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Texas 2020 Elections

Watch: Three Democratic challengers say there’s an outpouring of national support to flip the Texas House

Akilah Bacy, Joanna Cattanach and Celina Montoya are running for Texas House Districts 138, 108 and 121, respectively.

Voters from almost every state are pitching in financially to help flip the Texas House this year, Democratic candidate Joanna Cattanach said Friday.

Cattanach sat down (virtually) with Texas Tribune political reporter Alex Samuels to discuss her run for Texas House District 108 in Dallas. She was joined by Akilah Bacy and Celina Montoya, who are also running to unseat Republicans in November.

All three Democratic challengers highlighted an increase in national support for their campaigns compared with the 2018 election cycle. Cattanach and Montoya, both running for a second time after losing in 2018, are hoping the outside resources will give them an edge this time around.

Oprah was not calling for our campaigns in 2018,” said Cattanach, a former journalist turned educator and advocate based in East Dallas. In 2018, she was narrowly defeated in the race for HD 108 by Republican Rep. Morgan Meyer, who won by roughly 200 votes.

Montoya, running again for House District 121 in San Antonio, said the difference in outside support between 2018 and 2020 is like “night and day.”

“Resources are coming from everywhere,” said Montoya, a business owner, political activist and lifelong San Antonio resident who is running for a second time against Republican Rep. Steve Allison. “The reality is it's not these giant $1,200 checks like my opponent is getting from corporate PACs and special interests. These are $5 coming from a teacher in Illinois. These are $7 coming from a firefighter in California. These are people who are dealing with real issues every single day.”

Here are some highlights of the conversation.

Samuels: One of the main GOP attack lines across the state this fall has been about law enforcement, accusing Democrats of wanting to defund the police. I haven't seen any of you express support for that idea, but how do you deal with that in your races?

All three candidates said they do not support defunding the police. Cattanach said the GOP claims are “part of a cookie-cutter conservative advertising program going around the state of Texas” and do not accurately represent their stances.

“The reality is that on the ground, Black lives matter everywhere,” Cattanach. “That's it.”

Bacy, a civil rights attorney and political activist running to represent House District 138 in Houston, said there is “without question” room for criminal justice reform in Texas, “but none of us are calling to abolish the police or anything of that sort.” Bacy and her GOP opponent, Lacey Hull, are vying for the seat held by retiring Republican Rep. Dwayne Bohac.

“When I see these ads [saying], ‘Akilah wants to defund the police,’ I think, wow, you're talking to a former prosecutor who has seen the work up close and personal and the need for law enforcement,” Bacy said. “But in that, I also see the need for accountability for law enforcement as well.”

Bacy and Cattanach are among 11 candidates backed by a coalition of national and Texas-based Democrats working to flip the House. Bacy began her legal career as an assistant district attorney in Harris County. In her current role, Bacy's focus is on combating workplace discrimination.

Samuels: In the best election year Texas Democrats had in decades, in 2018, Republicans won in the three seats that you are running for. What do you think makes 2020 different, and why do you think you can oust a Republican incumbent?

Montoya said a combination of a heated presidential race, increased voter enthusiasm, and competitive races up and down the ballot make this year different from 2018.

“And let's not forget how many new voters have registered in the state since then,” Montoya said. “There's a whole other part of the electorate that's never had an opportunity to vote in Texas before, and now … that they've got the chance and they've got a choice, I think we're going to see things start to change.”

Since announcing her current bid for House District 121, Montoya has won the support of several prominent organizations and Democratic officials, including former President Barack Obama and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Samuels: If elected, what would be your No. 1 priority in the state Legislature?

Bacy said her focus would be on criminal justice reform. Montoya said she would prioritize women’s health and reproductive health. Cattanach, a former foster care child, said her policy priorities would center around public education and the state’s foster care system.

Cattanach said all three candidates represent a new generation of Democratic leaders in Texas.

“There is a new face of Democratic leadership coming out of Texas right now,” Cattanach said. “It’s not just going to be Beto, it’s not just going to be Castro, it’s not just going to be Wendy Davis or Veronica Escobar — all amazing people. There is a whole new generation that you can get behind now.”

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