March 19, 2020

Trump Finger-Pointing at China in Blame Game on Virus
Could Backfire on GOP Bid to Keep Texas House Wheel

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

The Democrats' odds could be on the rise in more than a half-dozen targeted Texas House districts that contain large Asian populations with Republicans on the hard right parroting President Donald Trump's attempt to rename the worst pandemic in more than a century as the Chinese Virus.

As Democrats accuse Trump of preying on hatred and racism as a way to distract attention from a sluggish White House response in the critical early stages of the coronavirus crisis, the GOP's bid to protect a majority in the state House could be set back substantially if Asian-American voters in the target races retaliate at the polls this fall.

The Democrats would reclaim control of the Legislature's lower chamber with a net gain of nine seats or more in the 2020 general election.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia - a Dallas Democrat who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus - gave a preview of the ferocious criticism that Republicans who are fighting to keep their hold on the House can expect as a consequence of Trump's attempt to fire up the conservative base by pointing the finger of blame at China for the deadly disease.

“The xenophobia that has developed since the novel coronavirus outbreak began only reflects our country’s dark history of using disease to justify racism," Anchia declared on Thursday. “Our nation has a long history of tagging minority groups as diseased. These racist attacks at best, entice fear and at worst, violence. We cannot allow history to repeat itself.”

Texas Republicans could be playing with fire if they follow the president's lead in the assignment of responsibility in a state where the number of Asian-Americans has skyrocketed in the past 10 years by nearly 50 percent.

The sharp spike has been most evident in several state House districts that the Democrats already had a good shot at turning blue in November before Trump and his followers launched the crusade this week to portray China where the coronavirus outbreak originated as the villain.

Two of the House districts where the presidential rhetorical targeting has the most potential to backfire at the ballot box are located in Collin County where GOP State Reps. Matt Shaheen of Plano and Jeff Leach of Allen are seeking re-election in suburban areas where the Asian voter count is dramatically higher than it had been when the current House map was drawn in 2011.

Twenty-one percent of the population in Shaheen's district had been listed the previous year in the category for residents who aren't Hispanic, black or white. Leach represents a neighboring district where 17 percent of the residents in 2010 fell into the category that includes Texans whose families came here from Asian countries or India. Leach and Shaheen are both running for fifth terms in the House this year.

The targeted House district that's most vulnerable to an Asian-American voter uprising is based in Fort Bend County on the outer edge of the Houston area. Almost 28 percent of the residents in House District 26 were either Asian or Indian descendants in 2010 - the highest in Texas by far that year.

Asian-American voters who plan to take their anger at Trump at the fall polls here could face a dilemma in one of the House races that's high on the Democrats' hit list on the north side of Dallas County where GOP State Rep. Angie Chen Button of Garland will be on the November ballot as a Chinese-American who was elected to the lower chamber initially 12 years ago. Button is bound for a rematch with Democrat Brandy Chambers after prevailing in their initial encounter by only 3 percentage points in House District 112 where she'd defeated a Democrat by more than 14 points in 2016.

Shaheen is facing Democrat Sharon Hirsch of Plano in the general election in a rematch of a House District 66 fight that she almost won in 2018 when the incumbent dodged a blue wave with 50.3 percent of the vote.

After staving off a challenge from a Democrat with minimal funding in a district where the incumbent survived with only 51 percent of the vote in the last cycle, Leach is awaiting the winner of a Democratic primary runoff battle that pits Tom Adair of Plano against Lorenzo Sanchez of Dallas in House District 67. Adair and Sanchez advanced to overtime this month in an initial field of four with 33 percent and 27 percent of the Super Tuesday primary vote respectively.

Republican State Rep. Rick Miller of Sugar Land had planned to run for a fifth term in HD 26 this year before an ill-advised remark about Asian-American opposition prompted him to cancel the re-election bid last fall. Miller had speculated that a couple of primary challengers who were taking aim at him were running for the House in hopes of capitalizing on Asian population growth in HD 26.

One of the candidates to whom the incumbent had appeared to be referring - Jacey Jetton - is a former Republican county chairman whose mother is Asian. Jetton's wife is an Asian-American who he met in Hawaii. It's conceivable that Jetton's appearance on the general election ballot could mitigate the potential damage that Trump and conservatives might have done to the GOP in HD 26 with the collective appropriation of the blame for COVID-19 and the dramatic effect it's having of life in America.

But Jetton faces on uphill climb in a runoff duel with Richmond Republican Matt Morgan, who came close to winning outright in round one with 49.7 percent of the primary vote. Trump's attempt to rebrand the coronavirus could make it harder for Jetton to come from behind in overtime.

The predicament for the GOP in HD 26 could be complicated even more if Richmond Democrat Suleman Lulani parlays a narrow first-round lead into a primary runoff victory over Sarah DeMerchant - the 2018 nominee who'd gone by the first name Laquitta before her first bid for the House four years ago. DeMerchant, who's African-American, lost to Miller by less than 5 percentage points in 2018 after he'd defeated her by 16 two years earlier.

DeMerchant scored almost 30 percent of the primary vote this month in a four-contender field that Lulani led with nearly 32 percent. Lulani could get a winning boost in OT if the voters who'd backed Rish Oberoi as the candidate who finished third in round one with 20 percent rally behind the initial leader in the runoff.

The Trump coronavirus blame game could also jeopardize the GOP's hopes of knocking off freshman Democratic State Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton in a Denton County district where she ousted an incumbent Republican in 2018. Almost 14 percent of House District 65 where Beckley will be on the defensive this fall had a population that fell into the demographic category that's dominated Asian and Indian Americans.

Texans in that particular category accounted for a more than double-digit share of the population in targeted districts in the Houston area that GOP State Rep. Sarah Davis and Democratic State Rep. Jon Rosenthal will be attempting to defend in November. The same applies to another Harris County district where veteran Republican State Rep. Dwayne Bohac of Houston isn't seeking re-election this year.


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