Politics can be complicated, issues can be nuanced, and choices in elections can be unclear… but none of those things are true about this uber-close Texas House race between incumbent Republican Matt Shaheen and his Democratic challenger Sharon Hirsch.
He: A devout member of the fringe-right Republican Freedom Caucus who takes gobs of corporate special interest money, posts endless “Blue Lives Matter” memes, trolls the libs on Facebook, votes against public schools and special needs children, and once said “I will die on this issue politically” about passing a grossly bigoted anti-LGBTQ bathroom bill.
She: A long-time Democratic Party activist and Executive Committee member and public school employee who relies on small-dollar donations, is focused on funding schools and expanding healthcare access, and lost to Shaheen by an excruciatingly small 391 vote margin in 2018.
The two candidates for State House District 66 are a microcosm of the kind of politicians who have dominated Texas for 25+ years and the new wave of activists and lawmakers who are entirely remaking the state’s political culture. Democrats are now just nine seats from flipping the State House and Hirsch can claim a fair amount of credit for this ongoing transformation — she’s been involved in both the Plano and state Democratic Party since 2007 and co-founded an organization called Women Organizing Women Democrats. For a while, it was an uphill struggle — then Trump came along and changed everything.
To illustrate the contrast, Hirsch notes that before late 2016, the volunteer intake system was “a process of sticky notes and notes that said, ‘Call John at this number’ and ‘Called Mary at this number’ and it was a mess,” Hirsch tells Progressives Everywhere. “And then Trump won and it was the most remarkable thing that ever happened. All of a sudden, it was standing room only in the office and people just coming in droves wanting to do something. Some ran for office, some became super-volunteers who knocked on thousands of doors. There was a rallying cry.”
Hirsch decided to run again almost immediately after her razor-thin loss in 2018, knowing that momentum was on her and Democrats’ side. Texas’s GOP leadership didn’t really get the hint, introducing divisive (and crappy) legislation like the anti-abortion “heartbeat” bill and still refusing to expand Medicaid in the state with the highest uninsured rate in the country. There was plenty on the line by this March’s primary election — Hirsch easily won the Democratic nomination — and then COVID-19 happened, which pushed seemingly everything else off the table.
Not that you’d know it from the way Shaheen or other Texas Republicans have been acting. Shaheen has actually been worse than Gov. Greg Abbott — he signed a letter asking that the state to reopen almost as soon as it shut down; fought in June to end the state’s attempt at contact tracing; and then in July, as the virus began spiking in Texas, he was one of several lawmakers who demanded Abbott end the state of emergency and any lockdown measures.
Hirsch, on the other hand, suggests that Abbott should have declared a state of emergency and mandated masks far earlier while also developing a clear plan to contain and eradicate the virus. Instead, they chanced it let nearly 450,00 people get infected and nearly 8,000 people die.
She’s now mostly focused on the matter of reopening schools; her husband worked for decades as a teacher, she worked in public schools for decades (unable to afford it out of high school, she graduated college at age 55), and her daughter-in-law is a teacher in her district. Discussing the issue with Hirsch is enlightening because she has a clear understanding of how the school systems are operated and the many factors that must be considered — a far more nuanced approach than Abbott’s demand for in-person instruction.
“We have 53,000 kids in the Plano school district, teachers are vulnerable, and then half the staff is support staff, and custodians are frequently contracted services,” Hirsch explains. “They’re not even district employees, so you don’t know what kind of reporting and protocols their employers have going on. And then there’s trying to keep the kids distanced on the bus. As an assistant principal friend told me, you can’t stop kids from touching each other.”
This is largely how she operates — collect the information, consider all the angles possible, and make an informed decision. That hasn’t been the case in Texas for a long time, but 2020 can change all that. Democrats have a great chance to flip the State House and even turn the state blue in the presidential election. Helping candidates on this level is a huge part of making that happen — their voters tend to vote blue up and down the ballot.
Hirsch’s race is incredibly flippable and any and all donations help!