worrying about what those changes might be at a time like this.

Armintor: My campaign operations are suspended for now until I know when the election will actually be.

Baria: I will contact supporters from time to time so they don’t forget me.

Meltzer: Mostly we have to do the same things we would have been doing otherwise, getting our message out about working to keep making Denton better, not just bigger — getting in front of the public as much as possible.

If we wind up having the elections at the same time as the general elections for president and so on, which is the currently approved date, we’re going to have to reach a much bigger electorate which just makes those tactics with broader reach more important. Of course the main thing that will be different will be if we’re still social distancing at that point. That’s a different world when you think about knocking on doors, meeting in homes, public forums and so on.

York: In the meantime I’m going to be doing livestreams where I can address some concerns I have and hopefully be able to take questions from locals and post those videos on my YouTube and Facebook. Also going to be making more videos in general with all this extra time. My campaign can only benefit from the extra time allotted. I’ve spent a lot of this time personally reading about our biggest economic breakdowns, trying to see how this one will scale.

Hohman: The campaign has mostly been put on hold but I’m using the time to study and orient myself further towards solutions.

Clanton: The campaign operations have not been affected.

What words do you have for Denton residents?

Hudspeth: We are all in this together. Never in the history of humanity have all humans faced the same threat at the same time. When I have spoken to older folks about what they went through in the Great Depression and in World War II, I am so proud of how they persevered during their crises. And they did it to give us what we have today.

Some immigrant Americans now living in Denton came to the U.S. after fleeing tyrants and natural catastrophes in their nation of birth. I hope the leaders and individuals of this next generation match the hard work and grace our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents showed when they faced their challenges.

We have so much inspiration to take from these people in our own community. This is just one reason it is so important to save them from this virus. I encourage everyone not to think only of yourself. Shame on us all if we do not do everything in our power to save our fellow citizens.

Armintor:  My words to Denton residents are to please write to city council and the governor to say that the August election date that Denton Mayor Watts, and councilmembers Hudspeth, Davis and Ryan are asking the governor permission for would deny tens of thousands of underrepresented Denton voters equal access, and that only a November 3 election date is acceptable to you.

Tell them (us) that you are demanding mail-in ballots for all voters too, because it is quite likely that the threat of coronavirus will still be here in November and that it will still be safer for people to stay at home. At the very least, we need to be proactively prepared for it.

Baria: Take appropriate physical precautions, certainly, but practice emotional caution as well. Stay in touch with friends, discuss your or their frustrations with calmness, and, the most difficult, accept the idea that struggle and self-reflection can make us stronger and more astute.

Finally, be aware of groupthink, whatever group you’ve been a part of.  Whether you get your news from the White House or MSNBC, check on what they say with several sources that are not habitual to you. Truth is hard to find, and if it comes pre-packaged with fear, you’re being sold.  Throw it out. Your mind ought to be your own.

Meltzer: We’ll get through this together. There are resources for you. So stay calm, sign up, find ways to stay connected to other people, get exercise and let’s slow the spread. And please leave some toilet paper for the next person.

York: This is already looking like it could compare with the Great Depression if not blow it out of the water. There’s more time for people to realize our city government had no foresight and continued to believe Denton was impenetrable, spending tax money on petty things like art projects and events. It’s clear the status quo isn’t working … We need foresight in government to address issues before they happen like, what if there’s a solar flare and our flimsy power grid is knocked out? Or what if a whole job sector gets laid off? Or what will we do if there’s a major economic depression?

Also we need to promote better job diversity in our city. Around 40 percent of our economy’s jobs lay in just three industries: education and health services, retail, and food services. If we think of job diversity like legs on a table, knocking out a couple when there’s 100 strong legs may make the table wobble, but if you knock out 40 percent or more of the legs that table might fall over. Denton isn’t going to wobble and it’s sad to see our taxes squandered like that. I think it’s time for change here and time for a shift into long term investments and politicians that actually know how to make an economy work. As an economist, I think I’d do our city proud.

Hohman: Keep you eye on the prize and never let a crisis go to waste, in a good way! It becomes more clear ever day how crucial community and local resiliency are. My dad taught me to do my best and that’s all we can do.

Clanton: As for the crisis we are in now. I would say to listen to your community leaders and health officials. Keep your self and your family safe. I know people keep saying this, but I will say it again. We are in this together. As for the election. the next council will have a lot of work to do.

Besides the number of concerns already facing our community, there will need to be new policies and some will need to be revamped. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

Courtesy Facebook, City of Denton, Daniel Clanton and Jon Hohman

Source: North Texas Daily