We are 33 days away from Super Tuesday and Texas’ primary elections. One of the most-watched races is the Austin-area House District 47.
The district is recently competitive after State Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin) flipped the seat from Republican to Democrat in 2018. Before that, eight-year incumbent Paul Workman had won re-election by no-fewer than 11 points (2016).
In 2014, Workman did not even have a Democratic opponent.
HD 47 is located on the west side of Austin/Travis County, reaching as far northwest as Leander and as far Southeast as the east side of I-35.
Over 175,000 people live in the district, with the vast majority living in Austin’s city limits.
The five candidates looking to unseat Goodwin are police officer, and vice president of the Austin Police Association, Justin Berry; attorney Jennifer Fleck; attorney Jennifer Roan Forgey; former Marine and lawyer Aaron Reitz; and former Austin city councilman Don Zimmerman.
As of the latest finance reports, Goodwin has a comfortable cash-on-hand lead over the field — almost double the next closest in Forgey. Strictly among Republicans, Forgey — and to some extent, Zimmerman — stand head and shoulders above the other candidates in terms of fundraising.
|Justin Berry (R)||$17,146.6||$27,548.41||$8,744.2|
|Jennifer Fleck (R)||$20,140.85||$26,832.01||$22,209.21|
|Jenny Roan Forgey (R)||$78,145.69||$43,019.31||$56,151.74|
|Vikki Goodwin (D)||$120,002.63||$64,634.71||$105,980.57|
|Aaron Reitz (R)||$15,959||$26,909.4||$19,665|
|Don Zimmerman (R)||$40,882||$18,227.95||$52,300|
Forgey spent over half of what she raised in this report, but still has more cash-on-hand left than the amount she spent. She is a corporate attorney, which can be a benefit when seeking campaign dollars.
But that amount raised cannot be entirely explained by her occupation — her totals show that she is clearly a prolific fundraiser. The campaign, however, has used two different fundraising consultants, switching in September of last year. Total, Forgey spent just under $15,000 on fundraising consulting — for which she received a solid return-on-investment.
Even subtracting the money she spent on fundraising, Forgey still outraised her next-closest opponent by over $20,000.
That next-closest opponent — Zimmerman — spent less than any other candidate, but also has an advantage in that his name has been on the ballot before. This race is not his first exposure to voters.
Meanwhile, the three other candidates all spent about the same amount of money in the latter half of 2019.
Reitz has amassed an impressive number of endorsements from many grassroots conservative organizations such as Texas Right to Life, Young Conservatives of Texas, and the Texas Homeschool Coalition.
Given his police background, Berry has been endorsed by the Texas Municipal Police Association, Austin Police Association, and the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.
Jennifer Fleck has been endorsed by the Women in America Legislative Action Committee and Concerned Women for America.
Zimmerman was also endorsed by Texas Right to Life.
The NRA has given Berry and Reitz their highest candidate rating.
Fleck has been a consistent critic of the public education system and has a focus on family issues. No one-trick pony, however, Fleck’s website touts her commitment to “free markets, limited government, fiscal responsibility, responsive government, and parental transparency” in schools. Fleck is also notably pro-life.
She told The Texan, about legislating, in September, “I don’t appreciate it when a legislator tells me that they voted in accordance with their conscience because I think that should be left to their own private ballot. I think an elected official’s job is to represent the people.”
Justin Berry’s website moniker states “Conservative Cop, not a Politician.” His website lists four themes: safe neighborhoods, strong higher and public education, free-market economy, and defend our constitutional rights.
Berry, who is a veteran Austin police officer, has also been outspoken on the homelessness issue facing the city. But Berry is also concerned with property taxes, telling The Texan earlier this month, “I really want to see our property tax system change. I really want us to switch to that consumption model… I think that has the greatest impact in people’s day-to-day lives.”
For his part, Reitz has also remained hellbent on hammering the homeless issue in Austin. In November, he penned this opinion editorial in the Statesman criticizing Austin city council’s handling of the issue.
Among other things, Reitz touts his support for school choice. His website reads, “We should give parents education opportunities that suit their children, including access to great public, private, charter, or home schools.”
Zimmerman, as a former Austin city councilmember, has a unique perspective on the homelessness issue, given that he once sat on the very body that in 2017 passed a PR bond directive and rescinded the camping ordinance this past July.
But if elected, Zimmerman has another concern he’d focus on — taxpayer-funded lobbying. “My biggest disappointment in the session was not getting the ban on taxpayer-funded lobbyists,” Zimmerman told The Texan in July.
In September, Zimmerman also sued the City of Austin for appropriating $150,000 towards “abortion access services.”
On her website, Forgey highlights small business growth, improving traffic and water supply usage, access to quality healthcare, and providing a voice for education in the legislature. In a Statesman piece, she was described as a “fiscal conservative, social moderate.” In her words, this means she’s “committed to small government so that you can be free.”
In her first session, Goodwin was rated the seventh-most liberal legislator by Mark P. Jones’ 2019 House rankings. That ranking is based on roll-call vote records during the 86th Session.
Some progressive-oriented bills authored or co-authored by Goodwin include HB 1236, a bill permitting higher education institutions to “establish rules, regulations, or other provisions prohibiting license holders from carrying handguns on the campus of the institution”; HB 2138, a bill to institute and mandate a $15 minimum wage; and HB 928, establishing a “Texas Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission to study and address the impacts of climate change in this state.”
In 2018, Goodwin won by just over 5,000 votes. That same year, Beto O’Rourke carried the district by over 10 points in his ultimately unsuccessful race against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Governor Abbott carried the district by four points while Lt. Governor Patrick lost it by six points.
Goodwin has a strong 2018 record she can use to rally Democrats in the district, however, questions remain about what the electorate will look like in a presidential election cycle with the near-certainty that no Democratic candidate at the federal level will be spending $80 million in the Lone Star State’s suburbs as O’Rourke did in 2018.
Heading into the November elections, Goodwin is running on expanding Medicaid, raising teacher’s wages to the national average, opposition to school choice programs, improving transportation, preserving renewable energy and electric vehicle subsidies, and establishing universal background check laws.
This Austin-area district will be one of the key state races to watch this year. A Democratic hold will be necessary for the party to have a chance at flipping the Texas House, but a Republican gain in this seat will almost certainly ensure that the GOP remains in control.
Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.