Lone Star Shootout---Democratic Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher Aims to Defeat GOP “Dream” Candidate (NOT) Wesley Hunt May 3, 2020
Just how low can Demagogue Donald go? It will be pretty hard for him to beat saying that one should inject or ingest disinfectant as a cure for coronavirus or put UV (ultraviolet rays) in your body. While Trump keeps yammering dangerous idiocy and is unable to get hold of addressing health and economic coronavirus concerns, his polling numbers continue to fall nationwide and in the key swing states to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Trump’s most loyal foot soldier Sen. Majority “Leader” Mitch McConnell (R-KY) makes matters even worse. He has, in effect, told the Blue States, that give more money to KY and similarly situated “Red” ones than they get in return, to “drop dead” as far as more coronavirus relief aid is concerned (nytimes.com, Krugman, 4/23/20). Between Trump’s awful leadership and heartless Mitch McConnell, many GOPers are now starting to worry that they may lose the Senate as well (nytimes.com, Martin & Haberman, 4/25/20).
However, remember that in Campaign 2020 every member of the House of Representatives is up for re-election. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)’s Democrats control that chamber. The House is presently the only legislative body checking Demagogue Donald and is up front fighting for additional coronavirus aid for millions of Americans, health workers, and fiscally-strapped states. In order to take back the House, GOPers need to flip a net 18 seats from the Democrats. Most “conventional wisdom” believes that the GOP chances to win the House are not good. Nearly 30 of the most endangered Democrats, mainly first-termers who won swing suburban districts in 11/2018, have banked $2 million or more in their reelection war chests. The latest fund raising for GOP House candidates in most seats looks bleak. “Team Red” has not found many strong congressional candidates nationwide (politico.com, Mutnick, 4/19/20). At least half a dozen open and GOP-held seats will be highly contested, forcing Republicans to divert precious resources to play defense. However, GOPers have landed what they think are some strong candidates in a group of swing seats where they hope to chip away at Democratic gains. One of them is in Texas, where GOPer Wesley Hunt is running in the Houston area against Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (See politico.com, Mutnick, 4/19/20). Let’s look at the Fletcher-Hunt race.
First-term Congresswoman Lizzie Pannill Fletcher (45) represents TX’s 7th Congressional District (CD). The Lone Star 7th is centered in West Houston and its suburbs. The TX 7th is the lineal descendant of the district that in 1966 elected H.W. Bush to Congress, the first GOPer to represent Houston in the House (Cohen & Cook 2020 Political Almanac). In H.W.’s time, this district occupied half of Harris County, home to Houston. Today, only 17% of Harris County is included in the 7th. The present 7th , based entirely in Harris County, includes most of the territory between the Katy Freeway (Interstate 10) and Westheimer Road from downtown. The 7th includes Bellaire, TX’s wealthiest town. Most of Houston’s business and professional elite live within the 7th. The Galleria, one of the largest U.S. malls, draws more than 30 million visitors. Downtown Houston has added apartment buildings, prosperous oil companies, and businesses from the New Orleans area, after Hurricane Katrina hit that city in 2005. The 7th includes Gulfton, a predominantly Hispanic town, which the Houston Chronicle called an “ersatz Ellis Island for economic refugees from Mexico and Central America.” Gulfton has become the most densely populated Houston neighborhood. The 7th is also home to Rev. Joel Osteen’s Lakewood evangelical megachurch which draws 45,000 worshipers weekly. During 8/2017, flooding from Hurricane Harvey caused extensive damage in the 7th’s western end (Cohen & Cook 2020).
The 7th had been in GOP hands for five decades. The 7th’s demographics have, however, strongly changed. After the 2011 redistricting, the 7th became a majority-minority district. Whites are about 43% of the population, Hispanics 31%, blacks 13%, and Asian Americans 11%. Hispanics are a younger group and often turn out to vote at a lower rate. That pattern has dramatically changed in the TX 7th. In 2012, Romney beat Obama taking 60% of the vote. However, in 2016, Donald lost to Hillary here by 1% of the vote, 48%-47%. Although the most recent Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) gives the TX 7th an R+7 score, suburban anti-Trump white voters and the 7th’s growing minority composition make this swingy district winnable for a Democrat (Cohen & Cook 2020).
Houston native and resident Lizzie Fletcher graduated in 1997 from OH’s Kenyon College and received a 2006 law degree from VA’s William and Mary. In 2006, she began practicing law at the powerhouse Vinson and Elkins firm. A few years later, she joined a prominent Houston law firm that focuses on business litigation and became that firm’s first female partner. She represented Houstonians from diverse business and social backgrounds. She was a co-founder of Planned Parenthood Young Leaders and worked with local charitable groups. After speaking with many Houstonians in the 7th CD, she agreed it was time to replace nine-term GOP Cong. John Culberson with someone who really represents their city in welcoming newcomers, pushing science, and helping their neighbors. Fletcher ran a campaign that emphasized jobs, infrastructure, and the economy. She had a detailed plan to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey’s disastrous flooding. Fletcher was endorsed by the pro-choice EMILY’s List and Roe v. Wade attorney Sarah Weddington (Cohen & Cook 2020, Pannill Fletcher for Cong., Home, 1/28/18, Houston Chronicle). After winning her primary, Fletcher defeated Culberson by 6 points, 53%-47%. Culberson was also hurt by ethics charges of insider stock trading and dubious collections of Civil War and other memorabilia that he labeled as “donor gifts (Diaz, 8/27/18, houstonchronicle.com).” Fletcher’s upset of Culberson was viewed as a significant victory in the Democrats’ successful 2018 battle to retake the House (Cohen & Cook 2020).
In the House, Cong. Fletcher sits on the key Science, Space, and Technology Committee where she chairs the Environment subcommittee. She is also on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, another important committee for her district (Cohen & Cook 2020). She is trusted and well-liked by Houstonians across the political spectrum (houstonchronicle.com, 1/20/20). Fletcher is a moderate voice on energy policy in a district home to many oil and gas companies (Energy & Environment News, 3/2/20).) In a district where many voters are employed in the energy sector, Fletcher opposes a bill to ban hydraulic fracking (houstonchronicle.com). However, much of the rest of her record is quite progressive. Cong. Fletcher’s first bill cut away federal red tape and speeded up disaster recovery funding. Only seven GOPers voted against it (houstonchronicle.com). She worked across the aisle to dislodge billions of long-overdue HUD (Housing & Urban Development) funds for Hurricane Harvey recovery and bring tax dollars back to TX. Her leadership on flooding issues successfully resulted in TX’s General Land Office changing its rules to allow for faster and more efficient flood mitigation efforts (fletcher.house.gov/news). In 2019, Cong. Fletcher’s vote for H.R. 3, the Elijah Cummings Lower Prescription Drug Costs Now Act, fulfilled a major 2018 campaign promise of hers. That bill would lower drug costs by allowing the government to negotiate lower prices for drugs under Medicare. When this bill passed the House, Fletcher won a key victory (houstonchronicle.com, 1/5/20).
And here’s Cong. Fletcher’s GOP opponent Wesley Hunt. The GOP touts him as a “dream” candidate. However, he is a nightmare whose election would badly hurt the Houston 7th CD. The GOP’s method of recruitment often aims at getting a candidate who looks “attractive” because she is a woman, a racial/ethnic minority, and/or a person with a strong military background. Never mind that this candidate’s stands on issues is just as far right as the typical white GOP male politician. After all, if you have a woman, a black, and/or a veteran, this person can’t possibly be T H A T extreme. Wrong, wrong, and very wrong. GOPer Wesley Hunt checks off two boxes for the GOP. Box #1—he is African American. Box-#2—he is from a military family and a West Point graduate. He spent eight years in the Army flying the Apache Longbow helicopter. Hunt did one combat deployment to Iraq and two to Saudi Arabia where he served as a liaison officer representing the U.S. in missions involving the Royal Saudi Land Forces Aviation Corps. Wesley later earned a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) from Cornell University and currently works for Perry Homes in Houston (See wesleyfortexas.com).
Here’s what Hunt really stands for, which the GOP hope the 7th’s voters ignore. Hunt proudly calls himself a “lifelong conservative” and he sure is (wesleyfortexas.com). He supports repealing all of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and cheered efforts to permanently repeal key sections of that bill that would hurt many people in the TX 7th. Hunt refused to speak out against Donald’s budget that takes away $1 trillion from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. He is strongly anti-choice and supports stripping away funding for Planned Parenthood (cnbc.com, 2/28/20, twitter.com/dccc/status, houstonchronicle.com/ primaries -voter guide). Democrats believe that they can link Hunt to allegations that his Perry Homes “disturbed protected wetlands and caused severe flooding in area homes (Cook Political Report, 2/14/20).” Hunt is for making the top 1% anti-middle-class tax cut permanent. He stands for increased funding for stronger border enforcement and against amnesty for any immigrants residing in the U.S. without permission (ballotpedia.org).
Hunt hangs around with some strange “bedfellows.” He kicked off his campaign by putting a convicted felon Brett O’Donnell on his payroll and giving him more than $14,000. O’ Donnell had pleaded guilty after the Office of Congressional Ethics found he had accepted payment from the congressional office of a GOP client-- and not from his client’s campaign account, essentially taking home $43,000 in taxpayer dollars. In 2018, O’Donnell was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and given two years of supervised probation which he continues to serve, according to court records (texassignal.com, Ramirez, 11/19/19). Hunt hobnobbed and fundraised at a swanky Houston affair in 5/2019 with Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack. In 2016, Radack insulted a group of Houston homeowners by saying that “people enjoy floods and were looking to cash in to buy new homes and get cars remodeled.” Radack’s outrageous remarks were prominently reported by local Houston media, so any claim that Hunt didn’t know about them is “simply not credible (lonestarproject.net, dccc.org/wesley-hunt, 5/16/19).” Many members of the GOP Houston establishment have attacked Hunt as a “drag-and-drop” unknown candidate picked for them by D.C. insiders. Many conservative Houston, TX GOP activists consider Hunt part of the D.C. “swamp (dcc.org, bigjolly.com).”
The TX 7th race is drawing national attention and much spending. Spending by Hunt can go a long way to make him a “favorable” known quantity. The Hunt campaign has already raised more than $2.2 million and the GOP’s Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) announced additional advertising reservations for Hunt totaling $3.1 million (Hansen, 4/13/20, 2020FederalIssuesStatewide News). Extreme right-wing Koch Industries has already funneled $5,000 to Hunt (opensecrets.org, 2020 cycle). The Cook Political Report, Gonzales’ Inside Elections, and Sabato’s Crystal Ball’s latest ratings give the Fletcher-Hunt race a Lean Democratic rating, translation: “Team Blue” has a small edge here, but the race is competitive (ballotpedia.org). A Daily Kos Election analysis puts this race in the Tossup category (Singer, 4/30/2020). Cong. Fletcher has raised $1.7 million since 1/2019, and has $1.9 million cash on hand. Cong. Fletcher must get more money to take on Hunt. Fletcher has to have an extremely strong turnout among minorities and suburban women to win. Democrats must re-elect Cong. Fletcher to help keep the House.