Linda Chavez-Thompson

The biggest challenge for the next lieutenant governor, the second-highest ranking official in the state, could be how to plug the state’s ever-growing budget deficit. The latest estimates place the deficit as high as $25 billion.

The current lieutenant governor, two-term Republican incumbent David Dewhurst faces an underdog challenge from Democrat Linda Chavez-Thompson.

“Dewhurst is clearly in the lead because of a number of different factors,” said Sherri Greenberg, a lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and former state legislator. “He has the power of incumbency and is a Republican in a red state in a year that is really good for Republicans.”

As president of the Texas Senate, the lieutenant governor appoints legislators to committees and casts, deciding votes on legislation in case of a tie.

Dewhurst leads Chavez-Thompson 51 to 38 percent in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. Libertarian candidate Scott Jameson took 9 percent.

UT government lecturer James Henson, a co-director of the poll, said the race fit a general pattern of statewide contests, where Republican candidates hold serious advantages of incumbency, fundraising and expected party turnout.

“Dewhurst is a very well-funded candidate, with a lot of personal money to put into his campaign,” Henson said. “Chavez-Thompson has been unsuccessful at raising the necessary amount of funds for her campaign, partly because she has had little help from the state Democratic Party.”

In the latest 30-day campaign finance reports, Dewhurst outspent Chavez $3.39 million to $184,000, according to data from the Texas Tribune.

Chavez-Thompson wants to use every dollar of the state’s $8.2 million Rainy Day Fund to plug the budget hole, but Dewhurst would use only half the rainy day fund to fill the gap.

State lawmakers will also take up the redistricting process in 2011, and several conservative lawmakers have promised to introduce stricter immigration laws modeled on Arizona’s controversial SB 1070.

Dewhurst was one of the biggest supporters of a bill in the 81st legislative session that would have required Texans to show either one photo ID such as a driver’s license along with their voting card or two non-photo IDs such as a birth certificate when they vote in state elections. Chavez-Thompson said voter fraud is not a serious issue in the state.

“I think we should be making it as easy as possible for citizens of this great state to be free to vote and not have any obstacle placed before them,” Chavez-Thompson said.

As executive vice-president of the AFL-CIO, Chavez-Thompson has advocated for pro-labor issues. She is also a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and served as a member of a presidential advisory commission on race relations. Prior to being elected lieutenant governor, Dewhurst was commissioner of the Texas General Land Office.

Dewhurst established a program called the Texas Back to Work Initiative earlier this year, which he said has helped create thousands of jobs in the state.

“We were the last ones into this recession, and I want to make sure we are the first ones out,” Dewhurst said.

But Chavez-Thompson said she is skeptical of Republican leaders’ claims about the state’s economic health. She said that according to recent reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas has the highest share of minimum-wage workers in the nation, and needs to focus on creating higher-paying jobs in science, technology, engineering and math.

Several hundred gather to remember community leader’s accomplishments

In memory of Emma Barrientos, the wife of a retired state senator, the Travis County Democratic Party and the Austin Tejano Democrats sponsored an early voting rally Tuesday at Zaragosa Park in East Austin.

The rally included not only dedications to Barrientos, but also a Democratic candidate at the top of the ticket this election cycle, Bill White, and Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor Linda Chavez-Thompson.

Several state officials made appearances, including Emma Barrientos’ husband, former state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh and the Democratic candidate for land commissioner, Hector Uribe. A local band, The Mexican Revolution, also performed at the rally in front of several hundred supporters.

“If there’s ever a state that needs new leadership, it’s Texas,” Shapleigh said. “We’re here to celebrate the life of a great, great woman who would have wanted us to celebrate our lives.”

Barrientos actively participated in community politics and was among the first Texans to advocate for the establishment of the Mexican American Culture Center in the city, which was named after her. She also served on the founding board of the Mexic-Arte Museum, a museum that focuses on Latino contributions in Texas and as board president of the Austin Museum of Art.

She contributed to countless political campaigns, and fought, along with her husband, to ensure the recognition of Latinos in Austin’s history.

“Austin is a special place,” Barrientos said at the event. “We have not finished the race, but we all have to do our part. We have to work, produce [and] make money to provide for our children.”

Bill White and Chavez-Thompson made speeches urging the city’s Hispanic community to vote. The Democratic candidates stressed the importance of the minority vote in the upcoming election.

“We want our kids to have a better future, those are the dreams of Texans,” White said. “We need to prepare the next generation better. You can affect change, but it takes hard work. It starts during a special time called election, when you have the opportunity to take part in history.”

Republican Gov. Rick Perry has left the state in worse condition than when he took office in 2000, White said.

“One million people are unemployed, twice as high as it was before Rick Perry was elected,” he said. “He’s content to lag behind the other states in high-wage jobs. He’s selling state government to the highest bidder. Insurance rates are $600 more per household than the average of other states, and Texans are being priced out of earning a home.”

State reps. Dawnna Dukes and Eddie Rodriguez, who both represent parts of Austin, were among other political officials present at the rally.

“We’re going to show Rick Perry what East Austin can do,” Rodriguez said. “The future of this state is at stake.”

Early voting ends Oct. 29, and Election Day is Nov. 2.