Elections 2020IssuesState HouseStatewide NewsSpecial Election for Rep. Zerwas’ Vacated Seat Draws National Attention

Local and national Democrats have their sights set on the special election for House District 28, a seat vacated by longtime Rep. John Zerwas.
October 21, 2019

One of several special elections slated for this November, Texas House District 28 in Fort Bend County is attracting both money and attention from national Democrats who are determined to flip the traditionally Republican seat.

Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) held the district for 12 years but announced his retirement last summer.  In 2018 he won re-election with an 8-point margin, though Senator Ted Cruz carried the district by only 3 points. 

Special elections do not provide for party primaries, but with only one Democrat and six Republicans vying for the open seat, Republicans have found themselves competing in a de facto primary contest.  If no candidate captures more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote takers will compete in a December runoff election. 

But Democrat operatives are pouring resources into the race in the hopes that Eliz Markowitz will win outright on November 5. 

An instructor and author with test prep company Princeton Review, Markowitz holds a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction and in 2018 ran for State Board of Education District 7 but lost to Republican Matt Robinson by nearly 20 points. 

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On her website Markowitz says she wants to abolish standardized testing, and craft legislation “that expands upon the principles of the Affordable Care Act.”  Her published campaign platform also calls for red-flag gun control laws, stripping funding from crisis pregnancy centers, and allowing for same-day and online voter registration. 

During a recent fundraising dinner for the state party, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez repeatedly highlighted the HD 28 race and solicited donations for Markowitz. Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) and other Texas Democrats have also been visiting the district for fundraising and campaign events in a concerted effort to push Markowitz past 50 percent in November.

According to the most recent campaign finance reports Markowitz has raised $61,845.  Forward Majority, a super PAC focused on capturing state legislative seats for Democrats will also assist her campaign by spending as much as $200k and running television spots on local cable stations. 

Other groups supporting Markowitz include the AFL-CIO, abortion-rights PAC Annie’s List, and the LGBTQ Victory Fund.  Earlier this month the National Democratic Redistricting Committee PAC chaired by former Attorney General Eric Holder pledged to spend $25k on the Markowitz campaign. 

Since multiple Republicans have filed, county and state party organizations are not backing a particular candidate, but the GOP is not sitting on the sidelines either.

Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey told The Texan the state party was working closely with County Chair Linda Howell and the team at the Fort Bend Republican Party.

“Together with them and others we will contact thousands in House District 28 by phone and in person to ensure solid Republican voter turnout – for whichever Republican candidate they choose,” said Dickey.  

“We are excited for the opportunity to remind HD 28 voters about the many ways they have benefitted from Republican leadership and look forward to helping ensure a GOP victory in this special election.”

According to the most recent campaign finance reports, the three leading Republican candidates are anesthesiologist Dr. Anna Allred, businessman Gary Gates, and attorney Tricia Krenek

Allred describes herself as a pro-life and pro-family Christian.  Although she has not previously held elected office, Allred told The Texan she has worked with legislators at the state and national level on health-care issues and had been considering running for the legislature for some time.

While Markowitz is campaigning on expansion of the Affordable Care Act and says she’s the only candidate fighting “insurance company profits,” Allred also takes on healthcare policy.  She notes that under ACA insurance companies have been able to increase profits by shifting “costs onto patients by narrowing their networks and paying for less medically necessary care all while increasing their premiums and deductibles to unaffordable levels.”  

“That should absolutely be addressed. I believe there are ways to make insurance more affordable and accessible and will work to make sure carriers put patients before profit,” said Allred.”

As of the latest reporting, Allred had raised $158,570, and this week Texans for Lawsuit Reform announced they would be offering financial assistance to her campaign.  Allred is working with consultants Blakemore and Associates, and plans to announce a high-profile endorsement soon.  

Former Fulshear City Councilwoman Tricia Krenek, an attorney who once studied under late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, ran last year for Fort Bend County Court at Law.  After winning the primary, she lost in the general election as Democrats swept the county presumably due to the “Beto” effect. 

As of early October Krenek had raised more than $30,000 and loaned her campaign $150k and told The Texan she was working with strategist Keets Norfleet and would be running a “well-funded campaign that will reach voters in multiple mediums.” 

Touting endorsements from numerous county Republican activists and more than 50 current and former locally elected officials, Krenek says she has a wealth of local grassroots support. 

“I have a strong record of service and involvement in the community, and we have the organization to run a winning campaign.”

“We are not going to let the Democrats win this election,” said Krenek.  “Local Republicans know what’s at stake and they are ready to work for this district.”

This week Krenek also received endorsements from the Associated Republicans of Texas and the Greater Houston Builders Association. She is an advocate for additional property tax reforms and improving flood control projects; the latter a significant issue for a community that experienced extensive flooding after Hurricane Harvey, partially due to alleged reservoir management problems.

Houston businessman Gary Gates has raised only $265.00 but is loaning $271,000 to his own campaign and has the financial ability to generously self-fund.  

Gates has run twice before for HD 28, several times for state senate, and most recently in 2016 for Texas Railroad Commissioner.  Over the course of those campaigns, he is reported to have spent more than $6 million. But financial strength has not prevented him from having to counter revelations surrounding a dropped CPS investigation and issues related to his Houston-area apartment properties. 

For this campaign, Gates is working with political consulting organization Murphy Nasica, and thus far is the only Republican in the race to produce a television ad

Other Republicans running include Gary J. Hale, a former police officer and DEA agent, Sarah Laningham, and Clinton D. Purnell. 

HD 28 is one of three Texas House districts holding Special Elections this year.  HD 100, vacated by Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) and HD 148, vacated by Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) also feature multiple candidates and may be catapulted into runoff elections in December. 

Since these are off-year special elections, winners may not ever participate in a legislative session.  Each will have to file for re-election in January and run again in the 2020 primaries and general election before the next state legislative session begins in 2021.

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Cypress, Texas. 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.