The Austin Chronicle

A Race to the Right in Austin's Affluent Suburbs

There's red in there them hills

By Morgan O’Hanlon, February 11, 2022, News

Four Republican candidates are vying to win a newly drawn Texas House district representing the suburbs in western Travis County and vast swaths of the Hill Country. Some of HD 19's outlying counties are represented now by Jan. 6 attendee (not a participant in the insurrection, he says) Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, best known for introducing language to allow/enable/encourage Texas' secession from the union. While Biedermann opted to leave the Lege after the next election, the new crop of HD 19 candidates are competing to outdo each other with similarly far-right and anti-establishment platforms.

That's true even though both leading candidates are from Austin, at least technically: Ellen Troxclair, who served on City Council representing Southwest Austin from 2015 to 2019, and Justin Berry, a 14-year Austin Police Department veteran and vice president of the city's police union from 2018 to 2020. The two erstwhile political allies are now at odds after several unexpected spins of the redistricting cycle; Troxclair had intended to run for Texas Senate to succeed Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, now running for land commissioner. Senate GOP mapmakers instead opted to reconfigure Buckingham's Senate District 24 to lie entirely outside Travis County and to stretch south of San Antonio, where former Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, is making a comeback with Buckingham's endorsement. So Troxclair switched to the HD 19 race in early October – just in time for Berry, who two years ago came within less than a percentage point of unseating Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, to likewise stake his claim to the R-friendly terrain. "It's unfortunate Ellen switched to running against me instead of keeping her word," Berry said as he announced his HD 19 campaign on Oct. 19. "I like her but that's politics. I'm returning the donation she gave to my campaign and look forward to a spirited primary."

Troxclair, who leads all candidates with more than $400,000 raised – almost as much as her nemesis Greg Casar has raised to run for a much larger congressional seat – is touting her experience "in the belly of the beast," as she characterized her experience at City Hall during a candidate forum hosted by the Lake Travis Republican Club last month. "I was there to be the voice of reason, the voice of common sense, the voice of restraint and the voice of 'no' when the leftist socialists who are running that city into the ground were spending money left and right." (She nonetheless gladly accepted her Council salary for all four years in office.) She also highlighted her role in the passage of the city's first homestead exemption for property tax relief, a key GOP issue in 2022.

Berry, on the other hand, is playing up his law enforcement connections and endorsements and attacks Troxclair for, he says, bending to liberal whims during her tenure on Council. This includes her decision to skip the vote where her colleagues rejected the contract negotiated by city staff with the police union in December 2017, in an effort to increase transparency and accountability.

Also in the race is Nubia Devine, a former legislative staffer for both Biedermann and Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park. She and her husband, Texas Supreme Court Justice John Devine, are both vehemently anti-abortion. Perla Hopkins, the least-known candidate in the race, is a military veteran and former educator primarily campaigning to "save our children" by continuing the crusade against teachers who confront the United States' racist history and by implementing more pro-charter, pro-voucher policies. Whoever prevails – either on March 1 or in a May run-off – will be heavily favored against Democrat Pam Baggett in November.

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