From a young age, I’ve been taught to never take things for granted. I’ve also learned that if things seem too good to be true, they might just be.
I think the same sentiment can be applied to the special election to replace John Zerwas in District 28 in the Texas House of Representatives, which is headed to a runoff between Democrat Eliz Markowitz and Republican Gary Gates in a few weeks. The race is being considered a measuring stick for potential Democratic power in the state and Democratic chances in Texas during the next presidential election in 2020.
“Fort Bend is blue. Tonight’s result is yet another indicator that Texans are demanding change and Texas Democrats are poised to do big things in 2020,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement shortly after unofficial results rolled in Nov. 5.
But could that really be the case? Let’s dive a little deeper on a couple of points to find out whether it can be a true indicator.
First off, the potential results. On the surface, one might think Markowitz has the upper hand, having won about 39 percent of the vote compared to about 28 percent for Gates. But it bears reminding that with the rest of the field decidedly Republican, Markowitz still appears to face an uphill battle to win the seat, needing at least 11 percent of consolidated remaining votes in order to flip the seat.
That said, don’t be so sure that Gates automatically has the upper hand simply due to the Republican field, despite his endorsement from Gov. Greg Abbott. Over the years, we’ve seen numerous unlikely political allies cross party lines, such as the alliance between George W. Bush – Republican president – and Ted Kennedy – a liberal Democratic senator from Massachusetts – that began in the early 2000s.
Though Kennedy constantly voiced loud displeasure with Bush’s ideas for tax cuts and actions related to Hurricane Katrina, the two also came to compromise on education, immigration reform and other issues throughout Bush’s presidency. So we truly have no way of knowing what the since-defeated candidates may do.
Sure, there will likely be Republican candidates who throw their support to Gates simply in efforts to keep the District 28 seat burning red, but there could also be some who closely align with Markowitz enough to throw their support behind her.
That said, for whoever wins the runoff and replaces Zerwas for the remainder of his term, the most burning question remaining is this – what change could truly be enacted? Charles Kuffner of the “Off the Kuff” political blog makes a good point in this regard when considering whether this special election can truly be used as a barometer of whether Fort Bend County’s political landscapes are continuing to change.
As he pointed out in September, whoever wins this race – and races in Districts 100 and 148 – may not be the one who is sworn in in the 2020 election cycle or gets to cast a vote when the next legislative session begins in 2021. They may only make it as far as the next regular election. Democrats, after all, flipped HD97 in a November 2007 special election, while Republicans took over HD118 in January 2018. However, both seats flipped back around as the next regular election ran its course.
“It’s definitely possible that the winner this time will lose the next time, and that would be the case regardless of who wins,” Kuffner wrote.
A big part of that sentiment could very well be the special circumstances of the 2019 election. Fort Bend County Elections Administrator John Oldham said last week that nearly half of the massive early voter turnout in the county came from the HD28 race. By the 2020 election cycle, however, will the awareness have worn off? It’s very possible as there will be little but constitutional amendments on the ballot for District 28 at this time next year. So it will be squarely on the candidates’ shoulders to pound the streets themselves to keep it at the forefront.
In any case, I agree with Kuffner’s assessment – this 2019 special election may have the earmarks of a game changer. But whether the political landscape of Fort Bend County will undergo a seismic shift won’t truly be known until 2020, thus the results of this race – and accompanying celebrations – should absolutely be taken with a grain of salt.
Either way, Fort Bend County voters need to get out and make their voice heard. The future political landscape of the county hangs in the balance.