Elections 2022State HouseTwo Democrats Compete in Runoff for New Fort Bend House District

Two House candidates are competing for the Democratic nomination in the new Fort Bend County district that leans toward their party.
April 20, 2022
With the slow growth in El Paso and booming population of Fort Bend, lawmakers last year redrew the state House map to move House District (HD) 76 from the western-most county in Texas to the thriving suburbs southwest of Houston.

The shakeup ultimately led to the ousting of Rep. Art Fierro (D-El Paso), who lost reelection against Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez (D-El Paso), but the new district in Fort Bend favors the addition of a new member to the House Democratic Caucus.

Under the new boundaries, HD 76 has a Texas Partisan Index (TPI) rating of D-61%, meaning that Democrats on the ballot in 2018 and 2020 carried the district against Republicans by an average of 22 points.

Still, three Republicans ran in the primary for the open seat, with Dan Mathews receiving over half the vote to avoid a runoff.

With the new open seat, four Democrats filed to run in the March 1 primary election. Since none received over 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates advanced to a runoff election that will be held May 24.

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Suleman Lalani, a physician who ran for HD 26 in 2020, received 37 percent in the primary, trailed by Vanesia Johnson, a social worker who received 25 percent.

Lalani’s campaign has been better funded than Johnson’s, according to the available campaign finance reports that run through late February.

He has reported raising $80,000 and has boosted his funding even more with an additional $50,000 self-loan to his campaign.

Johnson, meanwhile, has reported raising $6,000 in total so far.

But campaign finances do not seal the deal for candidates, as can be observed in the last election cycle.

In Lalani’s HD 26 bid, he also vastly outraised another Democratic runoff candidate, L. Sarah DeMerchant, and loaned his campaign over $90,000.

Despite the financial advantages of Lalani, DeMerchant won the runoff. She then went on to raise over $800,000 for the general election, but lost to Rep. Jacey Jetton (R-Richmond) who outraised her with $1.9 million in reported contributions throughout the entire election cycle.

DeMerchant ran again in the Democratic primary for HD 76 this year, but only received 19 percent of the vote.

Policy-wise, Lalani and Johnson do not have clear major differences in their views.

For instance, on their websites, the two both express support for expanding Medicaid, promoting a transition toward renewable energy, and increasing teacher pay.

At a candidate forum in February hosted by Raise Your Hand Texas, a pro-public education organization, Lalani and Johnson both stated that they oppose voucher programs and state support for charter schools.

Mathews, the only Republican in attendance at the forum, said that he supported a “limited” voucher program and is open to charter schools as long as they are held to the same standards as public schools.

Though the two Democratic candidates share many of the same views, a notable difference are the types of policies that they would focus on.

Asked what their top priorities would be, Johnson said at the forum that she would prioritize issues that have had “negative impacts” on “our most vulnerable population: children.”

Coming from a social work background, Johnson said that she would take things that she has learned in her work and apply it to the state level, specifically noting “our public education system, our child welfare system, and our juvenile justice system.”

In contrast, coming from a medical career, the first issue that Lalani said he would prioritize is healthcare, though he said education and the power grid would be top priorities for him as well.

Lalani and Johnson did not respond for comment at the time of publication.

The runoff election will be held on Tuesday, May 24.


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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is the Marketing and Media Manager for The Texan. After graduating with a double-major in Political Science and Humanities, he wrote for The Texan as a reporter through June 2022. In his spare time, you're likely to find him working on The Testimony of Calvin Lewis, an Abolition of Man-inspired novel and theatrical podcast.