Friday, October 4, 2013 by Charlotte Moore

Chang Sheppard uses business experience to run for District 50

Jade Chang Sheppard – Democratic candidate for State Representative, District 50 – makes  being a successful business woman, a wife and mother of two, and doting daughter look good.

But parts of the political hopeful’s journey to get where she is today were decidedly ugly.

Chang Sheppard was a baby when her father left Taiwan for Connecticut to pursue the American dream. His family joined him later.

“What must it have felt like for my father to have flown over here by himself?” Chang Sheppard asks. “He wrote a letter to me about it when I graduated from college about how scared he was when he landed. They came with nothing.”

Both her parents made lasting careers out of the jobs they each landed – her father as an engineer at a power plant and her mother as a programmer at an insurance company. They earned middle class status and saved the money to send Chang Sheppard and her brother to college. Chang Sheppard’s decision to attend the University of Texas precipitated her family’s move to Austin.

Chang Sheppard says that strength and determination will inform her performance if voters elect her to fill the seat Mark Strama vacated earlier this year.

It’s turning into a bit of an uphill run, though.

Chang Sheppard has been absent from influential meetings, including last month’s Central Austin Democrats and University Democrats endorsement event where her Democratic rivals Celia Israel and Rico Reyes were able to comfortably showcase their knowledge of the issues and push their policy agenda. And, as In Fact Daily reported on Sept. 9, Chang Sheppard seemed unprepared at an Austin Environmental Democrats meeting last month to answer specific questions posed by audience members, including concerns about county authority over land use.

Also, it was pointed out that Chang Sheppard has made donations to Republican causes including the Hispanic Republicans of Texas and San Antonio Republican City Council Member Elisa Chan. Sheppard acknowledges regret.

“Jade is as dedicated a progressive as any other in this race,” says Maggie Nelson, Chang Sheppard’s campaign manager. “She is disappointed about several donations, but she’s very proud of the tens of thousands of dollars she’s given for progressive causes all over the state.”

(After Chan’s controversial remarks regarding homosexuality surfaced, Chang Sheppard asked that her donation be returned.)

There are also those who question Chang Sheppard’s local loyalty. She holds a real estate license in Austin, has lived in the Milwood neighborhood since 2010, and, prior to that, in Pflugerville and near the University of Texas. But, the multimillion-dollar contracting company she built from the ground up is based in San Antonio.

Despite the politicking, Chang Sheppard’s supporters say she is a qualified community activist with board member or volunteer ties to Planned Parenthood, the Austin Children’s Shelter, the Texas Lyceum, the Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Asian American Resource Center. And, she’s proved she can withstand intense stress and overcome adversity. Leaving a job with Dell to start her own business proved to be somewhat traumatic.

“The first four or five years were extremely difficult,” she says. “At the worst of it I was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and unexpectedly pregnant. My business was in a really bad place.”

After having to borrow money from her parents to make payroll, Chang Sheppard considered admitting defeat.

“I cold-called a contracting officer who gave me a $2,000 contract,” she says. When that work was completed, the same officer gave her a $13,000 contract. Two years later, the company was pulling in $10 million in revenue.

Chang Sheppard hopes voters in the district will relate to her business experience which she believes will enable her to pick up where Strama left off.

“Strama and I actually have a lot of similarities,” she said. “We are both business people with high-tech backgrounds and that speaks very well to our district. Dell, IBM, Samsung, Applied Materials, Google – all these companies employ a lot of our constituents.”

And Chang Sheppard says she’s passionate about affordable healthcare and women’s rights issues.

“My message will be heard by progressive Democrats, young families and working women,” she said. Chang Sheppard plans to focus on public education and “creating a long term sustainable revenue stream to provide the necessary funding – not relying on things like our lottery system.” Chang Sheppard wants to help reform the system of standardized testing with a “focus on letting teachers teach to learn, and not teach to test.”

In a Chang Sheppard office, pay equality will be a key issue.

“The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act has to go through next session,” Chang Sheppard said. Although legislators approved the bill during this year’s regular session, Governor Rick Perry vetoed it. “Why would anyone veto pay equality for women when women are the ones working and single mothers are raising our next generation?” she asks.

Chang Sheppard’s most notable endorsements have come from State House Representatives Gene Wu and Hubert Vo, both of Houston.

To those who say Israel and Reyes have a leg up in the Democratic race and more of a connection to District 50 voters, Chang Sheppard says she isn’t worried.

“We feel great about our race,” she says. “We have what it takes to finish strong.”

To read In Fact Daily’s profile of Rico Reyes, see Thursday’s issue. To read more about Chang Sheppard, go to www.jadechangsheppard.com.

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November 2013 elections: The November 2013 General Election took place on November 5.

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