Republicans have eyed House District 47 as a winnable seat since they lost it in 2006. Yet they must endure a possibly bruising April 13 primary run-off to see who will challenge Democratic incumbent Valinda Bolton in November.
It was developer Paul Workman and attorney Holly Turner who emerged from the March 2 three-way primary, knocking tax attorney David Sewell out of the race. Yet at 39.4% and 35.6% respectively, neither came close to the required 50% needed to secure the nomination. As for moving to an extended primary season, Eric Bearse – Workman's campaign spokesman and a former speechwriter for Gov. Rick Perry – explained, "It was a seamless process, because it was anticipated from day one that three candidates with roughly equal resources would result in a run-off." There have been few changes in tactics: Workman's campaign was always focused on Turner – a series of ads accused the former Fort Worth resident of not really being local enough (see "HD 47 GOP Primary: Attack-Ad Tussle," Feb. 26). "The real choice here is between a Cow Town carpetbagger and a true conservative who has lived here for 25 years," Bearse added.
Turner was diplomatic about the attacks and said her door-to-door campaigning had proven she's a local candidate. As for any post-primary feuding, she said, "The people on the ground are saying, 'Listen, our priority is having a Republican representative, and we'll get behind whoever the chosen one is after April 13.'"
Though neither candidate has previously held elected office, neither is a complete political outsider. Turner has swept the statewide political endorsement board – with groups like Conservative Republicans of Texas and Empower Texans backing her – while Workman has stayed true to his campaign message of being a local candidate, with former Austin Mayors Lee Cooke and Ron Mullen backing his run. Unsurprisingly, the former Real Estate Council of Austin board member also has powerful allies in the construction community, with endorsements or donations from a roster including the Associated General Contractors of Texas and the Texas Association of Business.
The big question now will be turnout. The only fact the campaigns can count on is that numbers drop between primaries and run-offs. In 2006, 6,092 voters turned out for the five-way HD 47 Republican primary, dropping to 4,824 for the second round. This year voting soared dramatically, with 14,006 turning out by the end of voting. Turner called the governor's race "the catalyst" for the increased interest but added, "Republicans were more engaged than they had been in thepast because of what's happening in D.C."
That national interest, if it can last until November, is one of the reasons Republicans think districts like HD 47 are in play this year. Bolton took the district in a three-way race in 2006 with 50.24% and narrowly increased that margin in 2008 to 51.19% – both times in the face of well-funded opponents. This year, the eventual GOP challenger will face the complicating factor of a third candidate – Libertarian Kris Bailey – competing directly for the fiscal conservative vote.
For run-off voters, the biggest challenge may be finding policy differences between the two Republicans. When asked for a clear area of disagreement with her opponent, Turner said, "I'm in favor of using [employee identity system] E-Verify, and [Workman] opposes that." Bearse countered that Workman supported "the intention" of the system in cutting down on employment of undocumented foreign workers but was concerned by its failure rate. As for Turner's greatest perceived differences, Bearse pointed to the discussion about licensing casinos: "Paul Workman's not interested in any form of gaming to bring additional revenue to state government. Holly Turner is willing to look at it." Ultimately, Turner said, "There aren't huge differences." The real question, she added, "is a matter of who is going to work hardest for the people."
Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.