Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

A look at CD16 and CD03

As one might expect, the primary race for Beto O’Rourke’s soon-to-be-former Congressional seat is compettiive and < and getting a little salty.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

[Now-former El Paso COunty Judge Veronica] Escobar is running, in part, on her experience as a former leader of a county government that fought corruption and is touting how her progressive ideals helped shape policy. Escobar voted to sue the state after the Legislature passed Senate Bill 4, the state’s anti-“sanctuary city” law, and she’s been an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community.

But the issue of her husband, Michael Pleters, and his job as a federal immigration judge, is one her opponents are latching onto tightly. [El Paso ISD TrusteeDori] Fenenbock, who describes herself as the moderate in the race and who’s been dinged on the campaign trail for garnering financial support from Republicans, is quick to highlight what she says is the hypocrisy of Escobar’s campaign.

“[Pleters] is currently employed by the Trump administration and he’s currently following orders by the Trump administration, which is to deport,” Fenenbock said during a recent interview at her office. “He could find another job; he can become an immigration attorney, [but] he has built a career around deporting immigrants.”

But Escobar said last week at her campaign office that her husband was first approached for the job by the Obama administration.

“My husband is not a political appointee … it is a merit-based position,” she said. “He got offered the position last year while Obama happened to be president. But because of the time that the background check took, and it overlapped with the election and everything kind of came to a halt … he didn’t take the bench until this past summer.”

She added that Pleters is a lifetime Democrat and an “impartial arbiter of the law.”

“I’ve never been in a campaign where my family has been attacked until now,” she said. “And I think that it says more about those doing the attacking than it does about me. But I also wonder, when did an honorable profession such as being a jurist become a bad thing?”

The pack of candidates hopes that Fenenbock’s embrace of the term “moderate” proves to be her Achilles’ heel. The Escobar campaign points to a July story in the El Paso Times that shows Fenenbock received almost half of her initial financial support from El Pasoans who voted in the 2016 GOP primary. She also voted in the GOP primary in 2008 and 2010.

Fenenbock said she is a proud Democrat but notes that both parties have become too extreme and that, as a moderate, she can get things accomplished.

“Progressives have moved further to left, and the alt-right has moved further to right,” she said. She notes that though El Paso is a Democratic stronghold, it’s also somewhat “socially conservative.”

There are other candidates in the race, including former State Rep. Norma Chavez, and they get some time in the story as well. After reading it, my impression is that I’d vote for Escobar if I were in CD16. After reading so many articles that declared one or the other of Escobar and Sylvia Garcia as having a chance to be “the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas”, I’m rooting for both of them to get there so we can debate over which one was technically “the first” or if we get to designate them as co-firsts. Leave your hot take on that in the comments.

Also interesting in its own way is the races in CD03.

All eyes are on the GOP primary race where Van Taylor, who decided against running a second time for his safe state senate seat, will face off against the lesser-known Alex Donkervoet and David Niederkorn.

Taylor, 45, is widely seen as Johnson’s successor and has racked up the endorsements and cash in the red district that stretches from Plano to Blue Ridge, encompassing much of Collin County.

Gov. Greg Abbott, former Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz are among Taylor’s big-name supporters. He’s also backed by conservative groups like the Plano-based First Liberty Institute, Texas Right to Life and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. And Taylor has the most cash of any candidate in the race — $1.7 million.

But Donkervoet, an insurance company actuary from Dallas, said Taylor’s endorsements and money are exactly why he chose to run against him.

“That’s just wrong,” Donkervoet said of the amount of local and state endorsements that poured in for Taylor in the days after the legislator announced that he’d run for Congress. “The Republican Party is pretty much hand-selecting somebody to represent (the district).”

Donkervoet, 34, didn’t vote for Trump in the election, and he sets himself apart from conservatives on a number of issues. He’s a “big believer in net neutrality,” social issues like gay marriage and expanding background checks for semi-automatic rifles.

“I’m a very big underdog,” Donkervoet admits, but he wants to push the district away from the partisan divides that plague Congress. “Just because that’s the way it is doesn’t mean that’s right.”

Taylor, who ran for Congress against Chet Edwards in 2006, has been the heir apparent to Johnson for some time now. He does have a bipartisan credit or two to tout from the Lege – he and Rep. Senfronia Thompson sponsored the long-overdue bill to outlaw child marriages in Texas, and good on him for that – while Donkervoet is an obvious heretic and third candidate David Niederkorn is a full-on Trump chump who’s attacking Taylor for being the ambitious ladder-climber that he is. I’ll put my money on Taylor to win, but it’s possible he may have to go to overtime to get there.

One the Democratic side:

Adam Bell, Lorie Burch, Medrick Yhap and Sam Johnson — not to be confused with the retiring GOP congressman — are hopeful they can turn the district blue for the first time in decades.

Voters may be familiar with Bell, a title company owner who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2016. He received 34.6 percent of the vote against incumbent Rep. Sam Johnson, but Bell predicts this time will be different.

“When we got into the race, we knew that we didn’t have the bandwidth, didn’t have the power to pull something off in that cycle,” Bell, 40, said about his 2016 run. “The eye was always on the 2018 cycle because of the need to build.”

Burch, 41, is well-known lawyer, gay rights activist and Democrat from the area. She’s raised more than $60,000, and said she wants to make a difference for the “unseen and unheard.”

“What we need right now is a unifying voice,” she said.

The “divisiveness” of the last election cycle inspired Burch to run for the seat. She had made up her mind even before Rep. Sam Johnson announced he would not be running again.

I like Lorie Burch out of this group, but all four have their merits and would be fine if they win. CD03 is in a lower tier of takeover prospects, with odds of flipping in the 25-30% range by the Crosstab metric. It would take more than a regular-sized wave to go blue, but the fact that it’s in the conversation at all is encouraging. The longer-term prospects in Collin County for Dems are brightening, so if it doesn’t fall this year it ought to be on the list for 2020.

Related Posts:

2 Comments

  1. asmith says:

    I grew up in CD3 in the 80s and 90s and boy has it changed since then. Still a GOP stronghold but less so in Plano/Far North Dallas area. Allen, McKinney, Frisco/Prosper areas, now keep the district ruby red. The transplants from Cali and Chicago, plus steady increase in minorities moving in have made it less red. The trump assault on immigration is helping bring affluent IT workers to the Dem side.

    Your starting to see the GOP civil war get even larger between the Straus corporate middle/upper mgmt types vs Empower Texans/homeschoolers/pro life single issue activists. Paxton/Huffines race in SD8 is playing out this way with Paxton ahead with the anti-straus forces help.
    Burch is probably the best on the primary on the D side.

    A well funded Dem may have a chance win either Shaheen or Leach’s house seat by 2020. The days of the Collin GOP do nothing after the primary are over.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    I’m laughing that now having a spouse who is a federal judge is some kind of detriment to a campaign. More proof of who is the party of criminals. Illegals? Yes. Felons voting? Yes. Law and order? Heck no.

    No shame here.