The first midterm election since the election of Donald Trump has presented North Texas Democrats, and Democrats across the nation, with a fundamental decision to make: does the party hold fast to an Obama-era message of unity and bridge-building or does it choose to channel voter anger into action? In a year with a record number of female candidates running for federal, state and local offices, two Democratic women running for the Texas House of Representatives have each chosen their own paths to a potential victory on Nov. 6.
Attorney Julie Johnson, challenging District 115’s incumbent State Representative Matt Rinaldi, is quick to tout her progressive policy positions (criminal justice reform, expanding access to women’s health care, etc.) while at the same time stressing areas where common ground can be found with voters of all political persuasions.
“Most people want the same things,” Johnson told the North Dallas Gazette. “The majority of Texans want a government that spends its money responsibly, that doesn’t tax its citizens more than it needs to, that balances our budget and spends it on our priorities…a government that works for everyone.”
“Republicans and Democrats alike share those common values,” she continued. “I believe that to my core.”
One specific issue where Johnson hopes to break from the traditional Democratic mold is the minimum wage. Rather than seek to mandate a higher minimum wage directly from Austin, Johnson favors allowing local communities to lead the way to higher salaries.
“You either, philosophically, favor local control of issues or state control of issues,” said Johnson. “Progress comes from local communities that then push the state forward.”
She does, however, see a clear difference between the two parties on how to best protect Texas school children in light of Governor Greg Abbott’s announcement this summer to support the arming of school teachers with firearms to deter potential school shooters.
“I think arming teachers is the craziest suggestion I’ve ever heard,” said Johnson.
She does support a variety of measures to ensure school safety and emphasizes the need for more guidance counselors to be employed by schools across the state to serve better any students who might suffer from mental or emotional issues.
“Many school officials that I have met with have said that if they could get more funding to improve psychological care in schools, that that in-and-of-itself would do so much to alleviate so many problems.”
Educator Joanna Cattanach, running against District 108’s current State Representative Republican Morgan Meyer, has stressed the need to improve school funding across the state as well – deeming the issue the most likely factor voters will weigh when determining who to send to Austin next year. Both Cattanach and Johnson have called for universal pre-k, in addition to criticizing their Republican opponents for supporting controversial laws like SB4 and the bathroom bill. In addition to changes in policy, Cattanach has stressed the need to change the culture at the Capitol and has criticized her opponent for failing to do so.
“This district has never had a woman in this seat,” Cattanach told the North Dallas Gazette. “[The State House] is dominated by male representatives, and their behavior in the State House has included telling women on the House floor that they need to smile more… “
“We need people in Austin who are going to, not just represent women,” she continued, “but be a voice for women.”
In addition to criticizing reported harassment on the State House floor, Cattanach has also accused the Meyer campaign of intimidation tactics during the early voting period.
“We are actively, in my opinion, being intimidated at the polls by Mr. Meyer’s volunteers,” said Cattanach. She cites an instance when of her volunteers was “made” to pray with a representative from her opponent’s campaign. She also claims the sheer size of Meyer’s volunteers participating in poll greeting is intended to intimidate her potential supporters voting early.
The candidate’s critiques of the Meyer campaign extend to his lack of willingness to debate throughout the campaign and the accusation that he is “completely ignoring” the eastern sector of District 108 and the district’s Hispanic and LGBT populations.
“(Meyer) has done so little for so long,” stated Cattanach. “Morgan is silent…Morgan is out of touch.”
While each candidate is taking a different approach in tone and focus, both are relying on a Democratic swing in this midterm year to help carry them over the finish line; and with Election Day less than a week away, North Texas voters still have the opportunity to decide whether or not they will get there.
For early and Election Day voting times and locations for Dallas County, visit here.