In-Depth: The candidates running for Austin’s House District 49

AUSTIN (KXAN) — When longtime Democrat Elliot Naishtat decided he wasn’t seeking reelection for Texas House District 49, seven candidates quickly organized to run for his seat. KXAN’s Political Reporter Phil Prazan sat down with the candidates to find out what their top priorities for Austin are and how they plan to execute their plans if they were elected.


Aspen Dunaway

1. Why did you get into the race for House District 49?

I am a lifelong Austinite, who was born in the district and has spent a huge part of my life in it. I know the district, the people and their values. I am running to keep this seat in the hands of the people rather than let it fall into the hands of the establishment.

2. If elected, what will your role be in a Republican dominated House of Representatives?

When elected I will push for implementation of my proposed legislation I have provided in my Formula for HD 49. I believe that some of these will have bi-partisan support. I would focus on property tax relief, tuition freeze and decriminalization of marijuana.

3. What is the ONE ISSUE you will not compromise on as Republicans try to pass policy reforms in the 2017 session?

Property tax relief. Too many of our Central Austin residents are being pushed out of their homes because of sky rocketing property taxes.

4. What hobbies do you have? What do you do in your free time?

I enjoy music. I am an amateur musician, love playing the saxophone.


Huey Rey Fischer

1. Why did you get into the race for House District 49?

I believe working families deserve a better deal. Democrats need to stop playing defense against the Republicans. It is time to push back with a positive and progressive agenda that benefits all Texas families. I bring the experience, vision, and energy to make our government work for everyday people, not for special interest groups and their lobbyists. My experience as a community organizer and legislative staffer has prepared me with the good policy priorities to challenge the bad politics of the Republicans.

2. If elected, what will your role be in a Republican dominated House of Representatives?

I want to be a progressive conscience who pulls the conversations back towards the left. You can trust me to use my legislative experience to be an effective leader who gets things done without compromising our values. I want to be known as the workers’ rights legislator. I will start the conversations on raising the minimum wage, implementing mandatory workers comp, and enacting paid family leave.

3. What is the ONE ISSUE you will not compromise on as Republicans try to pass policy reforms in the 2017 session?

I will oppose any attempt to implement vouchers. They harm our public schools. Next session, Dan Patrick has pledged to pull a bait-and-switch by introducing “educational savings accounts.” We won’t be fooled — these are vouchers — and I will oppose them no matter what the Republicans choose to call them.

4. What hobbies do you have? What do you do in your free time?

I am a bike-riding, Selena-listening, vegetarian Austinite who likes taking his German shepherd to the Greenbelt and eating breakfast tacos.


Gina Hinojosa

1. Why did you get into the race for House District 49?

We face a Republican majority in Texas that has stated it intends to roll back the clock on education, voting rights, health and human services, civil rights, and the environment. I am running for the Texas House (HD 49) to stop those Republican efforts and to bring a strong, progressive voice to the Capitol on issues that are critical to my district and to Austin. It is not enough to vote the right way, although that is important. We must also have a leader in the House who can create strategic coalitions with other members, develop both an offensive and defensive game, speak out publicly, and galvanize the support of progressive organizations around these important issues.

2. If elected, what will your role be in a Republican dominated House of Representatives?

It is critical for progressive leadership to take an offensive role in the House, especially given the extreme positions taken by many Republican members of the Texas House. I will not only vote in favor of progressive issues, I will also: Call-out the myths and misinformation that are often used to justify bad legislation as well as conflicts of interest that jeopardize the public interest, work with community coalitions to galvanize support and increase public awareness, speak out publicly and ask hard questions to bring public attention to legislative attempts to roll back the clock in key issues, file bills that will advance progressive issues, looking at both big picture bills, as well as winnable issues that may have bipartisan support, Reach across the aisle on issues of common concern.

3. What is the ONE ISSUE you will not compromise on as Republicans try to pass policy reforms in the 2017 session?

I will actively oppose any effort to pass legislation that supports private and religious school vouchers that subsidize private school education at taxpayer expense. Lt. Gov. Patrick has indicated that he will propose new ways to shift public dollars to private schools, including a program with a misleading name: “equal opportunity scholarships.” Make no mistake – this “scholarship” program is a private school voucher that allows corporations to divert their state tax payments to pay for private and religious school tuition instead of going into the state’s General Revenue to support public schools and other programs. This proposal will have serious budgetary implications for our public schools. Tax credits like the ones proposed by Lt. Gov. Patrick that divert dollars from the state’s general revenue to pay tuition at private schools decrease the available dollars that should go to support our public schools and students. Any direct or indirect effort to shift public dollars away from public schools to pay tuition at private or religious schools is a voucher – no matter what it’s called.

4. What hobbies do you have? What do you do in your free time?

I like to run in Pease Park and explore Shoal Creek with my boys, Matteo and Pablo. I volunteer with Austin Interfaith to help organize families to advocate for issues that affect their community. As a member of the Austin ISD School Board, I spend most of my free time in public service, working to improve public schools for all children in Austin.


Kenton Johnson 

1. Why did you get into the race for House District 49?

I’m concerned about my son’s future. And, I’m concerned about the conservative shift to the right that the legislature has taken the State of Texas during the last 10 to 15 years. I’ve lived and worked in Central Austin for over 30 years. My wife and I recently celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary and our son’s first birthday. District 49 is our home. We are proud of it and want to protect it for our son’s generation and generations to come.

2. If elected, what will your role be in a Republican dominated House of Representatives?

Just because Democrats are currently in the minority does not mean that the people of District 49 cannot be represented to their fullest. If you focus on issues (access to good heath care, affordable housing, school finance reform, etc.) instead of politics, you can reach across the aisle and get things done. It’s what I’ve been doing for over 20 years as an attorney here in Austin.

3. What is the ONE ISSUE you will not compromise on as Republicans try to pass policy reforms in the 2017 session?

If elected, I will fight to keep more of our tax dollars here in Austin. Because of the broken school finance system, we’re sending millions of our property tax dollars to other communities. Instead, the state needs to step in and fulfill its financial obligation to properly educate all children in Texas. The state also needs to provide Austin with its fair share of transportation dollars to address some of the most congested roadways in the nation.

4. What hobbies do you have? What do you do in your free time?

I’m a runner. After completing the last Motorola Marathon, I’ve continued to run the Capital 10K, Schlotzsky’s Bun Run and other shorter-distance races (for fun, only). I’m also a drummer. While at UT, I marched in the Longhorn Band. Since then, I’ve continued to play with the Longhorn Alumni Band and at the Austin Bar Association’s annual Bar & Grill Show.

I read science fiction books, cook dinner with my wife and play with my son.


Blake Rocap 

1. Why did you get into the race for House District 49?

The challenges facing our state are immense. Republican leadership has sacrificed necessary infrastructure investment at the altar of “small government” while inserting themselves into our families’ most personal decisions about marriage and reproduction. These issues are too big for on-the-job training. I’ve spent nearly a decade doing the hard work fighting for our values inside the legislature for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas and the ACLU of Texas; I have the proven experience to help stop this extremist agenda.

2. If elected, what will your role be in a Republican dominated House of Representatives?

My role will be to champion progressive values through specific policy ideas by putting a human face on the damage that the failure of Republican priorities have caused. I’ll also serve as a watchdog for bad legislation, and help progressive organizations defeat those bills by using my five sessions of legislative experience and knowledge of the House rules. As the former clerk of the House committee on pensions I expect to be a leading voice on both sides of the aisle for the protection of our public pension system. I will be an advocate for a more equitable school finance system, not one that leaves some children further behind. Every success will be hard earned but knowing the rules and having been through the process five times can help ensure that our Democratic ideals can be a part of the conversation in 2017.

3. What is the ONE ISSUE you will not compromise on as Republicans try to pass policy reforms in the 2017 session?

I won’t compromise on reproductive health issues or abortion rights. Texas has been a leader in chipping away those rights and set a bad example for other states to follow. It is the issue I have worked on for my entire professional life and specifically in the past four legislative sessions. It is an issue that I’m considered an expert on and certainly one where I will continue to fight using all my experience and institutional knowledge accumulated from working in the legislature for almost ten years.

4. What hobbies do you have? What do you do in your free time?

I’m an avid volleyball player, and love to cook. I love being silly with my two daughters and watching them grow and discover the things that give them joy. My wife and I are graduates of the University of Texas at Austin so we love taking the family to events at UT, everything from athletics to the museums on campus.


Matt Shrum

1. Why did you get into the race for House District 49?

I have a calling for public service, I know and love the legislative process, and I feel like I am uniquely qualified to be an effective advocate for this district.

2. If elected, what will your role be in a Republican dominated House of Representatives?

I have a calling for public service, I know and love the legislative process, and I feel like I am uniquely qualified to be an effective advocate for this district.

3. What is the ONE ISSUE you will not compromise on as Republicans try to pass policy reforms in the 2017 session?

Women’s health issues.

4. What hobbies do you have? What do you do in your free time?
I make magic on my Green Egg nearly every night – I love to feed people. I spend time messing with my cattle. I love to travel to the mountains. I’m a skier. In the summer I’m on Lake Austin every chance I get. And, of course, I’m a bona fide Orangeblood and follow UT athletics.


Heather Way

1. Why did you get into the race for House District 49?

I am a UT Law Professor who has dedicated my career to fighting for people and working for social and economic justice. I have a strong and successful record of standing up for our community here in Austin and at the Legislature and plan to continue that fight as an advocate for education, tax reform, living wages, and more. I believe economic inequality is a fundamental threat to our democracy and the families of Texas—and fighting inequality will be my top priority as your state representative.

2. If elected, what will your role be in a Republican dominated House of Representatives?

I am a UT Law Professor who has dedicated my career to fighting for people and working for social and economic justice. I have a strong and successful record of standing up for our community here in Austin and at the Legislature and plan to continue that fight as an advocate for education, tax reform, living wages, and more. I believe economic inequality is a fundamental threat to our democracy and the families of Texas—and fighting inequality will be my top priority as your state representative.

3. What is the ONE ISSUE you will not compromise on as Republicans try to pass policy reforms in the 2017 session?

As a person who cares deeply about a number of issues, including the environment and affordability, I will not compromise when basic principles of justice, fairness, and human rights—including women’s rights—are under attack. The treatment of Planned Parenthood by right wing politicians is shameful. I will fight back against the reactionary assaults on women’s reproductive rights.

4. What hobbies do you have? What do you do in your free time?

I was born in the Hill Country, and I love to run and hike and have started to pick up the guitar. As a soccer mom, I also enjoy spending time with my two young sons and attending their sports and school activities and volunteering with the PTA. My family tries to spend time outdoors whenever possible, and I love biking around Austin, swimming at Barton Springs, and hiking on the Barton Creek greenbelt.

KXAN.com provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s