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Democrats vying for Texas House District 97 seat emphasize support for public education

Candidates for Texas House District 97 address attendees of the Fort Worth Report’s primary debates held Feb. 8, 2024, at Texas Wesleyan University.
Camilo Diaz
Fort Worth Report
Candidates for Texas House District 97 address attendees of the Fort Worth Report’s primary debates held Feb. 8, 2024, at Texas Wesleyan University.

Democratic candidates for federal, state and local office discussed top issues and pitched themselves as the best nominee to vie for key offices during the November general election.

The Fort Worth Report hosted its second candidate debate on Feb. 8 at Texas Wesleyan University in partnership with fellow nonprofit and nonpartisan organizations KERA, SteerFW and the League of Women Voters. Democratic primary candidates for U.S. House District 12, Texas House District 97, and Tarrant County Precinct 1 discussed key issues, including education, criminal justice and the economy.

The March 5 primary election will decide the Republican and Democratic candidates who will face each other in the general election Nov. 5. Early voting for the 2024 primary starts Tuesday, Feb. 20. Texas primaries are open, which means residents may vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary in March.

Residents can find voter information about nearby polling places, sample ballots and acceptable voter IDs here.

Texas House District 97 is an open seat after Republican incumbent Craig Goldman announced his plans to run for Congress. Three Democrats, Diane Symons, Carlos Walker and William Thorburn, are seeking their party’s nomination to serve in the Texas Legislature.

Education was a top issue for all three candidates. Symons, Thorburn and Walker all said they support investing more in retaining teachers and spending more on public universities and trade schools.

Thorburn, who has a degree in accounting but changed careers to become a teacher, said he plans to support public education, advocate for women’s reproductive rights and bring jobs to the district. He described himself as a moderate Democrat.

“I’m running because I’ve lived a life of service for the last 20-plus years, and that’s what I’m about,” Thorburn said. “I don’t have a business to hawk when I get down to Austin. I am running for you.”

Thorburn also emphasized the importance of creating jobs in District 97. Responsible incentives for private businesses are an effective way to improve the economic health of the region, he said. He also supports increasing the state’s annual allotment for public school students, plus an additional annual increase adjusted for inflation.

Symons describes herself as an advocate, rather than a politician. She supports raising Texas’ minimum wage to $15 per hour and increasing the hourly minimum wage by $1 every year, offsetting the extra expense for small businesses by offering tax cuts.

“Our voice has not been heard in so long,” Symons said. “We have everything in the United States, we have everything in Texas, if you’re the right person.”

Walker, a veteran and longtime employee of Fort Worth ISD, also supports public education and hopes to increase teacher pay. He currently works as director of Fort Worth ISD’s Family Action Center, which provides community resources and mental and behavioral health assistance, the Fort Worth Report previously reported.

He said he understands the problems facing public education including turnover among experienced teachers.

“I understand this issue, and I know how to fix it as well,” Walker said. “We need more resources so far as our schools. The schools that are adequately equipped and have the resources, they need are doing well.”

He plans to advance his agenda in the Legislature by emphasizing the common ground he shares with Republicans, focusing on issues like reducing food insecurity and strengthening the state’s electric grid.

All three candidates said they do not support the governor’s proposed school voucher program, which would give families $8,000 they could spend on private school tuition and other costs, like textbooks or tutoring.

“Public money should be spent in public schools, period,” Thorburn said.

Missed the candidate forum? Here’s where to watch the recording

The forums were open to the public and livestreamed on the Fort Worth Report’s YouTube channel. To watch the forum, click here.

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at or via X.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.