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Race is on to fill Democrat Naishtat’s seat

Friday, December 11, 2015 by Jo Clifton

Longtime state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, 70, has informed the Travis County Democratic Party that he will withdraw his name from the ballot for the March 1 primary. Naishtat (D-Austin) has served in the District 49 office since 1991 and has reportedly had some serious health problems recently.

A number of local Democrats – including attorney Gina Hinojosa, who is president of the Austin Independent School District board of trustees; City Council Member Ann Kitchen; and political consultant Katie Naranjo – had expressed interest in running for the District 49 seat.

In addition, affordable housing advocate Heather Way told the Austin Monitor that she would definitely run for the seat. Hinojosa and Huey Rey Fischer, a former legislative aide, said Thursday that they also plan to run for the seat.

Cindy Flint, director of operations and primary administrator for the Travis County Democratic Party, said Naishtat filed for the office on Nov. 24 but on Thursday called to say that he would be officially withdrawing. She said the withdrawal must be in writing in order for it to be official, and the deadline to withdraw is 6 p.m. on Monday. That is also the deadline for new candidates to file for the office.

As Hinojosa was getting ready to walk into party headquarters to file for the seat, she said, “I think I’ve been a proven fighter for progressive values, and I’d like to take my fight to the state,” Serving on the AISD board, she said, “has been eye-opening about how the problem is at the state. The real problem is at the state.”

Kitchen told the Monitor via text message, “I am not running. I have a commitment to the city and constituents and much work to be done at the city. I will not resign my seat to run (I would have to quit my seat because I have only served less than one year).”

Naranjo, a consultant to Constable Sally Hernandez, who is running for Travis County sheriff, wrote in an email: “Today has been an adventure. I am incredibly grateful for the calls, texts, emails and messages of support. I love Austin and would love to serve the public. However, I have work commitments that I am dedicated to completing and unable to run for HD49 at this time. I look forward to exploring opportunities in the future to serve our community.”

Naishtat won his seat with 85 percent of the vote in the 2014 general election. His only opponent was a Libertarian because the district is so heavily Democratic. The winner of the Democratic primary will be the odds-on favorite to win next November, regardless of who runs in other parties.

Naishtat released a statement about his decision not to seek reelection Thursday night, which is printed in its entirety below:

As many people know, I filed to run for reelection to the District 49 seat in the Texas House of Representatives near the beginning of the filing period, which began on November 14th. I subsequently had doubts as to whether this was the best course of action for me, and whether I was fully committed to serving a 14th two-year term. First elected in November 1990, I have represented District 49 for nearly 26 years.

After a period of reflection during which I visited with family, friends, constituents, and fellow legislators, I announced on Tuesday that I was, indeed, fully committed to running for reelection and continuing my public service in the House.

My commitment to serving the people of District 49 is as strong now as it has ever been. But while I was trying to make up my mind, a new, powerful factor emerged: several outstanding Democrats who began preparing for the possibility that I would decide to not seek reelection. These individuals began exploring their own possible races to be my successor.

I spoke with some of these potential candidates, and was extremely impressed with the caliber, quality and commitment of each of them. I concluded that in the event I chose not to run, the people of District 49 would be in good hands. There is a next generation that stands enthusiastically ready and prepared to serve, and that has an energy toward and passion for public service that I cannot in good conscience ignore. Perhaps the best gift I can give to the people I represent is the gift of new leadership, fresh perspectives, and renewed energy.

It is in that light that I have decided to remove my name from the ballot and not seek reelection.

It has been an honor and a privilege to serve in the House, and to make every effort to address the needs of the people of District 49 and the State of Texas as a whole. I am proud of the work I have done and the 330 bills I have passed and seen enacted into law. Throughout my tenure, the legislation I have sponsored has focused on the needs of low- and moderate-income people, children, senior citizens, minorities, people with disabilities, victims of domestic violence, vulnerable populations.

My legislative packages have included bills regarding public health, child protective services, juvenile justice, foster care, guardianships, long-term care and nursing homes, criminal justice, consumer protection, public housing, tenants’ rights, public safety, legal services, public and higher education, environmental protection, citizen participation, ethics reform, open government, and equal protection under the law.

I am especially proud of the 120 legislative awards and recognitions I have received since I first took the oath of office in January 1991. Two of these were national awards: Public Elected Official of the Year (1997), the National Association of Social Workers, and National Consumer Health Advocate (2002), Families USA. A third recognition, the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Corporation for National and Community Service, was presented to me on December 3rd during the AmeriCorps/VISTA 50th Anniversary Event at the LBJ Library.

Photo by Ed Schlpul made available through a Creative Commons license.

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