The Chron finally addresses one of the higher-profile local primaries, and endorses Danielle Bess in HD147.
Democrats have to make a choice about how they want to put up a fight in the Texas Legislature. In 2020, the party mounted an aggressive campaign to retake the House, pouring money into what were thought to be competitive races, and failed to make a gain in their overall count. After the recent round of redistricting, the party’s chance of making significant gains, much less flipping the lower chamber, is low. What kind of fighter makes the most sense for a party relegated to the minority for the near future?
When state Rep. Garnet Coleman, who represented District 147 since 1991, announced his retirement last year, an extraordinary group of women stepped forward as candidates. Although she lacks the elected experience that two others in the race have, we recommend Danielle Keys Bess, 38, for her ability to communicate policy ideas in a style that’s both constructive and assertive.
Bess has worked in campaign logistics for several different Democrats in Texas and handled questions on a range of statewide and district-specific issues with aplomb. She has also worked as a real estate agent with the Midtown TIRZ — a taxing authority that Coleman played a central role in setting up — to match buyers with affordable single-family housing built in the district. That background is important in a district where rising costs have led to displacement. Her platform includes the key issues other candidates agree on: voting rights, community infrastructure, Medicaid expansion, investing in public education and women’s rights.
Bess faces two formidable opponents: Former Houston City Council member Jolanda Jones, 56, and Reagan Flowers, 50. Jones, also a former Houston ISD board member, is a powerful advocate and unapologetic fighter for the people she’s represented in the past. But in a House almost certainly to be controlled by Republicans, that kind of fiery fractiousness is unlikely to get results. Flowers has a stellar record as a teacher and nonprofit leader partnering with under-resourced schools to fund science, technology and math. But she didn’t communicate — as Bess did — the urgency fellow Democrats feel in the wake of the last legislative session.
My interview with Danielle Bess is here. Other interviews I did in HD147 include Aurelia Wagner, Jolanda Jones, Nam Subramanian, and Reagan Flowers. All good candidates – the two I did not interview, Somtoo Ik-Ejiofor and Akwete Hines, are also good – and all worthy of consideration. I don’t envy anyone in HD147 the decision. I think the Chron reasonably framed the question, which is about approach and philosophy, and how much you want to emphasize assertiveness versus confrontation. There’s no objectively right answer, there’s just what you want to see in your own representative.
As noted before, I was not able to do interviews in every contested primary. Too many races, too little time. One race that I thought about but ultimately did not cover was in SD17, where the Chron endorsed Titus Benton for the nomination.
“Right now, Joan Huffman needs a fight on her hands,” says Miguel Gonzalez, 41, a high school English teacher and small business owner who grew up in Victoria and spent much of his life in the district. He told us he’s running in large part because Republicans’ attack on voter access was too harmful to fight from the sidelines.
His opponent, Titus Benton, 40, a former pastor, nonprofit founder and current chief operating officer of an organization that fights human trafficking in Houston, said he was moved by his lifelong calling to love his neighbor.
Both candidates say they come from humble means: “I may live in a cul-de-sac in Katy now but I was free-and-reduced lunch my whole life,” Benton says. They say Senate District 17, which runs from West University down south of Freeport, includes rural, low-income families and a smattering of independents who may be looking for better representation. The candidates largely overlap on issues, from restoring abortion rights to expanding health care access. One exception is guns.
Gonzalez, a gun owner who says he often carries when he goes into the city, says while he opposes permitless carry and doesn’t believe the framers imagined people walking around with AR-47s, he’s OK with open carry because “that’s where we are and you can’t put the milk back in the jug.”
“I’d like to find a funnel and figure it out,” Benton replied. He says he’d fight for a red flag law and try to address the growing “ghost gun” problem that emerged with the advent of 3D printers.
We were impressed with the passion of both candidates, although Benton’s platform seemed more well-rounded: he’d make an economic argument to expand Medicaid, work to close grid weatherization loopholes lawmakers approved last year and says legalizing pot is a “no-brainer.”
Our choice mostly came down to style. Gonzalez calls his “a little bit more combative.” We like his enthusiasm about getting out the vote but his legislative strategy lost us: “We need to follow Mitch McConnell’s lead: no to everything.”
That’s the path to irrelevance in a Senate dominated by Republicans.
That’s also a recapitulation of the theme from the HD147 endorsement. Again, your mileage may vary. In Dan Patrick’s Senate, where even the likes of John Whitmire are steadily being sidelined, it’s not clear that nihilism will be any less effective than a commitment to working across the aisle (unless you go so far as to live there, like the unlamented Eddie Lucio). Anyway, I didn’t interview either of these gentlemen, but the endorsement editorial points to a brief Q&A the Chron did with them (and with incumbent Sen. Joan Huffman) from about a month ago, so check that out if you want to know more. If you’re in SD17 and have some insight on these two, please feel free to share it.
Of note, the Chron also endorsed Josh Flynn in the GOP primary for HD138, over incumbent Rep. Lacey Hull. While they had endorsed Flynn in 2020, their usual preference is to stick with an incumbent unless there’s a reason to turn on them. Apparently, Lacey Hull couldn’t clear this fairly low bar. On the other hand, they did stick with the generally reprehensible Rep. Valoree Swanson in HD150 because the alternative choice was OG terrible person Debbie Riddle, whom Swanson ousted a couple years ago by running to her right. Such great choices in that race. Also, maybe just skip this one, Chron editorial board? I know, neither Swanson nor Riddle showed up to be screened, so there was no time wasted talking with them, but there’s only so much space in the print edition and writing this still took up someone’s valuable time. Moving on to a race of greater interest was surely an available option.