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Young Democrats host forum for House District 50 candidates

Monday, July 29, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Austin Young Democrats had a chance to get up close and personal with the Democratic candidates for Texas House District 50 last week.


AYD hosted a forum at the Cedar Door on Thursday night for the four Democratic candidates vying for former Rep. Mark Strama’s seat. The candidates are Celia Israel, Ramey Ko, Rico Reyes and Jade Chang Sheppard.


In opening and closing statements, Israel stressed her long history of activism in the community, and advocated for a “purple” Texas of the future. Sheppard emphasized her family history and work with Planned Parenthood. Reyes played up his affinity for the newly-shaped district (which he joked may as well have been gerrymandered for him) as well as his triad of working for better public education, health care and middle-class jobs.


Ko said that, while there might not be a lot of daylight among the four candidates in terms of how they would vote, the election was about heralding the voice of a new progressive generation that could be the vanguard of a better Texas.


Strama resigned before the second Special Session to head up Google Fiber‘s operations in Austin. His seat currently remains unfilled. Gov. Rick Perry set the special election for November but the winner of that contest will likely not see any time legislating since the next regular session is not until January 2015.


That empty seat led to one of the more interesting questions of the night, which was whether the candidates planned to run in the March primary regardless of the outcome of the special election.


Reyes said that he believed he would, after winning the November election. That said, he explained he would make the decision when the time comes, taking a good look at the results of the special election.


Sheppard said she was totally focused on the special election for now, and honestly couldn’t answer the question.


Israel said that she would not run if another Democrat was elected in November, saying, “I cannot imagine a scenario that I would want to harm the Democratic Party I’ve worked so hard to support.”


Ko’s take was different. He is not running in the special election, and instead campaigning for March.


“From the very beginning, I said that I’m planning to run next year in the general election,” said Ko, who said that if it becomes clear that the November victor “is that progressive voice that I trust to represent HD 50,” he may change his mind.


Though Ko has raised the most money from donors, he has only lived in the district since March, and cannot run in the special election. According to the Burnt Orange Report, Ko emailed supporters saying the special election was an attempt to give Republicans an edge in the race, and he refused to participate and spend supporter’s money to help a Republican campaign against fellow Democrats.


Perry called for a special election for the seat in November despite the fact that whoever is elected will likely never attend a meeting of the House, unless Perry calls for yet another special session.


When asked how certain a Democratic victory would be in the district, Israel estimated 58 percent. Sheppard agreed with that figure.


Ko said he thought it was a “pretty safe seat” for the party, noting the benefits of having four separate candidates rallying voters and pushing voter registration through their campaigning.


Reyes said that with a special election and three candidates splitting the democratic vote, “you can’t take anything for granted.” While he agreed it was a pretty safe district for Democrats, he pointed out that Strama had never won it in its current configuration – after redistricting.


Currently, there are presumed to be two Republican challengers, Donald Dean and Michael Cargill.  Dean, though relatively unknown, has vowed to spend $250,000 of his own money.


In response to a question asking what bill they would file first as representatives, Ko emphasized public education, Israel said she would push for online voter registration, and Reyes and Sheppard agreed that they would first focus on a Texas version of the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act, which equalizes pay between men and women. (In June, Perry vetoed a version of that passed by the Legislature.)

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