Friday, September 20, 2013 by Charlotte Moore

Central Austin, University Democrats endorse Israel for District 50

The Central Austin Democrats and the University Democrats endorsed Austin realtor and former member of Gov. Ann Richards’ administration Celia Israel for the  State Representative House District 50 seat.

 

Rep. Mark Strama resigned from the seat in June to manage the Austin Google Fiber Program.

 

The event Wednesday night at the University of Texas’ Jester Auditorium brought about 200 group members, local Democratic politicians, students and others together for a District 50 candidate debate followed by the vote.

 

Other Democrats competing for the seat against Israel are Pflugerville attorney and former Travis County Assistant District Attorney Rico Reyes, and Austin resident and owner of Gideon Contracting, Jade Chang Sheppard. (Chang Sheppard did not attend the debate because of a scheduling conflict.)

 

The lone Republican in the race is Austin chiropractor Mike VanDeWalle.

 

House District 50 covers a large patch of eastern Travis County from the Del Valle area to just west of Elgin, up to northern Pflugerville, and back around to parts of North Austin.

 

Candidate for Travis County Pct. 2 Commissioner Garry Brown who attended the debate said this race is important on a county level.

 

“I’m looking to see where their interests lie and what will be their first bills they want to file,” Brown said. “That tells me those are the core issues for them. I want to see if they sync up with mine, actually. I don’t live in District 50, but Pct. 2 and District 50 overlap quite a bit, so I’ll be interested in seeing what they want to do at the Capitol.”

 

The hour-long debate moderated by long-time Texas political journalist Scott Braddock covered a range of issues from the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and Medicaid expansion to new voter ID laws and gun control. It proved to be less a debate and more of a show of how each of the candidates might best serve the residents in District 50.

 

Israel said what differentiates her from her competitors is her experience. “I’ve done a lot in the community and I’ve done a lot for the party,” she said. Reyes said his personal experiences makes him the better match for the district, parts of which are near impoverished and high-crime areas. “I have personal experience in dealing with issues of justice and mercy, compassion and responsibility,” he told the audience.

 

Both candidates support Obamacare, expanding Medicaid, stricter gun control and a more urgent approach to water conservation. If elected, Israel said the first law she would pass would deal with online voter registration legislation.

 

Strama tried this and it was not successful,” she said. “At the very least, we should be able to go to online registration.”

 

She also said she would work to give counties more zoning authority.

 

“The more urban we become, the more we can make a case for the more power you can give commissioners court,” she said.

 

Reyes said he would focus on education, health care and jobs.

 

“The first bill I would pass is a Texas version of the Lilly Ledbetter fair payout,” Reyes said. “Equal pay for equal work.” Although legislators approved that bill during this year’s regular session, Governor Rick Perry vetoed it.

 

The endorsement by both groups means Israel gets an automatic endorsement from the Austin Progressive Coalition. The coalition is active in get-out-the-vote efforts that can make a difference in close races.

 

“I’m honored to have their support,” she said. “As a long-time Democrat who’s knocking on doors of other long-time Democrats, it’s a great opportunity to promote my party credentials as we’re talking to voters.”

 

Israel pointed out that Strama won his last election unopposed by a Republican but said she does not view VanDeWalle’s opposition as a threat.

 

“It’s an opportunity to win the election in November and, if we’re successful, be a part of battleground Texas and helping Sen. Wendy Davis become the next Governor,” she said. Davis is expected to officially announce her candidacy on Oct. 3.

 

Reyes, gracious in the night’s defeat, said he was not surprised by the night’s turn of events.

 

“(Israel) had been working with the UDems long before I entered the race,” Reyes said. “And so there’s long pre-existing relationships. I mean, they’ve done a good job of hiring many of these UDems for their campaign and that was long before tonight. I believe the people we have reached, we have connected with.”

 

Reyes also said Israel is a “loyal Democrat activist and I congratulate her tonight.”

 

Whoever voters elect in November will complete the current term through Jan. 1, 2015.

In March, both parties will hold a primary and voters will have their final say in Nov. 2014.

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