Blanco and Hays counties haven’t seen a Democratic state representative in seven years since state lawmakers redrew House District 45 to favor Republicans.
But with state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, relinquishing his seat, Erin Zwiener, a children’s book author who lives in Driftwood, and Rebecca Bell-Metereau, a Texas State University professor, believe the chances of returning the district to Democrats are better than ever. They are vying for the district’s Democratic nomination in the May 22 runoff. Early voting begins Monday and runs through May 18.
The winner will face Republican Ken Strange, a Wimberley school board member, in the general election in November.
“We now have an open seat which has tremendous advantage, and our demographics have continued to shift with a large number of young families, particularly in Buda and Kyle,” Zwiener said. “The trick to flipping is to reach folks who are disengaged and unlikely to vote in the midterm and give them a reason to get out and vote.”
District 45 is among 15 Republican-held Texas House districts that are most vulnerable to a Democratic flip, according to Rice University political scientist Mark Jones.
In Hays County, President Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by less than a percentage point — 600 votes — but in much smaller Blanco County, Trump won by 3,000 votes. In the March primary, 13,363 Republicans and 11,430 Democrats voted in the district.
If elected, Zwiener said she would work to repeal the state’s restrictive voter identification law.
Zwiener also said she would work to give the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District authority to tax and levy fees like other groundwater conservation districts in Central Texas. She also said she wants to change state regulations so that individual water rights aren’t prioritized over the rights of the community. Zwiener has a degree in natural resource conservation and has worked for multiple environmental groups and districts.
“I know when to come to the table, and I know when to stand and fight. I’m the only candidate with backbone to stand before the Freedom Caucus,” she said, referring to a group of socially conservative Republican House members who last year pushed for legislation that moderate Republicans and Democrats opposed.
Bell-Metereau received more votes than Zwiener in March, 45.4 percent to 30.7 percent, and has also raised more, $30,000 to $26,000. Bell-Metereau has received more endorsements including from various labor unions. The College Democrats at Texas State University endorsed Zwiener.
Bell-Metereau has run for the State Board of Education three times and each time she has garnered more votes than before but never enough to win. She is banking on the momentum she has built to win the runoff and in November.
“Experience, experience, experience,” said Bell-Metereau about her advantage over Zwiener. “I’ve had the opportunity to serve in the city of San Marcos to get things done, to get recycling, to get a bond passed, a number of initiatives where we got a new library, we got new firetrucks and I got bike lanes in San Marcos,” referring to her tenure on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and Solid Waste Commission.
Both candidates would promote expanding Medicaid and set in statute the state’s share of education funding at 50 percent; because of outdated school funding formulas, the state’s share is 38 percent.
Bell-Metereau said she would free up money for education by advocating for reinvesting money in the state’s rainy day fund to generate more revenue and removing tax breaks that benefit the natural gas industry. She also wants to offer more incentives for homeowners who want to install solar panels.
“People need Democrats defending them, protecting them from all the kinds of corruption when a party is in power for too long,” she said.
ABOUT THE CANDIDATES
• Rebecca Bell-Metereau, 68, is an English and film professor at Texas State University. She has bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Indiana University.
Civic participation: Bell-Metereau has won the Democratic nomination three times for the State Board of Education. She has served on the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission, League of Women Voters and Texas State Faculty Senate. She helped form the Solid Waste Commission to initiate recycling in San Marcos.
• Erin Zwiener, 32, is a children’s book author. She has a bachelor’s degree in natural resource conservation from the University of Montana and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Arizona.
Civic participation: Zwiener was one of the lead organizers of the 2016 Electoral College demonstration at the Texas Capitol and was the lead organizer for the Indivisible Roger Williams Town Hall in Dripping Springs.