The Race in TX-22 Embodies The Battle for Texas

More than any other race, the dead-heat competition in the state’s 22nd Congressional District embodies the tussle between old Texas and new Texas. The Republican candidate is a far-right, power-abusing, anti-mask, fired-cop controversy machine, the archetype of Trump-era conservatism. Democrats, on the other hand, have nominated a long-time State Department Foreign Service Officer who has fostered a huge coalition in a very diverse district.

Sri Preston Kulkarni, the Democratic candidate, first ran for this seat in the 2018 election, before it was clear that the state was trending blue. He spent over 15 years working overseas, mediating negotiations and peace deals between hostile nations. Once Trump took over, that job became more and more difficult — the United States was supposed to be a beacon of democracy, but it was starting to look and feel more like a troubled nation.

“After everything I’d seen, from [Trump’s] birther attacks and saying that Latinos are drug dealers and rapists, then the Muslim ban, then the Charlottesville Nazi rally, I just had to do something,” Kulkarni tells Progressives Everywhere. “I started out not thinking that this was winnable, I was doing because it was the right thing to do.”

He wasn’t really on the national Democratic Party’s radar — the DCCC was focused on flipping the House and prioritized the obvious swing districts. Left to figure it out on his own, Kulkarni decided that he’d expand the electorate in one of Texas’s most diverse districts.

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Kulkarni’s campaign built the largest relational organizing program in the nation during that election cycle, with volunteers phone-banking in 13 different languages. By connecting with so many tight-knit communities within the district, the campaign became something of a community in and of itself.

“The third-largest language we speak in Texas is Vietnamese and Texas has the largest Muslim population out of any state in America — these are not stereotypes people have of Texas, but that’s what it looks like out here in the suburbs, and it’s just about getting them into the electorate,” he says. “Inclusion is what we do. By reaching out to people, showing up at mosques and temples and Chinese community centers, having volunteers to speak these languages and understand these cultures — that’s the only way you get change, through coalition building.”

In the end, Kulkarni came just a few points shy of a massive upset victory over Republican Rep. Pete Olson, and in fact gave him such a scare that Olson announced his retirement the following summer. Kulkarni quickly declared that he was going to run again to finish the job.

From the start, he focused his second campaign on issues such as affordable healthcare (the trauma of his family nearly going bankrupt when his dad got sick has stuck with him all these years later) and removing big money from politics (“the amount of time we spend fundraising is not healthy for democracy,” he says, “and I’ll push from day one to have publicly financed campaigns.”)

While Olson was certainly conservative, his 2020 Republican opponent, Troy Nehls, is (as I noted before) a far-right, power-abusing, anti-maskdisgraced-cop controversy machine. His record is appalling: Nehls was fired twice as a police officer for a litany of offenses; is being sued for overseeing a jail where a 15-year-old boy was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a volunteer and failing to act; and at the height of COVID-19 ravaging Texas, he decried a mandatory mask order as “communist.”

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Sharon Hirsch Is Going to Unseat a Texas Tea Party Fanatic

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.”

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Texas is a mess right now. Joanna Cattanach’s House campaign is a must-win if we want to help fix it.

Texas has become the US’s new coronavirus hot spot, with skyrocketing cases setting records nearly every day, hospitalizations rising, and deaths beginning to pile up. It’s both tragic and infuriating, because the situation was entirely avoidable. Instead of practicing smart public health policy, the Republicans caved to the far-right MAGA brigade, taking precious few precautions and lifting even those absurdly early. Now, it’s a runaway train, and the state’s GOP leadership might as well have tied Texans to the rails.

The silver lining is that Texans are increasingly outraged at their state government and ready to make a change. Cities are beginning to require masks, police reforms are being approved by city councils, Confederate monuments are being torn down, and Democrats are making gains. In fact, Dems need just nine seats to take back the State House, and a few of them are big, juicy, flippable targets. That includes the 108th House District, which Democrats lost by a mere 220 votes in 2018.

That’s the race we’re focusing on today — not only will it be super-close, but a win will also represent a further transformation of Texas’s big cities and proof that running everywhere is key to Democratic success.

Joanna Cattanach spent nearly 15 years as a respected journalist in Texas, covering local news and politics as objectively as possible. But after the 2016 election and the 2017 legislative session, which was bigoted and damaging even by Texas Republican standards, she’d seen enough. Instead of covering elections, she was going to run for office herself.

There were two pieces of legislation in particular that convinced Cattanach that dire action was required. As a Latina (and human), the passage of SB 4, the state’s infamous “Show Me Your Papers” Law, absolutely enraged her, while the signing of HB 3859, a “religious liberty” law that allowed adoption agencies to discriminate against prospective parents for just about anything — sexuality, religion, insufficient church attendance numbers, you name it — proved to be the last straw.

“I am a former foster care child and I thought that was unbelievably appalling,”  Cattanach tells Progressives Everywhere. “It was a breaking point for me. I reached out to some of our local media and said, ‘would you like to talk to a former foster care child?’ And that was it.”

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Akilah ‘Brass Balls’ Bacy is a Texas badass

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.”

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Eliz Markowitz is running in the first big race of 2020

All political analysts’ eyes are on Iowa and New Hampshire right now, but they should really be looking at what’s happening down in Texas: On January 28, the state will hold a special election runoff in the 28th district of the State House of Representatives. Why is it so crucial? Democrats are now down just nine seats in the chamber, as we’ve noted before, and this one is a great flip target.

The fact that Dems have the good fortune of running such an impressive candidate in the district makes it an even more exciting race. And given Eliz Markowitz’s backstory, it’s very easy to want to chip in and support her.

In 2018, Markowitz ran what she calls a “one-woman show” during her first-ever campaign, an uphill battle for a seat on the Texas State Board of Education. She served as her own campaign manager and “ran around Southeast Texas,” she says, pushing herself in a longshot race in a very red gerrymandered district and pulling to less than a 10 point margin.

She bounced back and ran a strong race in a special election for the State House this fall, qualifying for the District 28 runoff against Republican Gary Gates, a perennial loser best known as a “slumlord.” Now, her campaign has a bit more help — Beto O’Rourke has been working on her behalf, and Michael Bloomberg visited on Sunday. Build it and they will come.

Yet in conversation, Markowitz prefers to focus on the issues, including education, healthcare access, and gun violence. She’s not running for the notoriety or power, a fact confirmed by the roundabout way she got into politics in the first place.

Markowitz began her career in computer science, working for the Princeton Review. She thought she was going to go down the corporate path, she says, and got her master’s degree in business. Then tragedy struck. “My mom unexpectedly passed away and I moved back to Houston to be with my dad, who is my best friend,” Markowitz explains. “My mom had suffered from addiction for her entire life, and so I wanted to do something that was actually helping people from falling through the cracks of our healthcare system.”

eliz beto

CLICK HERE to donate to Eliz Markowitz’s campaign at Progressive Everywhere’s ActBlue Page!

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