Governor Greg Abbott has scheduled the special election for Tuesday, August 31. Early voting lasts from Monday, August 23 through Friday, August 27. According to the Texas Secretary of State, five Republicans, one Democrat, one Independent, and one Libertarian have thrown their hats in the ring.
There will be familiar names on the ballot, including former State Representative John Wray and Brian Harrison, who was a candidate for Congress in the special election that Ellzey won to replace the late United States Representative Ron Wright (R-TX-6).
The Texan spoke with many of the candidates about issues including their policy priorities, their stances on the election reform legislation pending in the Texas legislature, and how they would contrast themselves with their opponents.
During the Trump administration, Harrison was the chief of staff to United States Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. He has been endorsed by the influential pro-life group Texas Right to Life.
Harrison, who has also received the endorsement of Congresswoman Beth Van Duyne (R-TX-24), supports the abolition of property taxes and is steadfastly against the “liberal takeover of our schools.”
“I am strongly opposed to the lie and liberal propaganda called Critical Race Theory. I will fight to keep Critical Race Theory out of our schools,” Harrison says on his campaign website.
Harrison also supports the Second Amendment, border security, and increased energy production. He opposes mandatory vaccinations, masking requirements, and lockdowns.
In terms of how he differs from his opponents in the race, Harrison said in a call with The Texan last week, “I have the most enthusiasm and the strongest grassroots support of any candidate in this race who want a strong, proven conservative that will faithfully fight for our values in Austin.”
On the subject of proposed laws designed to prevent election fraud and to improve transparency, Harrison said, “I vehemently support any effort to strengthen the integrity of our elections in Texas.”
Former State Representative John Wray represented House District 10 from 2015 until January of this year when Ellzey succeeded him.
Ellzey, who was elected to the Texas House in 2020 and announced his congressional bid just months after taking office, endorsed Wray on Monday, calling him a “proven conservative” and saying “we need strong Republicans like John Wray in the Texas House.”
“I took time off to spend more time with my family and our Ellis County community, but with Jake heading to Congress, I can’t stay on the sidelines,” Wray said in his campaign announcement.
“With the Democrats fleeing the state and pulling every trick in the book to block conservative legislation, we need someone who knows how to fight back.”
On his website, Wray’s campaign touts his work to “cut property taxes by $5 billion, while giving public school teachers and retirees much-needed raises and increasing school funding.”
Wray, who is an attorney, has been endorsed by organizations including the Texas Medical Association, the Texas State Association of Firefighters, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and Texas Alliance for Life.
During the 86th legislature in 2019, Wray received D-ratings from Young Conservatives of Texas and Texas Right to Life.
That same legislative session, Wray voted for a bill, House Bill (HB) 800, that would have included coverage for “prescription contraceptive drugs, supplies, or devices approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration” for minors in the state’s Children Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
At the time, Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), one of the bill’s authors, said Texas is the only state in the Union that does not allow CHIP to reimburse for contraception. The bill required parental consent and explicitly excluded abortifacient prescriptions.
Though Wray cast a vote of “aye” upon second reading of HB 800, according to the legislative journal he was absent from the vote when it came before the House for final passage. He later indicated that he “would have voted no” but his “vote failed to register.”
Wray did not respond to The Texan’s interview request by the time of publication.
Midlothian City Councilman Clark Wickliffe, a Republican, began serving on the city’s utility advisory board right out of high school. Wickliffe has served on various boards since then, including economic development and planning and zoning.
In his interview with The Texan, Wickliffe touted his belief in low taxes and said he would “always stand for Christian, conservative values.”
“As an elected official for the city of Midlothian, I have supported and ultimately lowered the tax rate every year since I’ve been elected. I’ve also helped change the outlook in reform on how we tax our senior citizens to keep them from being taxed out of their homes,” Wickliffe said.
Wickliffe works in real estate and says he is also for keeping government small and local, holding ERCOT accountable, and keeping politics out of the classroom.
Referencing the Democratic walkout to block the proposed election integrity laws, Wickliffe indicated his stance that absent lawmakers have relinquished the privilege of being members of the Texas House.
“I support the election bill and as far as the Democrats breaking quorum, to me I look at it as they have given up on who they represent,” Wickliffe said. “They’ve given up on the state of Texas and personally I look at it as they forgo and basically resign their seat.”
Speaking to what sets him apart from his opponents, the city councilman emphasized the importance of electing someone who can be around for the long haul.
“I think that if Wray was to come back, he probably would not serve very many more terms and then we would be back to where we are going to be today, which is trying to get someone in there who can build up seniority in the House of Representatives, because that’s how you get things done,” Wickliffe said.
Democrat Pierina Otiniano is an immigration attorney running for the deeply conservative House district. Jana Lynne Sanchez, who is a Democratic precinct chair in Tarrant County and finished third in a bid for the seat Ellzey ultimately won, has supported Otiniano on social media.
On her campaign website, Otiniano says she favors additional gun control such as universal background checks and hopes to “modernize law enforcement budgets.” The Democrat says she favors lowering property taxes, but also criticizes prior legislatures for “voting to defund education and healthcare.”
According to an analysis by The Texan, Republicans typically won 70 percent of the vote in House District 10 in the past two general election cycles in 2018 and 2020. However, special elections are unique and a strong get out the vote campaign by Democrats and low turnout among Republicans could give Otiniano a chance.
In a race with multiple GOP candidates, the Republican vote could also be divided, which would improve Otiniano’s odds of advancing to a runoff.
Otiniano did not respond to The Texan’s request for an interview.
Matt Savino works in information technology and is a pro-life Libertarian candidate who supports reducing the scope of government and eliminating the pension program for state lawmakers.
Savino also believes the state should focus on spending more efficiently to reduce the need for taxation. He proposes doing away with property taxes and replacing it with an upfront sales tax on the purchase of property so that homebuyers and property buyers truly own their real estate once their mortgages are paid off.
On the subject of the Democrats breaking quorum to block the elections bill, Savino pointed out that most people would be fired for not showing up for work, calling the quorum break “immature.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s the Republicans or Democrats that are walking away, it defeats the whole purpose. If you don’t agree with it, vote against it,” Savino said in his interview with The Texan. “All you’re doing is delaying things and costing everyone time and money.”
Savino also contrasted himself with Wray, who Savino also challenged in 2018, by contending that the former incumbent is not as conservative as he campaigns.
“[E]ven though John Wray runs as a Republican, and carries that Republican flag, he very much votes Democratically, or liberally,” Savino remarked.
Independent Scott Goodwin is a businessman who describes himself as similar to a Libertarian who supports safeguarding the United States Constitution, “the Texas Constitution, and the liberties of the individual.”
Goodwin is the vice president of development for Obsidian, which is “a product development and solution provider for individual entrepreneurs and major companies nationally,” according to a press release he provided.
A pro-life candidate, Goodwin’s priorities include border security, the right to keep and bear arms, and “Texas exceptionalism.” He also supports the Republican election reform legislation that is currently being considered, while noting that it could be improved.
“I think they are making an effort to try to improve the process of bringing integrity and I find that this whole idea that people are trying to make elections inaccessible and […] unavailable and trying to sway it by that [is] ridiculous,” Goodwin said.
In his interview with The Texan, Goodwin asserted that it is as important to identify ideas that are not working in order to develop sound public policy by process of elimination. He believes politics have become muddled by the involvement of too many lawyers and career politicians, and touts his career as a businessman.
“I’ll make mistakes and I’ll adjust and correct and I’ll do my best to really listen,” Goodwin said. “I don’t believe that people should be right. The minute somebody thinks they’re right, they’ve stopped listening and they’ve stopped growing and they stopped learning.”
Republican Kevin Griffin described himself to The Texan as a “businessman through and through” as he manages several technology companies and agricultural companies.
Griffin was also a peace officer for 15 years and says one of his priorities will be taking care of first responders. He said he “absolutely” supports “ensuring that our elections are fair and balanced.”
In addition to tax reduction, individual rights, and growing the economy, he contends that the state’s border security needs a “true infrastructure overhaul.”
“And I know firsthand. Not only was I in law enforcement, but I also own and operate ranches on the border. So, I’ve been there. I’ve seen what happens,” Griffin said. “And I know what needs to be done to get it to a better solution so I’ll be able to bring those things and those resources to Austin for our people.”
When asked how he would contrast himself with his opponents, Griffin pointed to his experience as a peace officer and his experience dealing with the United States Department of Agriculture.
“I’ll be able to bring all of that, plus my business experience, domestic [and] international, to the table to be able to balance the budget. I understand what it takes to run and get deals on an international level,” Griffin said. “I’ll be bringing that to Austin. And I don’t think there’s a candidate running that has the same experience I have from an executive level.”
Susan Mellina Hayslip is a Republican attorney who was also running for the seat, though she has now thrown her support behind Harrison, calling him “the faithful conservative voice that we can all trust and the right choice for District 10.”
The candidate who wins the special election will be the third person to occupy the House District 10 seat this year. If Wray ends up getting elected to his old job, he will have been gone from the Texas legislature for about eight months.
It will also be the last election in the district as it is currently drawn. After a months-long delay, the United States Census Bureau finished compiling population data last week, and Abbott will likely call lawmakers back to Austin in the fall to redraw state legislative and congressional districts.
Voters in House District 10 may not know who their next state representative will be on September 1. It will be a mad dash to the finish, and with so many candidates in the running, a runoff is a real possibility.
Ellis County voters can find more information about the special election such as voting locations and mail ballot applications at this link. Henderson County voters can find more information at this link.
Update: This article has been updated to reflect that Susan Mellina Hayslip has endorsed Brian Harrison.
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Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.