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Sameena Karmally

Meet Sameena Karmally, whose race against Jodie Laubenbeg is important not for if she wins or loses but for what she represents.

Sameena Karmally

If Democrats are going to turn Texas purple, they need to do a lot of work at the local level. Long-hidden voters need to be identified, and organizational abilities need to be strengthened. To do that, Democrats need good candidates to run in local elections. Even if they don’t win, they’ll do their bit to put calcium back in the Democratic Party’s old bones. They might run in red districts with little chance of victory, but they’ll pave the way for future contenders.

But standing for election is hell—it’s costly, and it exacts an enormous personal and professional toll. Most people won’t do it if they don’t have a decent chance of success—and there aren’t many places in Texas these days where a Democrat has that chance. So big pockets of the state don’t have any Democrats of significance running locally, which further alienates ordinary people from Democratic politics. It’s a tenacious feedback loop that’s going to be difficult to break.

Some Democrats, though, are doing their part. Take Sameena Karmally, who’s been waging a long-shot effort in heavily Republican House District 89, which covers an area north and east of Plano. In a different context, Karmally would make a star candidate. She’s a lawyer and mother of two who grew up in the Metroplex. She’s smart and thoughtful, and has a compelling personal story: She’s the daughter of Indian Muslim immigrants, and worked her tail off to get to UT School of Law. This is one of those races that seems to embody the clash of the old Texas and new Texas, particularly because she’s running against state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker).

If you know Laubenberg for one thing, it’s that she became the public face of the coalition backing last summer’s abortion restrictions. Laubenberg sponsored House Bill 2, the legislation that Wendy Davis filibustered. During debate on the bill, Laubenberg famously said that a rape exception for abortion restrictions was unnecessary because hospitals “have what’s called rape kits,” so “the woman can get cleaned out.”

That remark earned her international notoriety, but at home, Laubenberg cruises from re-election to re-election. She hasn’t had a primary opponent since 2002, and hasn’t had to run against a Democrat since 2006. She has perfect scores of 100 from Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, wins awards from groups like the Young Conservatives of Texas, and is lauded by the NRA and pro-life groups. She’s the state chair of the influential American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which writes bills for conservative state legislators.

When Laubenberg first won her seat, it was a predominantly rural district. But the Metroplex has experienced explosive growth, and the nature of her district has changed. The last bout of redistricting cut off Laubenberg from the most rural areas, and now HD 89 is heavily suburban, with a growing immigrant population. Many of the district’s residents work for tech companies. The district is less Republican than it used to be, but on paper, it’s still looks prohibitive for Democrats. In 2004, every member of the Republican slate won more than 75 percent of the vote—in 2012, Mitt Romney won just under two-thirds.

The Texas Observer met Karmally in Plano to talk about her race.

Go read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. The point Karmally makes more than once is that the district is very different than it used to be – where it was once mostly rural, it’s now mostly suburban, with a lot of new residents – and that the biggest hurdle she or any Democrat in the district faces is that no one really knows who the Democratic voters out there are, or how many of them there are. They all have that “I thought I was the only Democrat here” reaction typical to such places when they meet Karmally or get invited to a Dem event. That’s what organizing is all about, and places like this, in Collin County – around here it would be places like Montgomery and Brazoria Counties, plus the fast-growing parts of western and northwestern Harris County; think HDs 126, 130, 132, and 135 – and it’s job one for Battleground Texas.

To put some numbers to this, since that’s what I’m all about, here are the last three off-year Railroad Commissioner results from HD89:

Year R candidate R votes R Pct D Candidate D votes D Pct =============================================================== 2002 Williams 17,281 75.0 Broyles 5,767 25.0 2006 Jones 19,498 69.1 Henry 8,706 30.9 2010 Porter 23,923 69.5 Weems 9,014 26.2

There were third party candidates in the RRC race in 2010 but not in 2002 or 2006, so that’s why the 2010 totals don’t add up to 100%. Note that the increase in Dem voters from 2002 to 2006 was greater than the increase in R voters in that period, but the increase in R voters in the tsunami year of 2010 was more than ten times as much as the increase in D voters that year. Needless to say, that pattern can’t continue. I don’t know what a realistic goal is for this district, but if you assume a modest bump in R voters to 25,000 total, then Dems need a boost of 6,000 voters – more than the total number of votes they got in 2002 – just to get to 40%. I say that not to rain on Sameena Karmally’s parade – she’s a terrific candidate, endorsed by the DMN, doing great work in a place where it’s desperately needed – but to add some perspective for when we see the final numbers. Adding six thousand votes here would be a super accomplishment. Dems will need to duplicate that kind of result all over the state to make a difference. It’s about the big picture as much as it is about any one race.

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