By Michael Sudhalter
District 27 Texas State Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City), the Democratic House Whip, may get re-elected this fall.
But if it happens, he’ll have proven himself among his constituents in the Democratic Primary on March 1. Early voting takes place from Feb. 16-26.
For months, there had been widespread speculation that the three-term incumbent would face a primary challenge from former Fort Bend Democratic Party Chairman Steve Brown of Missouri City.
That’s proven to be true, but the candidacies of Missouri City-based political newcomers Angelique Bartholomew and Chris Henderson. change the dynamics of the primary.
A four-way primary has the potential to set up a runoff election, if no candidate garners more than 50 percent of support on March 1.
Reynolds, Brown and Bartholomew have all endorsed Hillary Clinton for President, while Henderson said he’s still deciding between Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). All four candidates described themselves as either “progressive” or “liberal” Democrats.
The Democratic Primary winner will have a strong chance of winning the general election in November, since the District has always elected Democrats by wide margins.
Reynolds is continuing to battle legal woes that his political opponents – including some primary challengers – say could impede his ability to be an effective legislator in Austin.
Last November, Reynolds was convicted of five counts of Misdemeanor Barratry (known colloquially as Ambulance Chasing) in Montgomery County.
Despite it being his first offense, Reynolds was sentenced to the maximum one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Reynolds is out on bond, pending an appeal that won’t be resolved by March 1.
Last week, Montgomery County Court-at-Law Judge Mary Ann Turner denied Reynolds’ appeal to continue practicing law while he awaits appeal of his case.
Reynolds, however, said the case, which is waiting to be heard by an Appeals Court in Beaumont, will exonerate him and restore his ability to practice law again.
Reynolds’ closest election to date came in the 2010 Democratic Primary when he defeated seven-term incumbent Dora Olivo of Rosenberg, 58 to 42 percent.
He hasn’t faced a Democratic Primary opponent since 2010, and has won no less than 67 percent of the vote in each of the past three general elections.
Reynolds cites the backing of the “rank and file” Democrats and numerous endorsements from the Fort Bend/Greater Houston Democratic establishment as proof of his “proven leadership” in Austin.
Even Fort Bend Democratic Party Chairman Don Bankston has endorsed Reynolds . It’s not common for party chairs to endorse candidates in primaries.
“I have a proven track record of working across the aisle to pass common sense legislation in the past and I will continue to do the same if I’m re-elected,” Reynolds said. “My Republican colleagues respect me as a very passionate representative that cares more about solutions than political bickering.”
Reynolds said “strengthening the school finance system” is one of the biggest challenges facing District 27.
Brown has run two unsuccessful campaigns. He lost to Olivo, 60-to-40 percent in the 2006 Democratic Primary for District 27, and in 2014, he lost an election for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission to Ryan Sitton, a Republican from Friendswood, 58 to 37 percent.
Brown agrees that improving public schools is a pressing issue for District 27, but he doesn’t think Reynolds has done enough to improve it.
“Sadly, Ron’s distractions will keep him from serving on committees like Public Education or House Appropriations, which would give us a greater say on shaping education policy and school finance,” Brown said. “My team and I have already begun researching pilot programs aimed at turning poor performing schools around. I plan to engage the community, parents and Fort Bend ISD leadership on some of the best practices that we identify.”
Brown proudly announced an endorsement from Gene Collins, the President of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, last week.
Henderson, an Assistant District Attorney in Galveston County, said “fixing the criminal justice system and ensuring each person is treated properly and equally under the law” is the most important issue for District 27. He specifically cited the ongoing problem of the “school-to-prison pipeline” that must end, and would like to see more “transparency and accountability” in the criminal justice system.
Bartholomew also cited the need to improve the school system as a major issue for District 27.
“We have to get serious about our school finances, fully restore public education cuts and fund our schools to match our population growth,” Bartholomew said. “Good public policy makes for good politics. Texans want good schools, good health care and sound infrastructure. These aren’t Democratic or Republican priorities – they are Texan priorities.”