Congressional District 21
Who’s the most Dem?
Call it pent-up political demand: No less than 22 primary candidates have filed to run for the District 21 seat held for 16 terms and more than 30 years by Republican Lamar Smith. Most (18) are on the overcrowded GOP side, but an original eight Democratic contenders have steadily whittled down to four. Although CD 21 runs from South Austin, outward into the Hill Country, and down to San Antonio, roughly 50% of anticipated Democratic primary voters live in the Austin area, as do the four Dem candidates, who have spent much of their time pitching to that presumed base.
Despite Smith's long tenure and the GOP-gerrymandered district, the seat is now considered enough of a toss-up that the National Democratic Congressional Committee has added it to the party's primary target list. In that context, the increasing heat of the primary battle is understandable.
A former congressional aide (for various Dems), Derrick Crowe has also worked in Austin nonprofits (SAFE and the Center for Public Policy Priorities). He has grounded his campaign on the climate change crisis, not only because of its urgency but because Smith spent much of his congressional career denying and undermining the science behind global warming. IT entrepreneur Joseph Kopser (Grayline consultants) touts that experience as well as his years as an Army Ranger as preparing him for public service. Perhaps best known to Austinites, Elliott McFadden also has a record as an entrepreneur (Austin B-cycle) and public activist (health care and affordable housing). Mary Wilson describes herself as a "mathematician and minister," with longtime work as both a teacher and a pastor.
On the default Democratic issues – health care, climate science, equality, education, gun control, human rights ... – the candidates' positions and websites could almost be exchanged at will. In recent weeks, Kopser has been attacked by the others as being too "moderate," having "plagiarized" parts of his websites (since updated with citations, he responds), and also as the candidate of monied, "establishment" Democrats here and in D.C. Whatever their individual merits, those attacks – as well as Kopser's big-name endorsements, most recently from Austin Sen. Kirk Watson and Rep. Donna Howard – have had the secondary effect of designating Kopser as the default front-runner for a party desperate for congressional victories.
Any one of these candidates would be a major improvement on incumbent Smith ("My shoe would be an improvement," quipped one), and the primary may come down to who's most adept at building name recognition by March 6.