Three of the Democratic candidates for top statewide offices fielded questions from former Council member Angela Hunt on Thursday night, attempting to help voters better understand state government and communicate what a change in office would mean for Texas. The event, at Northaven United Methodist Church on Preston Road, attracted about 50 people.
(Full disclosure: It was hosted by D Magazine Partners president Christine Allison.)
The panelists included Justin Nelson, the Austin attorney who’s gunning to replace Ken Paxton as attorney general; Mike Collier, the accountant who’s trying to unseat Dan Patrick as lieutenant governor; and Kim Olson, the veteran and third-generation farmer who wants to boot Sid Miller out as agriculture commissioner. They are a spirited bunch, running campaigns with encouraging polling. But they still face an uphill climb: Democrats haven’t won a statewide office in Texas since 1994.
And yet, these times are strange. Paxton is currently under indictment for securities fraud, a fact that Nelson has made a centerpiece of his own campaign—the race is one of “integrity vs. indictment,” he has said. Polls taken this summer have the race within a percentage point. Patrick, the incumbent for lieutenant governor, drew the ire of business groups and moderates alike during the last session when he pushed a bathroom bill at the expense of other legislation. Collier has polled within six percentage points of his opponent, who is simply ignoring him. Olson, like headline-grabber U.S. Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke, is visiting all of Texas’ 254 counties, meeting with farmers and others who are impacted by the policies coming from the agriculture commissioner’s office.
“We’ve never been in office,” Nelson said. “You have a veteran, lawyer, and an accountant running; but, it’s time to stand up for values and democracy. We want someone to check on power, to enforce the law, and to fight for justice.”
Hunt asked questions on a variety of policy issues, from criminal justice reform to redistricting.
Collier highlighted his background in accounting to explain how he plans to solve the conundrum of high property taxes while balancing the state’s need for infrastructure improvements, which are paid for with that money.
“The root cause of our homeowner property taxes going up is because the state can’t pay its bills,” he said.
Nelson targeted the Trump administration’s policies, the inverse of what’s been seen from the AG’s office in the past. Gov. Greg Abbott, a former attorney general, famously said he “go(es) into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home.” Nelson says he wouldn’t be afraid of doing this to the Trump administration. On his first day in office, he said he’d file lawsuits against Trump for separating families at the Mexican border and his attempt to get rid of pre-existing conditions.
“I believe individual rights don’t go away just because you don’t agree with federal law,” he said. “I want to make sure people are following the law and call out unconstitutional law when it happens. So we can be that check on power and be a watchdog. Nobody is above the law.”
Olson, speaking to an urban audience, zoomed into healthy school lunches, dinging her opponent for allowing the return of sugary drinks and fryers to cafeterias. But she did touch on the importance of improving technology infrastructure in rural areas, to bring broadband internet to people who didn’t have access to it previously.
“Stand up for Texas,” she said, “or stand out of the way.”