Texas House: The Travis Delegation
Turning the red stain on the blueberry in Texas’ tomato soup back to its rightful hue
There's only one Republican state representative in Travis County, and that's Paul Workman. That's not a reflection of how red or blue the area is, but rather how much effort legislative Republicans took in packing as many conservative voters into House District 47 as possible. To Ana Jordan, his Democratic challenger, Workman's job security through gerrymandering ill-serves his constituents, Democrat and Republican. "If we can solve that," she says, "then we can solve a lot of things that are wrong with our Legislature."
There's no small irony to the fact that, five years ago, Jordan was defending the same process she now attacks. However, as an assistant attorney general and part of the legal team defending the GOP-drawn maps, she was ringside for the gerrymander and subsequent fallout. Jordan says she's "seen a lot of negative effects that it's had, not only statewide, but federally."
The popular consensus is that HD 47 is the red spot on the blueberry that is Travis County, but that's not completely true. While the seat has generally gone to Republicans, the Dems famously held it from 2006 to 2010, when Valinda Bolton bested Republicans in back-to-back elections.
In 2010, Workman snuck past her, 49.7% to 46.2%. Yet that doesn't mean this is a GOP safe seat, with Bolton as an aberration. For starters, Workman only won after a scorched-earth primary and an equally vicious general election. Secondly, he won in the middle of a Tea Party landslide. Even with those factors, he barely beat arguably the most progressive member of the Travis County delegation.
Since then, the GOP forced through the aggressive 2011 redistricting, reinforcing Workman's position so that he could defeat 2012 Democratic challenger Chris Frandsen 58% to 37% – a defeat so convincing that Democrats couldn't recruit a challenger in 2014. Jordan saw that as 2011's payoff. Yet she holds that history cannot predict the future. While the 2011 gerrymander bolstered Workman, those maps don't last forever. She argues that, with shifting populations, after six years those old lines are out of date, placing HD 47 in contention.
Then there's the down-ballot effect of the presidential race. Jordan isn't necessarily looking for a Clinton boost. Instead, she foresees many traditional straight-ticket voters bypassing top-ticket races completely and tackling the bottom on a seat-by-seat basis. That's where she plans to hit Workman, targeting the perception that he only represents the construction industry above his constituents. She says the incumbent should be held accountable for his failures on what matters to HD 47 voters: the linked issues of skyrocketing property taxes and a broken school finance system, traffic congestion, and groundwater conservation.
On finance, Jordan argues there are "easy fixes" to the funding formulas that will take the stress off the so-called "property rich" districts, and force the state to increase its share of school funding. She proposed that at least some extra money is already in the budget in contentious programs, such as the Texas Enterprise Fund, that would be better spent in the classroom. As for traffic and water, she pointed to proven best practices like transportation reinvestment zones and groundwater conservation districts.
Jordan's biggest problem may be promoting her message, since she lags far behind Workman in campaign finance. In the last six months, he pulled in $111,630, almost 20 times her minuscule war chest of $6,074. Moreover, after years of aggressive negative campaigning, Workman has done everything possible not to engage Jordan, including avoiding many of the standard candidate forums. For Jordan, that lack of accountability is just another side effect of partisan gerrymandering. "It allows incumbent politicians to ride the coattails of their party without having to do a good job for their constituents," she said.