HD49: Where They Stand

By Forrest Milburn, Junyuan Tan and Miles Hutson

Not many political observers expected longtime state Rep. Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin) to decline a run for re-election to House District 49 in 2016. So, when he announced last December he planned to pass the torch on to the next generation, his decision spurred a flurry of movement from members of Austin’s political machine.

With no Republican opposition in the November general election, whichever candidate emerges victorious from the field of seven Democrats on March 1 is virtually guaranteed a spot in the state House of Representatives when the legislature reconvenes next spring.

The open legislative seat — with a potential boost of turnout from the competitive presidential primaries — could be decided by students wanting their voices to be heard from one of the candidates, who have all made attempts to reach out to the large swath of college voters living throughout the district.

For anyone still making up their mind, The Daily Texan created this interactive filled with each candidate’s three major priorities, platform for student voters and list of endorsements through the campaign.

Candidates are in alphabetical order.



Aspen Dunaway

Photo: Rachel Zein

Aspen Dunaway

Attorney

Why should students vote for you?

I came out of college in Texas with more than 50,000 in student loan debt. I am fortunate to have them now paid off, but many of our young adults are not and will continue to struggle with making payments, and having looming debt over their heads. I am proposing a freeze on state university tuitions for a couple of years. I am also willing to look into re-regulating tuition. I want to raise the minimum wage tax to at least $10.10 and make the steps needed to decriminalize marijuana. I am also proposing a Tenant’s Bill of Rights. Texas has some protections in statute but they need to be clarified and disclosed to renters. Some provisions to the Bill of Rights include: security deposit not exceeding one month’s rent, a tenant right to privacy statute and adding to discrimination protection to include sexual orientation and marital status. All these and more I have provided in my Formula for HD 49 and promised to file legislation on, fight for and support when elected. I want what is best for the State but specifically I will be in that legislature representing and seeking what is best for HD 49, including UT and its students. I will work with and alongside all constituents from students and young professionals to seniors and the disabled. I based this campaign on keeping this seat in the hands of the people and that is what I intend to do.

Policy Priorities

  1. Property tax relief

  2. Tuition freeze/regulation

  3. Decriminalizing marijuana

Major Endorsements:

To find a full list of Aspen's endorsers, click here


Huey Rey Fischer

Photo: Rachel Zein

Huey Rey Fischer

Former legislative aide

Why should students vote for you?

I’m different because these fights are personal for me. I am the recent UT grad who has significant student loan debt. I relied on Planned Parenthood for some health care screenings in college when I didn’t have health insurance. I can personally attest to the rising rent we are feeling in West and North Campus.

I am the 23-year old, queer Latino taking on six lawyers for this seat. Students have been shut out of the Capitol for too long, and I am ready to push back with an agenda that is meaningful for the Forty Acres.

The Legislature should fully fund the university to tackle the student debt crisis. We need to make student neighborhoods affordable again. We must begin a serious conversation about policies that will effectively end sexual assaults on campus. We have to keep guns out of our classrooms.

Students will decide this election, and I am proud to be their choice.

Policy Priorities

  1. Making Austin affordable

  2. Tackling student debt

  3. Fighting for social justice

Major Endorsements:

University Democrats, Stonewall Democrats of Austin, The Victory Fund, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Austin Young Democrats. To find a full list of Huey's endorsers, click here


Gina Hinojosa

Photo: Rachel Zein

Gina Hinojosa

Austin ISD School Board member

Why should students vote for you?

We must not let Republicans roll back the clock on civil rights, women’s health, voting rights, the environment, and education – all issues that have a significant impact on the lives and future of students. I have a proven record of working successfully with coalitions to get things done, and I will collaborate with student organizations to fight for progressive issues at the State Capitol.

I will work to make college opportunities affordable and more accessible for all students and ease the burden of student debt.

The Texas Legislature is shortchanging young people and limiting their opportunities for an affordable college education and meaningful careers. In the 1970’s, 85% of the education costs at the University of Texas were paid with state funds. Today, the state share is less than 20%. Students are caught in the squeeze, and the result is unprecedented student debt that has a profound impact on the social and economic mobility of young people today.

I will SUPPORT: Increased funding for the Texas Grants to increase college access for eligible students. OPPOSE: Efforts to deny Dreamers in-state tuition and a shot at their future. SUPPORT: Increased state share of costs for higher education to drive down tuition and ease student debt. SUPPORT: Efforts to increase affordable student housing at UT.

In addition, students are a key part of a progressive statewide coalition on issues such as: the environment - to address climate change; gun violence – to repeal campus carry; women’s reproductive rights - to fully restore funds to Planned Parenthood; and voting rights – to repeal voter ID laws.

Policy Priorities

  1. We must end the epidemic of gun violence in Texas

  2. We must stop shortchanging students

  3. We must restore full funding to Planned Parenthood

Major Endorsements:

The Austin American-Statesman, Central Austin Democrats, Workers Defense Action Fund, Austin Chronicle, National Women's Political Caucus, West Austin Democrats. To find a full list of Gina's endorsers, click here


Kenton Johnson

Attorney

Why should students vote for you?

I’m a “double” Longhorn. I received both my undergraduate business degree (BBA) and law degree (JD) from The University of Texas at Austin (UT). While an undergraduate, I was a drummer in the Longhorn Band and a reporter for the Cactus yearbook. During law school, I was the President of the Environmental Law Society and Managing Editor of the State Bar of Texas Environmental Law Journal. Since then, I’ve spent the last 22 years as an attorney here in Austin helping students, families and small business navigate the legal system. And, I’ve been a municipal judge since 2014.

My family bleeds orange. My oldest sister graduated from UT with an education degree and is a public school teacher in Houston. And, my youngest sister graduated from UT with an athletic-training degree and is a full-time employee in the UT athletics department.

I’m passionate about UT. Student debt levels have skyrocketed in the last 10 to 15 years. I SUPPORT increasing the State’s proportion of higher education funding to significantly reduce student debt levels. I SUPPORT giving public universities (including UT) the same right that private universities have to opt out of open carry. And, I SUPPORT reforming our criminal and juvenile justice laws to reduce the number of non-violent criminals that are incarcerated in our Texas prison system.

I’ve lived within sight of the UT Tower for 30 years. I love “the” University. If elected, I will continue my full support for UT, its students (and its sports teams).

Policy Priorities

  1. Making affordable housing in Austin a reality

  2. Conserving our water resources, controlling air emissions and reducing our dependence upon nuclear energy

  3. Developing an integrated transportation network with more and better transportation options, such as rail and more dedicated bike lanes

Major Endorsements:

My family, friends and colleagues have supported and endorsed me in this election.


Blake Rocap

Photo: Blake Rocap campaign

Blake Rocap

Former NARAL Pro-Choice Texas counsel

Why should students vote for you?

Blake is running because he understands that 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. Blake has 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; he has the proven experience to help stop this extremist agenda.

Policy Priorities

  1. Expanding Medicaid and providing healthcare access to all Texans

  2. Reforming public education finance to restore ALL the cuts the legislature has made

  3. Halting Republican Extremists attacks on our families and the environment

Major Endorsements:

The candidate has not provided the Daily Texan with this information.


Matt Shrum

Photo: Matt Shrum campaign

Matt Shrum

Attorney

Why should students vote for you?

Of the seven candidates running, I am the most pragmatic which will make me the most effective advocate for district 49. My experience at the Capitol tells me that in order to get things done over there, you have to be willing and able to work with the leadership. That means holding on to your core values while reaching across the aisle and making compromises.

Policy Priorities

  1. More involvement in the appropriations process

  2. More funding for UT and for Austin's transportation infrastructure

  3. Criminal justice reform: decriminalization of marijuana and fixing DWI legal loopholes to focus on rehabilitation instead of incarceration

Major Endorsements:

I do not have any of the traditional democratic club endorsements. Nor have I actively sought them.


Heather Way

Photo: Heather Way campaign

Heather Way

University of Texas law professor

Why should students vote for you?

As a UT Law professor, I have spent the past 10 years working closely with students and supporting their academic and personal growth (I was also a UT student for seven years). On a daily basis, I see UT students, staff, and faculty struggling to cope with dwindling recourses in an increasingly unaffordable city. As the Representative for District 49, I will be a champion at the Capitol for issues that are important to UT students, including increasing state investment in universities and making college affordable for all students, banning guns from our campus, expanding access to affordable rental housing, increasing student participation in the political process, and protecting women’s reproductive rights.

I have dedicated my career to fighting for people and working to increase social and economic justice in our society. I have a long successful record of standing up for our community here in Austin and at the Legislature—and getting results. I have worked as a legislative aide at the Capitol and have spent many years at the Capitol as a policy reformer. I have the breadth of experience, knowledge, and dedication needed to achieve real reforms at the Capitol.

I am also the only candidate stressing that we also need deep structural reforms to our political system—and leaders strong enough to stand up to the status quo. I will fight to get rid of corporate money in politics, increase transparency in government, and ban sweetheart deals for donors.

Policy Priorities

  1. Increasing economic opportunity and closing our society’s growing economic divides—through increasing investments in education, tax reform, adopting a living wage, affordable housing, and more

  2. Gun law reform—getting guns out of our classrooms and enacting sane gun control laws

  3. Environmental reforms—protecting our water, air, and green spaces

Major Endorsements:

To find a full list of Heather's endorsers, click here


Now What?

Find your polling location here.
Early voting will continue to Friday, February 26. Election Day is Tuesday, March 1.

Contributors

Article by Forrest Milburn | Developed by Junyuan Tan | Original backend by Miles Hutson