Flipping a state blue significantly improves peoples’ lives. Turning Texas blue has long been a brass ring for progressives, and as we get closer, Republicans are starting to fight back. Such was the case in the special election in HD-28, where Democrats had a great candidate and lots of energy but were overwhelmed by the Republican’s money (newly elected Rep. Gary Gates self-funded over $1 million) and every statewide elected official’s help.
We can’t be discouraged. There’s too much at stake — and some important math. There are 15 seats that were decided by closer margins than HD-28 in 2018, and Democrats only need to take 9 of them. Plus, they have an awesome candidate in HD-138, a suburban Houston district that was decided by just 47 votes in 2018.
Normally, a candidate who loses by just 47 votes decides to run again, especially after the incumbent announces they’re retiring. But in this case, 2018’s Democrat decided to step aside and back Akilah Bacy, a tireless legal warrior for the community and one of the most compelling candidates I’ve interviewed here at Progressives Everywhere.
When I called Akilah last Sunday, it was 7pm and very dark outside, but she was just wrapping up a weekend of door-to-door canvassing in her western Houston community. I was drained from a weekend of hanging with friends; she was bubbling with energy after two days spent walking and talking with voters.
“While I’m a new candidate, I’m not new to the community,” Bacy told me. “I grew up around the area and I’ve always been involved, working in the legal field first as a prosecutor and then doing defense work and then employment discrimination work. I always believe that you grow where you’re planted.”
Bacy went to Spelman College in Atlanta for undergrad, then came back to Texas, receiving her law degree from Texas Tech. She says she knew that she wanted her career to be focused on helping the community, which led her to first take a job as an assistant district attorney in Harris County. Bacy figured that she could work to keep her community safe and make a concerted effort to change the justice system from the inside.
What she discovered was a disheartening justice system that was a discredit to its name — “a lot of times, the punishment wasn’t assessed based on the facts but whichever way the political wind was going” — and a career path that she could not in good faith pursue long-term. “I was not that type of person,” she says. “I have to be able to do stuff that I can sleep with at night.”
It was a troubling experience, but also an instructive one. While politics plagued the DA’s office, there were more fundamental societal issues at the core of the unjust dysfunction. She spent three years at the DA’s office, fulfilling her contract even as she butted heads with colleagues and supervisors.
“My counterparts they call me Brass Balls Bacy,” she says, laughing. “I don’t know if you can publish that [note: I can!], but they say that because they say I’m just really not scared to stand up for what’s right.”
After her time with the DA, she went down a far less certain path, switching to defense work, which was much more rewarding, if also heartbreaking.
“You really hear the stories behind these cases and you meet the people and they become so much more than numbers and you see what got them here,” Bacy says. “And what I realized was there was honestly just a lack of opportunity, whether it be employment opportunities, whether it be educational opportunities, the overall environment, it really boiled down to that, always.”
With a tireless focus on improving the lives of working people and vulnerable community members, Bacy then transitioned over to employment law, specializing in discrimination and unjust termination. And again, she discovered a pernicious, seemingly intractable set of obstacles stacked up against her clients that turned any hope of attaining justice a truly uphill battle. “You can have a clear cause of action, but unless you have an extra $25,000 sitting around somewhere, there’s no way you can even begin to litigate these types of cases,” she says.
So that brought her to government and the need for regulations. The laws, she realized, need to enforced through state mechanisms; otherwise, they effectively permitted offenders to get away with it unless victims somehow find the money to hire a lawyer. Bacy has done plenty of pro-bono work, including representing young immigrants being hassled by ICE and teaching legal rights courses, but knows the long-term fix has to come out of Austin.
Her sense of social justice extends to other policies, especially when it comes to opportunity. Bacy is focused on education (she’s a volunteer ESL teacher) and expanding Medicaid to nearly five million Texans who would qualify, as well as working to protect the Houston area from another environmental catastrophe. She faces a primary in early March but is the most endorsed and popular candidate, with organized labor and local Democratic clubs behind her.
As we’ve seen, every dollar makes a difference in these increasingly expensive races, and given the paper-thin margin on this election last time around, it’s a prime flip opportunity worth supporting.