February 20, 2020

Veteran House Dem Who Wrestled Seat from GOP
Foregoing Campaign for Senate in Special Election

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

Democratic State Rep. Donna Howard of Austin revealed on Thursday that she's passing on a rare opportunity to run for an open Texas Senate seat despite substantial encouragement from supporters since news of the vacancy broke this week.

Howard indicated that she'd discussed a possible a Senate District 14 bid in a special election with community leaders and family members before deciding that she can maximize her effectiveness by staying in the lower chamber where she's been a member for the past 13 years.

"Ultimately, I am reenergized with an even greater commitment to building on the progress we’ve been able to make in the House of Representatives," Howard said in a statement that she posted on her campaign web site. "I will not be running for a Senate seat at this time."

Howard's announcement about foregoing a special Senate battle will come as a significant relief to other Democrats who are contemplating SD 14 campaigns in the heavily-Democratic district that includes three-fourths of the Travis County residents and Bastrop County as well.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Austin City Council member Greg Casar are seriously considering SD 14 bids while Austin Mayor Steve Adler is regarded as a probable contenders as well.

A pair of Howard's Democratic colleagues - Austin State Reps. Gina Hinojosa and Eddie Rodriguez - could have better odds in a SD 14 fight than the local leaders who are pondering bids based on the history of special Senate elections in Texas in the past two decades. Democratic State Rep. Celia Israel of Austin could take a shot at the Senate seat in a special vote as well.

A nurse who'd been a school trustee in the affluent Austin enclave of Westlake before her election to the House, Howard could have expected to be one of the strongest contenders in the field in a special contest that Governor Greg Abbott will set to fill an opening that Democratic State Senator Kirk Watson of Austin will be leaving in his wake when his resignation takes effect on April 30. Watson, who entered the Senate in 2007, has accepted a job as the dean of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston.

Howard is running unopposed in the March 3 primary election in House District 48 where she will be a prohibitive favorite this fall in a battle with Austin medical equipment firm owner Bill Strieber as the only Republican there in 2020.

Howard flipped HD 48 from red to blue with a victory in a special runoff election in early 2006 when she beat a Republican who'd had a massive money advantage with almost 58 percent of the vote. Howard was the only Democratic incumbent with GOP opposition in a swing district to survive a tea party tsunami in 2010 when she beat a Republican opponent by a dozen votes in a win that the House upheld after an election challenge in the Capitol's west wing.

But Howard's district gained some Democrats in the 2011 redistricting process as part of a compromise that she helped shape. HD 48 appears to be out of the GOP's reach now after Hillary Clinton and Beto O'Rourke claimed 65 percent and 73 percent of the vote there respectively as the Democratic nominees for the White House and the U.S. Senate in the last two election cycles.

Howard could be a candidate for House speaker in 2021 if Democrats take the chamber back at the polls this fall with a net gain of nine seats or more. Howard has a reputation as a relatively pro-business legislator by Democratic standards in the Lone Star State. She's commanded respect on both sides of the aisle as a lawmaker who's been one of best in the House at bringing opposing sides to the negotiating table.

"I’m optimistic that Democrats have a real chance to even the political numbers, and the potential for new leadership," Howard said. "Frankly, I enjoy the spirited exchange of ideas and the camaraderie of the Texas House, with so many different parts of our state represented and the ability for those differences to guide solutions together."


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