Editorial: We recommend Valoree Swanson for Texas House District 150

It still boggles the mind that Rep. Valoree Swanson won her seat in Texas House District 150 in 2016 by running to the right of its long-time occupant, fellow Republican Debbie Riddle, who had burnished her conservative credentials by warning about “terror babies” on national TV and argued free education was straight from the “pit of hell.”

Swanson, a longtime political activist and darling of the unscrupulous right-wing lobby group Empower Texas, didn’t pass a single bill her first session despite a long list filed, including efforts to outlaw abortion, which has been legal since 1973, shorten the early voting period, require fetal death certificates after abortions, make English the official language of Texas and our personal favorite: tax people who buy newspapers.

Her second session was better, though. She authored some bills seemingly outside Empower founder Michael Quinn Sullivan’s bucket list. They included legislation on disaster preparation, school safety and one that seems far-fetched but has become law in well over a dozen other states: declaring pornography a public health hazard, which even drew Democratic support. More than a dozen bills she sponsored and co-sponsored became law.

Swanson, 63, also worked across the aisle to help fend off right-wing opposition to a bill that helped the City of Houston expand affordable housing in multifamily units within city limits.

Swanson didn’t meet with the editorial board. We’re hopeful about signs that she may be maturing and branching out as a lawmaker. Still, her extreme views fueled by her activist focus hamper her effectiveness in the House as a whole. And in June she made headlines for pushing back on Gov. Greg Abbott’s COVID-19 contact tracing program, arguing in part “the threat was wildly exaggerated.”

So, we were eager to hear from her challenger.

Michael Robert Walsh is earnest, informed and

Editorial: We recommend Penny Morales Shaw for Texas House District 148

Texans often struggle to name their representatives, but House District 148 voters have an excuse. Counting primaries and runoffs, this is their fifth election in a year to replace longtime state Rep. Jessica Farrar.

Penny Morales Shaw finally emerged from a crowded field of Democrats after Farrar endorsed her over Anna Eastman, who was elected briefly in January in a special election runoff to finish out Farrar’s term.

Republican Luis LaRotta ran unopposed in the primary.

One thing voters can be clear about is whoever wins has worked long and hard to represent them.

We believe Morales Shaw’s work as a private practice attorney, life experience, deep ties to the area and history of advocacy make her the best fit for this diverse north and northwest Houston district that could sure use a champion in Austin.

The kind of multi-tasking involved in legislative service, from responding to constituent needs to shepherding legislation through the process, is something Shaw came by honestly, and tragically.

She went to law school intending to go into international human rights law and public policy. But her husband died the year she took the bar exam in 2000, leaving her a single mom raising four kids. She built a bread-and-butter practice that allowed her to balance career and family.

She says she still made time for advocacy, volunteering in the NAACP’s free legal clinics and working with the international not-for-profit organization CARE to improve maternal health, access to microloans and necessities such as clean water in countries across South America and Africa. She also advocated for the International Violence Against Women Act.

“People can say anything about what they will do and what they care about,” says Morales Shaw, “but I think it’s important to see what someone’s life story is, what they’ve endured, what their

Editorial: We recommend Shawn Thierry in Texas House District 146

Two years ago, we recommended voters give state Rep. Shawn Thierry a second term representing House District 146 based on a strong freshman performance. They did so, overwhelmingly, and she delivered.

This year, having won her Democratic primary with 67 percent of the vote and again with no Republican opponent in the race, it’s an easy call to recommend voters retain her for a third term.

Thierry, 51, has been an engaged and effective voice for her constituents, roughly three-fourths of whom are Black or Hispanic.

A good example came in April, when she became alarmed at the way Black Texans and other people of color were dying at rates hugely disproportionate to their population numbers. She announced in a press conference she was writing a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott urging him to appoint a task force charged with explaining the disparate impacts of the deadly virus. By the time she sent the letter, 49 lawmakers had signed on.

A lawyer for more than 20 years before winning her first term in 2016, Thierry also was the primary author of HB 1771 during the last session, which would have prohibited the prosecution of minors for the crime of prostitution, treating them as the victims they are rather than suspected criminals. The bill passed both chambers only to be vetoed by Abbott. It was good legislation and we commend Thierry for the bill and for the leadership she showed in shepherding it through both Republican-controlled chambers.

No lawmaker should be handed another term in the Legislature unopposed, and for that reason we lament that the Republicans fielded no candidate in this race. We’re grateful that Libertarian J. J. Campbell is on the ballot. We strongly recommended voters, however, choose Thierry for another term.

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Editorial: We recommend Hubert Vo in Texas House District 149

Ever since a politically unknown Vietnamese American businessman snatched Texas House District 149 from a powerful Republican budget chief in 2004, the GOP has been trying to win it back.

The soft-spoken Hubert Vo, 64, has managed to hold on to his diverse district in southwest Houston that includes Alief and Katy by focusing on local issues affecting education and small business rather than headline-grabbing social battles.

“I’m not a guy at the front mic all the time,” he told the editorial board. “I want to do some research and carry bills that make sense for the constituents and for the district.”

Yet, this time, Vo’s stance on a particularly contentious social issue is one thing that drew his Republican opposition.

Lily Truong, an education consultant in her second term on the school board, said she’s disappointed with Vo’s support of Black Lives Matter, which she associates with Marxism.

“Every single life matters to me,” Truong told the editorial board, noting discrimination she has faced as an Asian American.

Truong and Vo have similar stories of fleeing Vietnam in 1975 and struggling through poverty in the U.S. Truong has a doctorate of philosophy in natural medicine. Vo’s business acumen made him a millionaire by age 40.

Yet Vo says his own experience with discrimination helps him identify with the BLM movement.

“I think it’s important for me to support other communities who face the same thing,” he said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with Marxism … this is purely an anti-discrimination movement.”

Truong’s issues beyond education seem limited to ending abortion and warding off socialism — the latter not exactly a pressing threat in Texas. Her drive is commendable, including her get-up-and-go mentality after she was bitten by a dog while block walking.

Vo could use some

Editorial: We recommend Tom Oliverson in Texas House District 130

Representing what has been a solidly Republican district, two-term incumbent Tom Oliverson is a conservative advocate for robust Second Amendment rights and a limited role for government. His children are homeschooled, he staunchly opposes abortion rights, and has prioritized expanding religious liberty.

During the 2017 session of the Legislature, when a bill banning transgender people from using using public bathrooms matching their gender identity dominated debate, Oliverson authored a bill that would have provided a religious exemption for discrimination against LGBT people. Neither bill became law and after losing seats in the next election, Republicans shifted their focus.

A medical doctor specializing in anesthesia, Oliverson has a solid track record sponsoring bipartisan bills including protection against surprise billing for emergency room visits. Last session, with a lift from Democratic Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a bill Oliverson co-authored requiring pharmaceutical companies to justify price jumps became law. And in the face of projected budget shortfalls, he says he will work to protect the increased education funding passed in 2019.

“I’m willing to work with anyone who is willing to work with me,” Oliverson told the editorial board, adding, “Good policy isn’t partisan.”

It is based on that attitude that we recommend Oliverson for re-election, despite misgivings.

His Twitter account, for instance, is often divisive. We are also troubled by photos of him not wearing a mask in situations where physical distancing was not possible. With COVID-19 continuing to devastate lives and our economy, we expect more from a physician leader.

Democratic challenger Bryan Henry was a 2019 Texas Council for Social Studies high school teacher of the year and now teaches at a community college. His home flooded during Harvey and he stresses the need for flood mitigation as well as slowing climate change. We were impressed by Henry’s depth of knowledge