Democrat state Representative Jon Rosenthal has eked out a narrow victory over Republican Justin Ray to return to the Texas House in 2021.
Unofficial election results show the two are separated by a 317-vote margin, while Libertarian candidate Paul Bilyeu garnered 1,695 votes.
Prior to the 2018 election, House District 135 in northwest Harris County had been represented by Republican Gary Elkins for 24 years, but Rosenthal toppled Elkins with a slim 50.8 percent of the vote that year. Bilyeu also ran in 2018, capturing 1.5 percent of the total vote.
Following the 2019 legislative session, Mark Jones of Rice University’s Baker Institute rated Rosenthal the fifth most liberal member of the House and the most liberal member from Harris County. Rosenthal’s score placed him to the left of area progressives like Reps. Gene Wu (D-Houston) and Jessica Farrar (D-Houston).
A mechanical engineer working in the oil and gas industry, Rosenthal has been critical of the state’s response to COVID-19 but praises Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo for her more rigorous pandemic policies. At a recent candidate forum, he asserted that anyone returning to work or school should first have a negative coronavirus test, and said he advocates for universal masking until the situation is “under control.”
At the same forum, Ray said that “under control” had become a moving target and that state leaders needed to acknowledge the economic pain caused by lockdowns. Ray said he gave the state’s response a B+, but urged reopening now that more is known about the virus and how to treat it.
Both Rosenthal and Ray are strong proponents of public education. Ray’s wife works in the Cy-Fair Independent School District, and Rosenthal enjoys the endorsement of the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers Union, and says he wants to leverage corporate taxes to increase funding for public schools.
Other groups endorsing Rosenthal include the AFL-CIO, Houston GLBT Political Caucus, and pro-abortion advocate NARAL Pro-Choice America, while Ray had endorsements from Governor Greg Abbott, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and Associated Republicans of Texas.
Rosenthal was also swept up in controversy last year after Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan released details of a meeting with then-Texas House Speaker Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) during which Rosenthal was named in disparaging terms. Rosenthal said he was shocked and disappointed over the remarks Bonnen had made, but says the two met later. “He made a mistake, as all humans do. He apologized, and I forgave him.”
Prior to the election, Ray held a slight fundraising advantage with $623,000 to Rosenthal’s $501,000.
A recent analysis from The Texan indicates that the district still leans slightly Republican at R-52%, although Baker Institute predicted the race would remain Democrat. Neighboring districts 132 and 138, lying south and west of 135, were won by Republicans Mike Schofield and Lacey Hull this year.
Tuesday’s election results indicate that HD 135 is now a swing district likely to draw increased attention in coming elections.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.