A special election was held Tuesday for Texas House District 28, Fort Bend County (Houston area). The election was needed to fill the unexpired term of state Rep. John Zerwas of Richmond. The Republican victory announced in this race last night is good news for Texas Republicans to celebrate.
Zerwas, a doctor, served in the House since 2007 until he resigned last summer. He was the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee which writes the state budget. This special election was touted from the beginning as a bellwether election by Democrats and the media. Democrats are really invested in turning Texas blue and this election was supposed to indicate a Democrat tsunami coming in 2020.
Republican Gary Gates defeated Democrat Eliz Markowitz. The vote tally was 17,457 votes for Gates to 12,617 votes for Markowitz – 58% to 42%. Gates roughly doubled the margin of Zerwas’ victory in 2018. Texas Democrats, with the help of Democrats in Washington, D.C. hoped that Markowitz would win and her victory would lead the way for the GOP-controlled Texas House of Representatives to flip to a Democrat majority. Gates will serve out Zerwas’ unexpired term and a new election will be held in November with that winner serving a full term.
Democrats pinned their hopes on flipping the nine seats they need to get a majority in the state House. If they succeed, they will also gain the speakership, with control of redistricting that will be on the legislature’s next session. Democrats are targeting 22 seats in hopes of meeting their goal of 9 victories. In Fort Bend, Beto O’Rourke lost in his 2018 bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz by 3.14 points. So, Texas HD28 was number 16 on that list of 22. Beto and other Democrats jumped in to help Markowitz and guess what happened? It backfired. Who could have possibly seen that coming? Markowitz placed first in the primary race last November but she was the only Democrat running and the Republican vote was split between six Republicans. This is why the claim that the special election could be a bellwether took hold. Democrats got fired up at the possibility that the solidly red state district could turn blue.
In the special election in November, Markowitz placed first with 39.1%, but she was the lone Democrat facing six Republicans seeking to fill the seat.
Gates was always the favorite to win the runoff. But his consultant Craig Murphy said that O’Rourke’s presence, as well as campaign appearances on behalf of Markowitz by former presidential candidate Julián Castro and presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, and endorsements by two other candidates — former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — nationalized the campaign in unproductive ways for Democrats.
Murphy said one voter after another would “say they had enough of these people coming in — all these liberal presidential candidates have thrown their support behind her — telling them what to do. It was an epic kind of constant refrain.”
Democrats have to learn the same lesson over and over again in Texas. Texas voters don’t appreciate others coming in and telling everyone for whom to vote. Julian Castro was a natural for Markowitz’s campaign endorsements and of course, Beto, since they are Texans but the others? What were the Democrats thinking? Bloomberg and Warren? C’mon on, man. Of the presidential candidates, Biden made the most sense to endorse her since he’s leading in the Texas polls.
Particularly hard hit is Robert Francis O’Rourke. He is all in for the Democrat takeover of the House. He spent back-to-back weekends campaigning for Markowitz and attended her Election Night party. Both Markowitz and Gates are going to run for the seat in November to serve a full term and O’Rourke has already pledged his support to Markowitz.
On a Facebook live stream driving back to El Paso from Fort Bend late Tuesday that opened with O’Rourke listening to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” on a Houston radio station, O’Rourke said that while “the night’s not going the way we would have wanted it to,” Markowitz, at her election night party, “turned right around and bucked us all up and reminded us that the big election is November. She’s on the ballot again. November, of course, is going to have a much higher turnout, which bodes well for her, and she’s got this army of volunteers, myself included.”
Beto started a grassroots organization in December to support candidates like Markowitz with the goal of focusing on flipping the Texas House. It’s called Powered by People. The group is focusing on young voters and people moving into Texas from other states.
Powered by People will organize grassroots volunteers to do the tough, necessary work that wins elections: registering Texans to vote (especially those that have just moved to Texas and those who are just turning 18), knocking on their doors, making phone calls, and connecting the dots so that we all understand that in order to make progress on the issues we care most about — like gun violence, healthcare and climate — we will have to register, volunteer and vote.
The race allowed O’Rourke to “find purpose and function again” after his own spectacular flame-out in politics. Apparently Beto needs a campaign. Texas House District 28 filled the void the angst-filled O’Rourke had after he stopped running for president. You can’t make this stuff up. Everything is always about him.
“There was a time when we were … wondering just what our purpose was on this planet,” O’Rourke told supporters. “But in doing this for Eliz, and being part of Powered by the People, I really have found that purpose and function again and I’m really hopeful about our country, about this race, about Texas, but just on a very personal level.”
There is no denying Democrat enthusiasm in Texas, especially after the 2018 election results. My own congressional district fell to a Democrat for the first time ever. It is still too early, though, for Democrats to get too far ahead of themselves and start popping champagne bottles. Texas Republican voters have no intention of making a flip to blue easy for them. It won’t happen in 2020.