By George Boehme
Bellaire and West University Place were once bastions of reliably Republican voters, but no more. Blend the red of that Republican heritage with the growing blue influence of Harris County’s strong Democratic leanings, and the two cities’ combined 10 precincts have developed a decidedly purple hue. In fact, voters of both cities can now be most accurately be described as political cross-dressers.
This move isn’t completely surprising. In the 2016 presidential race, a Democrat (Hillary Clinton) received a victory in both cities for the first time since 1964, albeit a single-digit one. This time around President-Elect Joe Biden extended the margin by distancing President Donald Trump 57-43 percent in West University Place and 59-41 percent in Bellaire.
In the 2016 midterm elections, moderate Democrat Lizzie Fletcher was elected to represent Bellaire and West U in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first from her party to go to Washington from this district since 1967. The national Republican party targeted the seat this year as flippable and recruited an impressive candidate in Wesley Hunt, a St. John’s School and West Point graduate and former military combat pilot. But that was not enough to overcome Fletcher, who took West U 51-49 percent and Bellaire by 54-46 percent.
While that effort failed, a similar move by national and state Democrats to take control of the legislature saw success in District 134, which includes Bellaire and West U. Moderate Republican Sarah Davis had represented the district since 2010 and fell to Democratic attorney Ann Johnson. It was a messy brawl of a race that may have set a record for campaign spending for a seat that pays $7,200 a year.
Had it been up to West U and Bellaire voters, though, Davis would be headed back to Austin. She outpaced Johnson 52-48 percent in Bellaire and 55-44 percent in West U. (The overall effort for Democrats to flip the statehouse failed, though.)
The two cities split on their choice for the U.S. Senate. Republican incumbent John Cornyn won West U 51-49 percent, while Democratic challenger M.J. Hegar outpaced the incumbent senator 52-48 percent in Bellaire.
Former Bellaire City Councilmember Will Hickman tossed his hat back in the electoral ring, this time winning a seat on the State Board of Education. There was another split in the cities in this race. The Republican Hickman topped Democratic candidate Michelle Palmer in West U 52-48 percent, but the votes flipped in Hickman’s old stomping grounds of Bellaire, where Palmer bested Hickman 52-48 percent.
Steve Radack decided to hang up his spurs after 32 years as this area’s Harris County Commissioner. His handpicked successor, Republican Tom Ramsey, the mayor of Spring Valley, was elected to the powerful county board over Democrat Michael Moore. He won both West U and Bellaire — a 53-47 percent margin in West University Place and 51-49 percent edge in Bellaire.
One final note: Voter turnout reflected the high stakes of the races. In West U, 9,813 of 11,426 registered voters — 86 percent — cast their ballots, while 11,397 out of 13,695 registered in Bellaire voted, an 83 percent turnout.
Featured in Bellaire-West University Essentials magazine, December 2020