The Austin Chronicle

HD 50: Howls and Hugs

By Christopher Hooks, October 31, 2013, 3:50pm, Newsdesk

With election day less than a week away in the race to replace resigned state Rep. Mark Strama in north Austin’s House District 50, rival Democrats Jade Chang Sheppard and Rico Reyes continue to put the heat on Celia Israel, who has wrapped up a healthy month of fundraising and some notable supporters.

Israel raised over $112,000 in the month before Sunday, October 27 – and though she reports only $18,000 in hand on the last day of the period, that’s as much money as Reyes raised in that period altogether. (He reported $6,858 left.) Sheppard only raised a little more than $7,000 in that month, but reports a whopping $78,049 left — and she’s raised the amount she’s loaned her campaign to $159,000.

In recent weeks, Reyes and Sheppard hit Israel hard over past statements indicating her (theoretical) support for a state income tax, and for a generally more progressive stance on issues like school choice. Sheppard has also attacked Israel over her contributions from the Texas Association of Realtors, which donates heavily to Democrats and Republicans alike.

“All indications from the field are the attacks are not sticking,” Israel responds. She adds: “Each negative mail piece [Sheppard has done] cost her approximately $8-10,000 – this is proving to be an unnecessarily expensive campaign.” Sheppard has had an enormous cash-in-hand advantage for the duration of the campaign (primarily from a self-loan) – and how she was going to spend it has been a matter of speculation among her opponents.

Israel again raised the issue of past Sheppard donations to Republican candidates and causes, which Sheppard’s campaign says “represent less than 2% of Jade's charitable and political giving.” Israel is unmoved. “Jade has gone to no lengths to answer my question about her contributions to [Richardson Republican] Rep. Angie Chen Button or to George P. Bush's PAC,” says Israel. “These are legitimate questions to Democratic voters that deserve a response.”

Israel also responded to Sheppard’s charge that she should return $25,000 campaign contributions and renounce other (in-kind) support from the Texas Realtors. Sheppard’s campaign manager, Maggie Nelson, charged Israel with influence peddling, saying that “voters are going to wonder, like all of us, what exactly the Realtors expect from Israel in return for this large contribution.”

“As to the endorsement of the Texas Association of Realtors, I'm proud to have their support. As I'm sure [state Sen.] Kirk Watson and [state Sen.] Wendy Davis have been in the past too,” Israel said. “Jade interviewed with the Realtors and actively sought their endorsement.”

For his part, Reyes continues to hit Israel hard on the state income tax issue, making it one of his closing pitches as election day draws near. “In clear and unambiguous terms, I have stated that I am against Celia Israel’s plans for a new state income tax. It’s that simple,” he wrote in an email blast from his campaign. “We called over 8,000 people from the entire district and the results were overwhelming. Only 6 people from the entire district said they support Celia Israel’s new state income tax.”

Reyes and Sheppard both make the argument Israel is too liberal to hold the district in a general election, but Israel’s standing by her progressive credentials. She’s got a new robocall working the district featuring U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who’s telling voters that Israel “has the experience and insight to be a strong progressive voice from day one at the Texas Capitol.”

Meanwhile, lone Republican contender Mike VanDeWalle continues to be taking his time, anticipating a default slot in the runoff. (VanDeWalle, who's raised almost $30,000 in the last month, reports $7,674 remaining plus a $10,000 self-loan.) He’s posting pictures of himself on Facebook at the Pflugerville Chili Cook-off, and linking to articles about how Obamacare is “effecting [sic] the middle class.” He told KUT’s Ben Philpott last week he’d been getting a great reception in the district.

“Especially in Pflugerville, they’re jumping out of their doors and practically wanting to hug me.” He was quick to add: “I haven’t been hugged yet.”

For additional coverage of the HD50 race, see this week’s print edition or online “Circular Dem Firing Squad.

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