Ever since John Zerwas spurred a special election by announcing he was stepping down from the District 28 seat in the Texas House of Representatives earlier this year, the race has been targeted as a potential harbinger for Democratic power in Fort Bend County and beyond.
Both remaining candidates, Democrat Eliz Markowitz and Republican Gary Gates, appear to think so as well leading up to the runoff election at a date still to be determined.
“I think this is very much a bellwether election,” said Markowitz, the lone Democrat in the field who received the highest percentage of votes (39 percent) in the Nov. 5 election. “When we win this seat, that’s going to bring in enough money to help flip the remaining eight seats that we need in order to take control of the Texas House.”
Gates received 28 percent of the votes on Election Day.
“(Voters) became more educated as time went on about how critical this race is,” he said. “Democrats have certainly focused on it. They tried to swing for the
fences and tried to take it in the first round.”
Gates said the increased Republican turnout took Democrats around the state and country somewhat by surprise – creating what he believes is a stiff challenge to flip the seat they crave. Gates was one of six Republicans on the ballot for the special election.
“Our goal was to drive out the Republican turnout, and I think we accomplished that. They have a huge uphill battle, because now the Republican Party gets to coalesce behind one candidate. The entire apparatus can now focus on this runoff,” Gates said. “They wanted to try flipping this seat to get closer to the margin of 50 percent in the state House, which is why they focus on it. They’d be better off putting their money somewhere else, because I think they see the odds are probably stacked against them.”
Markowitz, however, insisted the turnout was no surprise given other elections around District 28, and expressed confidence for the runoff.
“I’m proud of what we did, and we’re going to bring it all home when the runoff comes to fruition,” she said.
While it certainly impacts the political landscapes in Fort Bend County, both candidates say the bigger potential power seizure that could occur would have major ripple effects throughout the state governance administration.
Gates, while mostly self-funding his campaign through loans, had spent more than any other candidate in the race as of the end of the last reporting period. His campaign recently ran ads on cable TV, as did the campaign of Markowitz. Markowitz has also received more than $60,000 in campaign contributions and gotten donations from all over the United States with the help of ActBlue, an online fundraising platform that connects donors to Democrats, progressive groups and nonprofits.
“They tried hard because it would give them bragging rights (in the House) and would motivate their base,” Gates said.
Markowitz said her campaign is geared toward the communities and voters themselves, and not beholden to the powers that be, which she believes would bring a much-needed dynamic to Austin.
“I’m someone who’s working for them, not for those who hold power,” she said.
Ultimately, Gates said Texas is right where it needs to be.
“Our base understands how important this runoff is so we can continue the economic growth that Texas is experiencing,” he said. “Texas has the best economy going of any state in the country, and I think that’s by and large because of the Republican policies. That’s why it’s so critical to keep this seat in Republican hands.”
Markowitz, however, said she has heard a different story.
“They’re tired of the in-fighting and vitriol that is coming from not only various groups in Fort Bend but in Austin and other administrations that run government,” she said. “They’re looking for a change that’s positive and someone who will work for the people instead of the top 1 percent and special interest. I’m ready to be that person. … Our campaign is a people-powered campaign, nor are we catering to the whims of those in power. We are run by the people and for the people.”
For more information on each of the candidates, visit their campaign websites. To find out more about your polling location and election information, visit fortbendcountytx.gov.