Hopefuls Taking Aim at Mark Strama's House Seat

Rep. Mark Strama D-Austin, speaks during HB5 debate on March 26th, 2013. There are currently 165 amendments to the bill and the debate is expected to go well into the night.
Rep. Mark Strama D-Austin, speaks during HB5 debate on March 26th, 2013. There are currently 165 amendments to the bill and the debate is expected to go well into the night.

It seems the person most excited about the prospects of adding a new Travis County Democrat to the Texas House in 2015 is the person whose departure created the opening.

State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, announced in February he was bowing out after 10 years in the lower chamber. Strama said recently that he hasn’t decided if his next move will be to run for Austin mayor — something he has been pondering since last session. But he said the field of candidates who have “hit the ground running” following his announcement bodes well for how talented House District 50's constituents are.

“They are all really good candidates, and the district will be served by any of them,” Strama said. The pool is so well stocked, he added, that it has made him rethink how prestigious his seat is.

“I’ve never viewed it with a whole lot of grandeur, but now, looking at the candidates, I think, ‘Wow, it’s a pretty big deal,’” he said.

Hopefuls cannot officially file for the election with the political parties until late this year, but they have already begun filing with the Texas Ethics Commission in order to raise money.

The first to make her intentions public was Jade Chang Sheppard, a Taiwanese immigrant who pegs herself as a fiscally conservative and socially liberal candidate. She is the founder of Gideon Contracting and mother of two. Joining her is Celia Israel, a former aide to the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards. She is a licensed real estate agent and owns Mission Resources, a consulting firm. Ramey Ko is a partner with Jung Ko PLLC, an associate municipal court judge and co-founder of Capital Area Asian American Democrats. He announced his candidacy in April. Rico Reyes, a U.S. Marine, Harvard graduate and former Travis County prosecutor now in private practice, recently jumped into the fray.

Strama believes Democrats have the upper hand in the district. President Obama won 58 percent of the vote there in 2012, compared with Mitt Romney’s 39 percent; Paul Sadler, the Democrat who ran for U.S. Senate against eventual winner Ted Cruz, bested his opponent by 19 percentage points in the same election. In 2010 statewide races, Democrats also edged Republicans, but by smaller margins. In the 2010 off-year election, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White received 56 percent of the vote against Gov. Rick Perry, who earned 40 percent. Union leader Linda Chavez-Thompson's 47.4 percent was only 125 votes more than Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's 46.94 percent.  

The district is 48 percent Anglo, 13 percent black and 29 percent Hispanic, according to the last decennial census. The district's relatively high Asian population could be an important bloc in a Democratic primary.

The fact that the contest takes place in a nonpresidential year shouldn’t make too much of a difference, Strama said. Instead, he said, the challenge will be one he didn’t have: running in a crowded primary race in which candidates are required to make themselves stand out against like-minded candidates.

Strama defeated an incumbent Republican and never dealt with the “feeding frenzy” of a Travis County Democratic primary race, he said.

“In a general election you have fundamental disagreements about policy,” he said. “I assume the challenge is differentiating yourself because you generally all share the same values. And that’s going to be a challenge, and I hope they find ways to differentiate that don’t involve personality and personal attacks.”