It's primary season: Collin County Democrats are taking on GOP candidates battling each other
The competition is fierce in Collin County’s Republican primary — but the same can’t be said for the Democratic primary. And Democrats say that infighting in the Republican Party will benefit them in November.
Collin County Republicans have candidates with money and political experience. Some of the Democratic candidates? Not so much.
One Democratic statehouse candidate is a graduate student from Plano who’s studying English in Ohio. Another has written a science-fiction series on mold becoming sentient and trying to take over the world. And another runs a private bar tender business.
Liz Michel, the candidate recruiter for the Collin County Democratic Party, said the candidates lack of political experience is an asset, not a hindrance.
“They want to represent the people of this county and not political interest groups,” Michel said. “I know because I recruited them. These are everyday people.”
She also said the Democrats are offering voters an alternative to the Republican Party, which is grappling with fault lines over Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment. Paxton has endorsed primary challengers of several House members who voted to impeach him including candidates in Collin County, his home county.
Keresa Richardson and Chuck Branch said during a recent Republican primary debate that the impeachment exposed issues that compelled them to run. They’re both challenging Rep. Frederick Frazier in Texas House District 61. Frazier recently pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges and guilty to a criminal mischief charge for allegedly impersonating a McKinney city code enforcement officer during the Republican primary runoff in the last election cycle.
Branch said that was what made him aware of the bigger challenges “and that's what got me in the race.” And Richardson said he believed the Paxton impeachment “brought dysfunction and corruption to light.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott has endorsed several incumbents that supported his failed school vouchers plan — including Frazier. Paxton and his wife, State Sen. Angela Paxton, have endorsed both Richardson and Branch. The candidates said that’s not an issue because choosing the party’s nominee is up to the voters.
The Democrats say the dissonance over competing endorsements in the Republican Party is their gain.
“What we're seeing right now is it's the party that has that complete death grip on power being unable to govern itself,” said David W. Carstens, who’s the sole candidate in the Texas House District 66 Democratic primary. Carstens, who’s from Collin County, said he finishes his graduate teaching commitments at Miami University of Ohio in a couple months.
Carstens said Shaheen isn’t focused on issues that impact his constituents.
“He talks a lot about anything that's being talked about on cable news networks currently,” he said.
Jefferson Nunn, who’s running as a Democrat for Texas House District 67, said the Republican Party is fractured. Republican State Rep. Jeff Leach currently holds the seat Nunn is running for. He has one primary opponent, Daren Meis, a former Allen city council member.
Nunn said Leach’s response to the Allen shooting motivated him to run.
“I felt betrayed by Jeff Leach in that moment, as did many other people,” he said.
Nunn, who has written for Forbes, is the author of a science fiction series called “Burning Mold” — and “A Crypto Currency Carol,” a retelling of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol" originally published in Forbes in 2018 that's about cryptocurrency.
Darrel Evans said while the Republicans are arguing over who did and didn’t support Paxton, the Democrats are focusing on policy. Evans works in sales. He’s running as a Democrat in Texas House District 89, Representative Candy Noble’s seat. Former Collin County Republican Party Chair Abraham George is running against Noble in the Republican primary.
“If you look and if you listen, anything that's coming out of this Democratic Party in Collin County is about issues,” Evans said.
Those issues include things like gun reform and supporting the LGBTQ-plus community. Several civil rights groups recently filed a complaint with the United Nations over Texas laws that impact LGBTQ+ people.
State Rep. Mihaela Plesa, whose district includes parts of Allen, is talking about gun reforms. Eight victims and the gunman were killed during a mass shooting at an Allen outlet mall in May. Plesa said voters want legislators to take action to reduce gun violence.
“The situations that we're seeing around us will definitely impact how voters turnout in November,” she said.
Plesa was the first Democrat from Collin County elected to the Texas legislature in 30 years when she won in 2022. Her district was created during 2020 redistricting. And Democrats have also had some success at the local level with city council and school board seats.
Collin County is the third-fastest growing county in the nation according to the U.S. census. Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said growth tends to lead to an increase in diversity and education levels, something he said benefits Democrats.
“That doesn't mean the Democrats are there yet, but it means they're getting there, and both the Collin County Democrats and Collin County Republicans know that,” Jillson said.
Still, he said it will be decades before Collin County flips blue. Jillson said candidates need experience — or at the very least, a lot of cash on hand — to run a successful campaign. Most of the current Democratic candidates don’t have that
Most of the Democratic candidates didn’t file to run for office until the last day. Michel said that was because of the filing fee cost.
Jilson said the higher the office, the more money the candidate needs to succeed. He said money buys visibility — things like advertisements, billboards and lawn signs. So far, the Republicans in Collin County are outpacing the Democrats with their fundraising.
Plesa andSandeep Srivastava,who’s running for a second time in Congressional District 3, are the Democrats with the most cash on hand right now. Most of the other Democrats haven’t raised the level of campaign funds that the incumbents and challengers in the Republican primary have.
Michel said she’s not concerned that the Republicans have more campaign funds for the primary races.
“Spend that money, baby,” Michel said. “Spend it all on the primary trying to keep your seat.”
She said the Democrats may not be able to compete with the Republicans when it comes to campaign funds. But Michel said once the Democratic party gets its platform out there, it will attract voters – and their dollars.
Early voting starts Feb. 20 and goes until March 1. Election day is March 5.
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Caroline Love is a Report For AmericaCorps member for KERA News.
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