In Race To Replace Zerwas In Texas House, Democrat Eliz Markowitz And Republican Gary Gates Head To A Runoff

Democrats are hoping to flip Texas House District 28 in the upcoming runoff. Meanwhile, in Dallas’ House District 100 race, five votes separate two candidates trying to make it to the second round.

The Texas Tribune
Eliz Markowitz (Democrat) and Gary Gates (Republican) are running to replace Texas State Rep. John Zerwas.

A Democrat and a Republican are advancing to a runoff in a nationally targeted special election for a previously Republican-held Texas House seat.

With all vote centers reporting Tuesday night, the sole Democratic candidate, Eliz Markowitz, finished first with 39% of the vote, according to unofficial returns. Republican Gary Gates was the runner-up at 28%.

Gates, a wealthy businessman and perennial candidate, was one of three serious GOP candidates out of six total. The two other viable Republicans in the race, Tricia Krenek and Anna Allred, got 18% and 9%, respectively.

Allred appeared to concede at about 10:30 p.m., saying she was “disappointed with the results” but “pleased with our campaign.”

While Democrats celebrated Markowitz’s first-place finish, they wasted little time laying the groundwork for the runoff — and drawing a contrast with Gates, who loaned his campaign hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Our movement is people-powered — not self-funded,” Markowitz said in a statement, followed by one from state party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa labeling Gates a “Trump Republican hellbent on buying this election.”

On Wednesday morning, Gov. Greg Abbott, who did not endorse in the election, issued a statement that congratulated Gates on his “strong performance” and backed him for the runoff.

The race for House District 28 — where former state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, stepped down at the end of September — was one of three contests Tuesday to fill state House seats. The two others happened in solidly Democratic districts where runoffs were also looking likely, as of early Wednesday morning.

In House District 100, where former Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, vacated his seat earlier this year after becoming Dallas mayor, a runoff appeared set between Democrats Lorraine Birabil and James Armstrong were on their way to a runoff with all vote centers reporting — if nothing changes. In the all-Democrat race, Birabil got 33%, while Armstrong had 21%, finishing just five votes ahead of Daniel Davis Clayton and 121 votes ahead of Sandra Crenshaw. Both margins were narrow enough to make Clayton and Crenshaw eligible to request recounts.

Birabil is a legal associate and former staffer to Democratic elected officials, while Armstrong is a minister and president and CEO of a community development corporation focused on affordable housing.

And in House District 148, where Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, also resigned at the end of September, Democrat Anna Eastman and Republican Luis La Rotta were also on track for a runoff with all but a few vote centers reporting. Eastman had 20%, while La Rotta had 16%, with the next closest candidate, Democrat Adrian Garcia, at 12%.

Eastman is a former Houston school board member; La Rotta is an engineer who had the backing of the Harris County GOP in the 15-way race, which featured one other Republican, 12 Democrats and an independent.

In the run-up to Tuesday, the battle for Zerwas’ seat had attracted the most attention. Democrats are aiming to flip the seat as they head into 2020 with the hopes of capturing the Texas House, where they are effectively nine seats away from the majority.

Markowitz, a Katy educator who unsuccessfully ran last year for State Board of Education, drew hundreds of thousands of dollars in support from state and national Democrats. A number of high-profile surrogates visited the district to campaign for her, including Beto O’Rourke when he was running for president.

While there were a half-dozen Republicans running, only three emerged as viable contenders: Gates; Krenek, a former member of the Fulshear City Council; and Allred, an anesthesiologist from Katy. Gates, who made his fortune in real estate, almost exclusively self-funded his campaign, loaning himself over $700,000.

While the stakes of the other special elections Tuesday were not as high, they still had some drama. One of the Democratic candidates for Farrar’s seat, Michele Leal, had to deal a couple weeks ago with the revelation of delinquent taxes, which she said she paid once they were brought to her attention. She came in fifth with 9%.

And in the Dallas special election, residency issues caused a fifth and final candidate, Democrat Paul Stafford, to withdraw from the race after filing in September. But his name remained on the ballot, and he drew a not-insignificant amount of support: 6%.

This piece was originally published in The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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