For 2020 State Elections, Keep an Eye on These Primaries

As Texans prepare for election season this year, they will be doing so in the wake of more competitive seats than is usual for the state. 

The 2018 elections saw a shift in Texas’ partisan political landscape, and Democratic candidates are hoping they’ll see the same momentum in 2020. Meanwhile, Republicans in vulnerable districts hope to keep their seats and control of the Texas House of Representatives.

The upcoming March primary elections will pave the way for showdowns between candidates in the general election in November. 

The following are the state House primary races with close odds:

Freshman Democrats in Flipped Seats

Freshman representatives Erin Zweiner (D- Driftwood) and Vikki Goodwin (D- Austin) narrowly won their seats in the Texas House. Prior to 2018, both of their seats were held by Republican representatives and flipped with the Democratic wave brought on by an unusually competitive senate race.

In 2020, Republicans are anticipating a hard fought election to reclaim the seats they lost in 2018, which makes for competitive Republican primaries in House Districts 45 and 47, held by Zweiner and Goodwin respectively.

In House District 45, three Republican candidates are facing off for a shot to take back the district that, prior to Zweiner, remained firmly Republican in the previous eight years. 

Two candidates, Carrie Isaac and Kent Wymore, are relatively evenly matched in the Republican primary. Their total financial donations and funds maintained mirror each other, making a runoff all but inevitable.

In House District 47, five candidates are vying for the Republican nomination. Looking to defeat freshman Rep. Vikki Goodwin: Donald Zimmerman, Justin Berry, Jennifer Fleck, Jenny Forgey, and Aaron Reitz. 

With the sheer number of Republican candidates crowding the race, a candidate receiving over 50 percent of the vote is a near impossibility. However, based on financial donations, these two candidates are likely to make it to the runoff: Don Zimmerman-former City Councilmember, and attorney Jenny Forgey.

Open Seats

Recent retirements in the Texas House have opened up a series of seats where a winning candidate could come from either political party. Two of the most competitive races among retiring candidates are from Reps. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) and Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land) who both decided against running for re-election amid scandal.

With these seats open, the party primaries for Districts 25 and 26 include a number of candidates looking to fill the empty seats.

In House District 25, five Republican candidates are vying for the Republican nomination previously guaranteed to Rep. Bonnen. Republican candidates looking to fill the seat: Brazoria County Tax Assessor-Collector Ro’Vin Garrett, nurse Rhonda Seth, former Brazosport ISD Trustee Troy Brimage, Angleton City Council member Cody Vasut and Bay City Chamber of Commerce President Mitch Thames. 

With the district expected to remain Republican, just one Democrat, Former Angelton Mayor and retired teacher Patrick Henry, is running. Before the general election has even begun, it will be a grueling race to the finish for the five Republican candidates in the primary.

With Republican Rep. Rick Miller announcing his retirement from the 26th House District, four Democratic hopefuls plan to take control of the seat. Included in the Democratic primary: consultant Rish Oberoi, State Board of Education Member Lawrence Allen, perennial candidate L. Sarah DeMerchant and physician Suleman Lalani. All are running in the hopes of an opportunity to flip the seat.

Incumbents

In addition to competitive open seats, there are some intra-party challenges to seated incumbents.

In Texas’ House Districts 142 and 59, seated Representatives Harold V. Dutton (D- Houston) and J.D. Sheffield (R- Gatesville) are both being largely outspent by challengers in their own party. While money in campaigns is necessary to be competitive, it does not guarantee success. However, for incumbent Reps. Dutton and Sheffield, it could mean uphill battles with their respective opponents.

Incumbent Rep. Harold V. Dutton will face one of his most challenging primaries in years as he runs against Houston City Councilmember, Jerry Davis. Davis, who raised nearly $140,000 since announcing his candidacy in early December, raised just under $113,000 more than incumbent Rep. Dutton.

In state House District 59, Rep. J.D. Scheffield will not claim victory easily. Local businessman  Cody Johnson is proving to be a challenger with deep pockets, having put upwards of $115,000 of his own funds into the race and spending over twice the amount of Rep. Sheffield.

Vulnerable

After narrow victories in their previous elections, Reps. Matt Shaheen (R- Plano) and Jeff Leach (R- Plano) are facing strong competition in the primaries of their opposing parties.

In 2018, Matt Shaheen won the Texas 66 House District with less than two percent of the vote. Two Democratic candidates have joined the race with intentions of flipping the seat in the general election. 

Previous Democratic candidate Sharon Hirsch has outraised neurologist Aimee Garza Lopez by $35,000 to $14,000. However, Lopez has loaned her campaign $116,000, giving her the greater monetary advantage in the race compared to Hirsch’s $41,000.

Similarly, Rep. Leach’s House District 67 is seeing a crowded Democratic primary race. After Rep. Leach won the seat with just over two percent of the vote, four Democratic candidates have come forward in an attempt to win the seat. 

The race is now between Tom Adair, Rocio Gosewehr, Anthony Lo, and Lorenzo Sanchez, all hoping to flip the House seat following a win in the Democratic primaries.

Much of the election will come down to the upcoming March 3 primaries. Only then will the political battlefield be clear, and the real competition will begin.

Where Does Texas Stand on Gun Locks After Recent Mass Shootings?

By Isobella Harkrider

At first glance, Project Childsafe kits could be mistaken for a bike lock with a cable cord. But there’s an important distinction between the two: these kits are “intended to discourage unauthorized access to a firearm, particularly by young children.”

The cable cord in this case loops through the empty cylinder chamber of a firearm, which prevents the chamber from being loaded with bullets. Each gun lock comes with a set of instructions that describe how to use the gun lock depending on the firearm (pistols, revolvers, shotguns and rifles).

Though these safety kits have been distributed since 2003, the initiative for gun education and safety in Texas has picked up following several highly publicized mass shooting events in recent years. As Reform Austin shared earlier this month, “Despite making up only 8.77 percent of the United States population, Texans made up 12.13 percent of all mass shooting victims killed or injured in 2019.”

The Santa Fe High School shooting in 2018, which resulted in 10 killed and 13 injured, was carried out by a teenager using his father’s guns. 

Gov. Greg Abbott responded to the tragedy by hosting three roundtable discussions, where he met with administrators, superintendents, advocates and law enforcement officials, along with families of the victims to discuss potential legislative changes to safety of Texas schools, including metal detectors outside schools and stronger mental health services. 

These roundtables produced a firearm safety plan that included “promot[ing] voluntary use of gun locks,” and subsequently, improving gun storage laws became one of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s main recommendations. 

Gov. Abbott announced a $1 million dollar grant to provide gun locks to Texans for free, and one year later they became available to the public.  

Who is eligible for the gun locks? 

Gov. Abbott chose the National Shooting Sports Foundation to distribute the gun locks through its Project ChildSafe firearm safety education program.

Bill Brassard, the Senior Director of Communications at the National Shooting Sports Foundation told Reform Austin, “…the Project ChildSafe program provides free gun locks and a safety brochure to law enforcement agencies throughout Texas to be distributed to gun owners. We encourage Texas agencies to take full advantage of this gun safety program by requesting the locks at www.projectchlidsafe.org.”

Texas residents requesting gun locks should be able to do so through local law enforcement agencies and firearms safety advocacy groups, though a recent incident suggests gatekeeping might determine which groups or individuals receive the locks based on perceived political agendas.

What can gun locks prevent and how do they help?

Despite political differences that can sometimes shape gun safety policy in the state, the use of gun locks and safe storage is largely a bipartisan issue for Texas legislators.

Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), states on her website that during the 86th session she was pleased the legislature included her budget rider directing the Dept. of Public Safety (DPS) to spend $1 million to implement a safe storage public safety awareness campaign, stating, “With a significant number of Texas children accessing unstored firearms and causing harm to themselves or others, as well as the frequent use of unsecured firearms in suicides, we need to do what we can to encourage responsible ownership.”

Leesa Ross lost her college-aged son tragically to a handgun accident and is a board member of Texas Gun Sense, an apolitical organization devoted to gun safety for Texans of all ages. When asked about the difference a gun lock can make, considering families may also own a firearm safe, Ross told Reform Austin, “I lost my college-age son to a gun tragedy. Without a doubt, his death could have been prevented had there been a gun lock on the firearm. Something as simple as a cable gun lock would have saved his life.”

Ross has turned her grief into awareness about safe firearm storage. She told Reform Austin, “Ten years later, I educate parents, students, and young adults about the practices of gun safety. Gun locks are a big part of my Lock Arms for Life training program. I hand locks out at every event I do. A parent is primarily concerned about the safety of their kids, and that starts the moment they are born. 

Ross likens gun locks to “electrical plug covers [that] keep children safe from unintentional injuries and death” and “make our homes safer.”

Among Texas children and youth, in 2019 there were 22 shootings involving children under 18 years old using an unsecured firearm. The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence states that from 2013 to 2017, 3,137 people under age 25 were killed with a gun in Texas
Everytown for Gun Safety (EverytownResearch.org) states, “In Texas, an average of 261 children and teens die by guns every year, and 54 percent of these deaths are homicide. In the US, 58 percent of all gun deaths among children and teens are homicides.”

The 10 Most Vulnerable Democrat-Held House Districts Are Shaping Up to Be Expensive Races

Last September, Reform Austin reported on the top 10 most vulnerable Democrat-held districts in the Texas House. Now, with the final ballots set for the different House District elections and new campaign finance reports numbers, these races are shaping up to be expensive in 2020.

Rep. Gina Calanni (D-Katy) HD-132

Gina Calanni had the smallest margin of victory in 2018 of any member of the Texas Legislature. As a result, she’s comfortably leading the fundraising pack with $82,000, outraising her two opponents. Calanni has spent $25,000 and has maintained $71,000. 

In the two-way Republican primary, newcomer business owner Angelica Garcia and former State Rep. Michael Schofield were neck and neck in fundraising. Garcia raised $28,000 and Schofield raised $27,000 in the latter half of 2019. However, Schofield maintains the cash advantage over Garcia because of leftover money from prior cycles, $152,000 to $21,000.

Rep. Michelle Beckley (D-Carrollton) HD-65

Incumbent freshman State Rep. Michelle Beckley outraised her two GOP opponents and one primary challenger with $64,000. However, because of heavy spending to the tune of $47,000, Beckley loses the cash advantage to the top Republican fundraiser in the race, Lewisville ISD Trustee Kronda Thimesch. Beckley maintained $42,000 as compared to Thimesch who maintains $54,000 after raising $58,000.

The other Republican opponent, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD school board president Nancy Cline, raised $4,000, spent $18,000 and maintained $1,000 after loaning her campaign $17,000.

Beckley’s primary challenger Paige Jeanie Dixon raised $9,000, spent $9,000 and has $300 in her campaign account heading into 2020.

Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston) HD-135

In the last six months of 2019, freshman lawmaker Jon Rosenthal outraised his sole GOP opponent, former Jersey Village Mayor Justin Ray, but lost the cash advantage by about $5,000. 

Rosenthal raised $71,000, spent $42,000 and maintained $41,000, whereas Ray raised $53,000, spent $24,000 and maintains $47,000.

Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) HD-45

Hays County freshman lawmaker Erin Zwiener outraised her three GOP opponents as well as her primary challenger with $109,000 by the end of 2019. However, she lost the cash advantage heading into 2020, ending the year with $75,000.

In the three-way Republican primary for House District 45, the fundraising leaders are attorney Kent “Bud” Wymore and nonprofit leader Carrie Isaac who raised $57,000 and $52,000 in the last fundraising period, respectively. Isaac has the most cash-on-hand with $109,000 as compared to Wymore who has $80,000. The third GOP candidate, Austin Talley, raised under $1,000, spent $9,000 and has maintained $1,000 by the end of 2019.

The other Democrat in the race, bookkeeper Liliana Posada, reported no money raised, spent or maintained. 

Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) HD-52

The youngest member of the Texas House, State Rep. James Talarico outraised his GOP opponent, former Hutto Citycouncilman Lucio Valdez, 10 times over. Talarico raised $81,000, spent $41,000, and maintained $69,000 by the end of 2019. Valdez, meanwhile, raised $7,000, spent $5,000 and has $3,600 in cash-on-hand. 

Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin) HD-47

Freshman State Rep. Vikki Goodwin outraised her five GOP opponents with a $120,000 fundraising haul. She maintains the cash advantage with $106,000.

In the five-way Republican primary for House District 47, Jenny Forgey led in fundraising with $78,000 heading into 2020. She spent $43,000 and maintained $56,000. Coming second in fundraising is former Austin City Councilman Donald Zimmerman who raised $41,000. He also spent $18,000 and maintained $52,000.

General Counsel Jennifer Fleck raised $20,000, spent $27,000 and has maintained $22,000, which includes a $20,000 loan to her campaign.

Justin Berry raised $17,000, spent $28,000 and maintained $9,000. Former Texas Public Policy Foundation employee Aaron Reitz raised $16,000, spent $27,000 and has maintained $20,000.

Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos (D-Richardson) HD-102

State Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos is one of only two incumbent Democrats who flipped Republican House Districts in 2018 that was outraised in this last campaign finance period by their GOP opponent. Former State Rep. Linda Koop raised $91,000, spent $32,000 and maintained $68,000. Meanwhile, freshman legislator Ramos raised $51,000, spent $35,000 and maintained $35,000. 

The second GOP candidate, Ricky Walker, raised $4,000, spent $2,000 and maintained $1,000.

Rep. John Bucy III (D-Austin) HD-136

Freshman State Rep. John Bucy substantively outraised his GOP opponent with a fundraising haul of $102,000. He also spent $37,000 and maintained $85,000.

Meanwhile, the Republican candidate for House District 136, Michael Guevara, raised $10,000, spent $9,000, and has maintained $1,000.

Rep. John Turner (D-Dallas) HD-114

Rep. John Turner not only outraised his GOP opponent, but also outraised all the incumbents in the top 10 vulnerable Democrat-held House districts. Turner raised $251,000 and spent $66,000, which left his campaign account with $388,000.

Business owner and Republican challenger Luisa del Rosal raised $192,000, spent $44,000 and has maintained $284,000.

Rep. Rhetta Bowers (D-Garland) HD-113

State Rep. Rhetta Bowers is the other incumbent Democrat who flipped Republican House Districts in 2018 that was outraised in this last campaign finance period by their GOP opponent. Bowers raised $39,000 and maintained $39,000 after spending nothing. 

Pharmacist and Republican Will Douglas made a strong showing in fundraising with a haul of $104,000. He also spent $7,000 and maintained $73,000.

The Texas Ethics Commission did not have a report from the other Republican candidate, Judge Bill Metzger.

Click here to check out the top 10 vulnerable Republican-held house districts.