Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Our freshman legislators

Good luck, y’all.

Gina Calanni

When the Legislature convenes in Austin on Jan. 8, Harris County’s House delegation will include two new Democrats who flipped seats long held by Republican lawmakers.

Last month, state Rep.-elects Gina Calanni, D-Katy, and Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, knocked off two-term state Rep. Mike Schofield and 12-term veteran Rep. Gary Elkins, respectively.

Both wins demonstrated the changing political makeup of Harris County’s fast-growing west suburbs, areas that played a major role in turning the county solidly blue during the midterms. Republicans are sure to take aim at the seats in 2020 and beyond, though Calanni and Rosenthal say they recognize the conservative constituencies in their districts and plan to focus on issues that work for both sides of the political aisle.

“I won my district with 50.8 percent. The Republican guy got 47.7,” said Rosenthal, who considers himself a progressive Democrat. “So, I had a 3-point margin, which means I represent a district that’s pretty much 50-50. I feel like, no matter what I have in my heart, I have to represent the district 50-50. That’s what the job is.”

Jon Rosenthal

Both new lawmakers undoubtedly were bolstered by a combination of favorable trends for Democrats, including an unpopular Republican president and galvanizing Democrats running at the top of the ticket and in an overlapping congressional district.

Still, if the political forces of President Donald Trump, Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Rep.-elect Lizzie Pannill Fletcher helped the two Democrats get near the finish line, their campaigns helped them cross it. Calanni, for instance, personally knocked on more than 10,000 doors in the 132nd District and raised nearly $139,000 in the month or so before the election.


Calanni, 41, and Rosenthal, 55, both say they will focus on the topic that appears set to dominate the legislative session: reforming how the state funds public education. The two Democrats made it a top issue of their races, with Rosenthal putting “the focus of the campaign” on his calls for the state to kick in more funds for public education.

Calanni, a former bankruptcy and tax paralegal in the Travis County attorney’s office, considers herself a moderate and said she previously has voted for candidates from both parties. She was among the numerous candidates who joined the political fray for the first time in 2018 after growing upset over the divisiveness between the two parties.

“I definitely identify as a Democrat, but I think there are a lot of things, especially on a local level, that are not really separated into party issues,” she said.

Calanni’s campaign focused on topics that fit that description: flood control and mitigation, sex trafficking and, foremost, the need to reform education funding.

“When I’m knocking on a door and talking to people that I know are Republicans, then I talk specifically about public education and that we don’t have enough funding for it,” she said.

Already, Calanni plans to introduce legislation that would address sex trafficking, a pervasive issue in Houston and one that has drawn the attention of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike. Before she ran for office, Calanni worked for several nonprofits focused on the issue.

Calanni said she would aim to provide work programs to teach job skills to sex trafficking victims, similar to an initiative already operating in Harris County. Calanni also wants to provide counseling services for victims and to strengthen business licensing requirements to prevent businesses from operating as brothels.


Looking ahead to the session in Austin, Rosenthal intends to play a role in the effort to reform public education funding, but also hopes to introduce legislation to regulate how much interest payday lenders can charge. The measure would reverse some of the regulations lifted by Elkins, who owns several payday lending businesses and authored bills to lift interest caps on payday loans.

My advice, for what it’s worth, is as follows:

1. Serving in the Lege is a job and should be treated as one. Show up on time and every day unless you have a good reason not to (illness, family emergency, that sort of thing), prepare for the day’s agenda and know what’s on the horizon, don’t miss votes, and file all your campaign finance and financial disclosure forms accurately and on time. Basically, don’t commit the kind of stupid self-inflicted harm that will make it easy for your 2020 opponent to run against you.

2. Similarly, be as true to the things you said you wanted to do on the campaign trail as you can be. Introduce the bills you said you would introduce – and be sure they are in good shape – and work to get them a committee hearing or a place on the local and consent calendar. Support the type of bills you said you would support, and oppose the type of bills you said you would oppose. Give your supporters a reason to feel good about having backed you, and don’t give anyone else a reason to think you’re just another “say and do anything to get elected” politician.

3. Do constituent services very well. Phone calls are answered or returned promptly. Emails are acknowledged and responded to. People who ask for it can get time on your calendar. Your staffers all have answers or know how to get them, and when they’re asked about things that are not in your office’s purview, they know how to point teh asker in the right direction. Basically, make sure everyone who contacts your office feels like they were listened to and taken seriously.

You get the idea. None of this is a guarantee of anything for 2020. As we well know, the national environment has an outsized impact on all elections. Do the basics well, avoid the obvious pitfalls, be the person you said you’d be when you ran in the first place, and you’ll have done your best to be the kind of candidate who outperforms the baseline in their district. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Related Posts:


  1. Greg Wythe says:

    “She was among the numerous candidates who joined the political fray for the first time in 2018 after growing upset over the divisiveness between the two parties.”

    Who on earth thinks this was the operating dynamic that drove candidates to run in 2018?

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    Kuff, that is well written advice for any frosh congressman.

    Speaking of, did Lizzie vote against Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House today? Anyone know?

  3. Greg Wythe says:

    She voted for Pelosi – as the majority of her district apparently desires.

  4. Bill Daniels says:


    2. Similarly, be as true to the things you said you wanted to do on the campaign trail as you can be.

    Oops. Looks like Lizzie is 0/1 right out of the gate.

    I mean, she specifically campaigned on NOT being beholden to Pelosi, and her very first act as a rep is….voting for Pelosi.

  5. Jules says:

    Zero sense as usual Bill. Voting for Pelosi does not equal beholden. Get a grip.

  6. Greg Wythe says:

    Feel free to link a reference where Fletcher said she wouldn’t vote for Pelosi, Bill. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

  7. Bill Daniels says:

    “….and I won’t take orders from Nancy Pelosi.”

    That’s in response to this:

    Culberson: You are Nancy’s hand picked lap dog!

    Lizzie: No I’m not. I don’t take orders from Nancy,

    Lizzie’s very first action: Votes for Pelosi.

    Greg, I don’t know how to present this any simpler. The moderates who voted for her got fooled. Are we really going to have another discussion about what the meaning of is, is?

  8. Bill Daniels says:


    “….and I won’t take orders from Nancy Pelosi.”

    That was in response to this:

    Lizzie’s very first act as a brand new congressman: Vote for Pelosi.

    I don’t know what to tell you, Greg. Her ad was specifically distancing herself from Nancy. Or are we going to have another “what the definition of is, is” moment here? Lizzie mislead the voters in order to win, and now she’s a part of Team Pelosi to obstruct Trump for the next two years.

  9. Bill Daniels says:


    “You’ve probably seen John Culberson’s attack ads against me. They’re ridiculous……..and I won’t take orders from Nancy Pelosi.”

    Order of business # 1: Vote Pelosi as Speaker of the House

    Are we really going to have another Clinton-esque discussion about the what the word is means?

  10. Paul Kubosh says:

    You guys know how the politics works. She has to vote for Pelosi if she wanted a shot at mattering. You don’t want her to be like Ted Poe, right? How much author that became law?

  11. Greg Wythe says:


    Still waiting for a reference where Fletcher said she wouldn’t *vote* for Pelosi. As any reasoning grown-up knows, voting for someone and taking orders from them aren’t the same thing. If you’d like to make the argument they are the same, I’ve got a sizable list of decrepit Republicans that I want to know what orders you’ve taken from them.

    What you have proven is that there was significant discussion about NDP during the campaign. Voters had plenty to consider about whether they wanted a Representative who would support her versus one who might end up supporting Jim Jordan. They chose the one who they knew would help make NDP Speaker. Fletcher did exactly what voters expected of her.

  12. C.L. says:

    Here’s the difference…

    ‘Mexico is going to pay for the wall.’ No ambiguity there, no ‘They’re going to pay for it using GreenStamps or coupons or through a mail order rebate’. This neighboring Country is going to pop for someth8ng we’re wanting to construct. Got it.

    ‘I’m not going to take orders from Nancy Pelosi.’ As an elected official, and absent a challenger, I’m voting for a individual to serve as a figurehead. I’m not swearing allegiance to his/her every whim or agenda item, I’m just voting to put someone in place to lead the House and further the legislative process.

  13. Bill Daniels says:


    Mexico is going to pay for the wall, not with plane loads of unmarked cash, AKA the Obama preferred payment method, but with getting rid of NAFTA and getting a trade agreement that is more fair to the US and US workers, which Trump has gotten. T

    Personally, I wish he had also used the first two years when he had both houses to get a 1-2% remittance tax passed, so that we could claw back some money being sent home not only to MX, but Central American countries as well. Those are dollars that leave our economy and we don’t get the benefit of them recirculating in our economy. That tax would have paid for the wall, and then it could either be scrapped, or kept, to defray some of the ongoing costs of illegal aliens. It could be used to reimburse the state of Texas, for example, for the cost of educating illegal alien kids, the cost of incarcerating illegal aliens in our jails and prisons, and the cost of ‘free’ medical treatment at our hospitals. Feel the State of Texas is underfunding schools? Here you go. Tax remittances. Send that money to local school districts.

  14. Ross says:

    Bill, where do you come up with all this bullshit? How do you tax remittances without taxing legitimate commercial payments? Why do you think immigrants don’t pay taxes to fund services? They do. Why do you think Trump is so good? He’s not, he’s a total fucking idiot who would screw you blind if he though he could make money out of it.

    Trump is killing the economy as we speak with his ill conceived ideas that try to wipe out supply chains that have been built over 30 years. That stuff can’t be changed overnight.

  15. C.L. says:

    Sure they are, Bill.

  16. Jules says:

    Ross you are killing it. Think this is your second great post today.

  17. Bill Daniels says:


    Taxing remittances can be done by making the tax only on person to person transfers… what happens every single day at Western Union. Sure, somebody could set up a business both here and in Mexico to take Joe Blow’s remittance to his abuela back home to skip the remittance tax, but is that a profitable business at 1-2% of the money sent? Probably not. I’m suggesting a nuisance tax that isn’t big enough to create a cottage industry to get around it.

    As to the rest of the bloviating, not really much to respond to, other than, I agree. Trump is KILLING IT with regards to the economy. Jobs, jobs, jobs, manufacturing coming back, higher real income finally, historic low unemployment, and with regard to those carefully crafted supply chains, that’s got to change sooner or later, so why not sooner. You’re exactly like the black congress critters who sat on their hands when Trump announced the lowest black unemployment rate since that has been tracked. It just kills you that Trump is doing well. Even the supposed ballooning of the deficit because of the tax cuts turned out to be a lie. Tax revenues are UP 9% after the cuts! Bad news for you, good news for America.

    Oh, and your criticism of supply chains? That’s like saying, ‘why should we wipe out the oil and gas infrastructure that has been built over 100 years. That stuff can’t be changed into solar powered vehicles overnight. Uh, OK. No time like the present to start working on it, right?

  18. Manny Barrera says:

    “Black Congress Critters”, Bill at least you are not ashamed nor embarrassed by your racist’s beliefs.

  19. Ross says:

    Bill, I don’t see any real wage growth, and I don’t see any real job growth. The tax cuts were ill conceived and poorly designed, almost as bad as ACA, and have made the deficit balloon. Trump is making stock prices plunge, which is actively harming my retirement savings. Count me as not impressed.

    To paraphrase something I read today, the biggest deal Trump will make in the near future is to resign as President to keep his kids and son in law out of prison. He’s carried his crooked ways into the White House, which is bad for all of us.

  20. Manny Barrera says:

    Bill if you read the history before the great depression, you will find many similarities. I expect that we are on the verge of a major depression. I hope it does not happen but I expect that it will begin latter part of this year. When it happens you can thank Trump and the Republicans, by continuing to vote for them.

    So tuck your money in the mattress.