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Three Democrats are facing off in the lieutenant governor primary for the chance to challenge a veritable Goliath in incumbent Dan Patrick.
While ideologically similar, their resumes are vastly different and candidates are campaigning on who brings the best experience to the table. But one thing is clear after last week’s deadline to disclose campaign donations for the last six months — even the strongest fundraiser of the bunch is wildly outmatched by Patrick’s war chest of $25 million.
Mike Collier, a 60-year-old accountant and auditor, who came within 5 percentage points of unseating Patrick four years ago, is so far leading the pack in fundraising with a haul of $826,862 over the last six months. Coming in second, Carla Brailey, an associate professor at Texas Southern University and the former vice chair of the Texas Democratic Party, raised a total of $39,490. She entered the race in mid-December.
Michelle Beckley, a small businesswoman who has served two terms as a state representative from Denton County, took in $32,386. She entered the race in mid-November.
Their combined total is still less than a third of Patrick’s nearly $3 million haul over the same six-month period. Patrick, a two-term incumbent who is one of the most conservative and well-known politicians in the state, will be expensive to compete with, especially for candidates with less name recognition.
Patrick has a handful of lesser known primary opponents but is widely expected to win the GOP nomination for the position.
Lieutenant governor is the most powerful elected position in the Texas Legislature because of its duty overseeing the 31-member Senate. From that position, the office holder can dictate much of the state’s policy by influencing which bills move forward and which ones die.
Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, said the Democratic primary race likely will come down to Collier and Beckley, with Collier holding the advantage because he ran for the same position four years ago. Brailey, he said, is the least known and so far has not raised enough money to effectively compete. But he said it’ll be an uphill road for any of the three candidates to effectively challenge Patrick.
“In the governor’s race, you have $65 million [for Gov. Greg Abbott] but you figure Beto [O’Rourke] can raise enough money to be heard even if he can’t match the governor,” Jillson said. “It’s a different story in the lieutenant governor’s race. You’ve got Dan Patrick at $25 million and the ability to raise more and you’ve got three Democrats who have maybe 1/100th of that if they’re lucky.”
Brailey’s political experience stems from her time as vice chair of the state party and in the administration of former District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty. She served in multiple roles under Fenty, including executive director of community affairs.
In 2019, she ran for Houston City Council but did not garner enough support to make the general election runoff.
Brailey, who is Black, is the only person of color in the race. She said her candidacy brings more voters to the table because she understands the experiences of voters of color and can bring them to the forefront.
“It brings experience in listening to other communities that may have not always been listened to or are listened to,” said Brailey, who added that she always seeks to advocate for marginalized communities in her work. “We get to hear their voice early.”
Brailey said her campaign priorities are affordable health care, public education, addressing the shortcomings of the state’s electric grid and the digital divide between poor and wealthy areas of the state.
Brailey said the state’s leaders have taken the state backward by passing laws like last year’s ban on abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy and making it more difficult to vote.
“We’re in a very bad place in Texas and I really believe that our democracy is at stake,” she said. “Everything is big in Texas, and I think so goes Texas, goes the nation.”
Brailey had less than a month to raise money before the campaign finance reporting period’s close on Dec. 31. But Brailey said she “feels good” about the money her campaign has raised and said her strategy is not built on fundraising prowess.
Her campaign strategy relies on tapping into a strong network of supporters across the state from her time with the Texas Democratic Party.
After flipping a Republican district in 2018, Beckley became a lightning rod for conservative criticism because of her support for issues like Medicaid expansion and her aggressive approach to politics.
Once in office, Beckley was vocally critical of what she saw as failures of the state’s GOP leaders and often feuded with Republican colleagues on social media.
Beckley has promised to bring that same combative approach to the role of lieutenant governor. She said Republicans have become too focused on controversial social issues like regulating which bathrooms transgender Texans can use and ignore real issues like the failure of the state’s electric grid, which resulted in hundreds of deaths last February.
“People are sick of that crap,” Beckley said. “People want what I represent: They want a functioning government.”
Even in a GOP-controlled Legislature in which she had a number of powerful enemies, Beckley said, she was able to pass one of her priorities last year when she tacked on to the Republicans’ elections bill a policy that will increase the number of counties that can apply for countywide voting programs.
Beckley said that legislative experience gives her an advantage over her opponents. She is the only candidate in the race to have been elected to public office and to serve in the Legislature.
As lieutenant governor, Beckley said her main priority would be expanding Medicaid, the same issue she focused on when she first won election to the Texas House. Her other priorities include fixing the electric grid and public education.
Those issues give her crossover appeal, she said, rejecting her label as one of the most liberal members of the House.
“I’m in a swing district. That’s just Republicans trying to get me not elected,” she said.
Still, Beckley would be a drastic change from the current lieutenant governor, a staunch social conservative. Beckley has drafted bills to support LGBTQ rights, called for a special session on gun violence after the 2019 El Paso shooting and advocated for an end to the Carrollton Police Department’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities before she was elected.
Last summer, she was one of the more than 50 House Democrats who fled the state in an attempt to stop a GOP elections bill that opponents said would restrict voting rights. The bill eventually passed.
Beckley’s combative nature has also resulted in opponents within her own party, particularly its leaders who she often dismisses. In this campaign, she said, she is trying to meet with voters all over the state, but is particularly focused on gaining margins in the suburbs where many voters are looking for an alternative to the state’s Republican leadership.
“Somebody needs to start up this party because if we keep doing the same old, same old, we’re going to keep losing,” she said of the Democrats’ approach to elections.
Beckley’s statehouse district was drawn to favor a Republican candidate during the Legislature’s decennial redrawing of political maps last year. She ran briefly for a North Texas congressional seat last summer, before the district was also drawn to heavily favor a Republican.
Collier, who was about 400,000 votes shy of Patrick in 2018, said he’s running on experience.
“The reason for the rematch is I’m proven against him. We came very close in 2018 and we were gaining on him up until Election Day,” Collier said. “I felt if we had more time and money we could beat him.”
Four years later, Collier said he has matured as a candidate and has built a campaign team that can get him past the finish line. He also said he has the donor network to best position Democrats to win.
Collier said he is building on the campaign infrastructure he laid out during his last run, in which he outperformed O’Rourke, who was running for U.S. Senate, in two-thirds of the state’s counties largely based on support among rural voters.
This time, he’s visiting many of the places where he was most successful four years ago, but also trying to improve his margin with voters of color. One of the first trips of his campaign was to the largely Latino Rio Grande Valley, and Collier touts that he is the first candidate in the race to have staff on the ground there.
Similarly, he’s trying to connect with Black voters by meeting with Black political and religious leaders who can help guide his thinking and introduce him to potential constituents.
Collier said he doesn’t want to take voters of color for granted and is focusing on increasing his margins with them.
“But at the end of day, folks, we’re all alike. We’re worried about economic security in the first instance, concerned about property taxes going up, concerned about health care, concerned about the grid,” he said. “There’s nothing novel in the message. It’s doing the work to have the relationships.”
Collier said his No. 1 issue is public education, closely followed by “fixing the damn grid,” which has become one of his campaign’s mottos. He also would focus on expanding Medicaid in Texas and reducing property taxes. He has earned the endorsement of multiple Democratic state lawmakers.
Collier, a prolific campaigner who said he has put thousands of miles on two pickup trucks while traveling to political events, had to postpone in-person campaigning during early January because of a COVID-19 surge in the state. But he takes solace in the fact that as one of the early candidates in the race, he had already done two tours of the state before the surge limited him to virtual campaigning.
“Going out once is a place to start. Going out twice, going out three times, four times. Going across a period of months where issues change, concerns change,” said Collier, who has now returned to in-person campaigning. “Volume is the key.”
Collier said his business experience as a top partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers gives him an advantage over the other candidates in the race. In that position, he had to devise plans for solving complex problems and execute on them.
Collier said he would not attack other Democrats in the race and focused his attention on Patrick.
“What Texans want in a lieutenant governor is someone who’s gonna set the agenda, solve the real problems honestly and work toward a solution,” he said. “They don’t see that in Dan Patrick. They see in Dan Patrick someone who ignores the real problems and tries to avoid them and focuses his energy on daggum culture wars.”
Disclosure: Southern Methodist University and Texas Southern University - Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.