Texas House District 89 represents much of Collin County, an area just north of Dallas. The district has been represented by State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg since 2002. This year, one woman is working hard to change that.
Sameena Karmally is an attorney from North Texas who is the first Democrat to challenge Jodie Laubenberg since 2006. She is the daughter of parents who immigrated from India and grew up in North Texas, and she worked her way to earn a masters and a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin. After practicing law in Washington, DC and North Texas, Karmally became a stay-at-home mom and community activist.
Now Sameena Karmally is running to replace Jodie Laubenberg, one of the most conservative and destructive legislators in the Texas House.
Jodie Laubenberg is perhaps most recognizable for co-authoring HB 2, last year's back-door abortion ban that was famously filibustered by Wendy Davis before it eventually became law in a second legislative special session. Laubenberg justified excluding exceptions for rape victims in her abortion bill by saying that, “in the emergency room they have what's called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out”–equating rape kits with abortion, and revealing her utter ignorance of basic facts about women's health.
Despite her reprehensible record, Jodie Laubenberg has faced little electoral competition in her years as a legislator because HD 89 is considered reliably red. Karmally recognizes that the race will be tough, but she's up for the challenge.
Sameena Karmally recently spoke with Burnt Orange Report about her candidacy, Jodie Laubenberg, and the race for HD 89.
Karmally is running because she believes Laubenberg's anti-education, anti-health, and anti-immigrant record is making the state a worse place, both for residents of HD 89 and Texans as a whole.
- “Look at what Laubenberg and the Republican-controlled state house has been doing. The future of our state depends on providing our children with the skills and education needed to compete on a global stage. Rather than supporting education, Laubenberg voted for deep cuts to public education funding, and voted against raises for teachers. Instead, she voted to require the funding of “student centers for the study of family and traditional values,” voted to support the expression of religion and prayer in public schools, and voted for the use of corporal punishment (while giving tax cuts to business).
She sponsored HB2, which is closing women's health clinics across Texas. She opposed equal pay for women. She voted to deny health care coverage to poor children, and went so far as to vote to prevent community outreach designed to ensure that the parents whose children are covered find out that they are. She voted to deny incarcerated youth access to needed vaccinations and against streamlining of the state vaccination registry. She voted against warning pregnant women about the dangers of mercury in fish, against a ban on smoking in public places, and against a ban on texting while driving. She voted against term limits, and she supported redistricting designed to protect incumbents. She voted to making voting itself more difficult, especially for those whose interests she ignores.”
Moreover, Karmally is concerned that Jodie Laubenberg's connections with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative organization that partners the private sector with state legislators to promote corporate interests, means Laubenberg won't put her constituents first:
- “She voted for the Texas version of Arizona's infamous anti-immigrant bill, and for the Texas version of the Florida “Stand your Ground” law made famous in the Trayvon Martin case. As the Texas State Chair of ALEC, it's no surprise that Laubenberg has sponsored or supported these ALEC-authored bills, and there's no reason to believe she won't continue to be a willing conduit for further ALEC legislation.”
For Karmally, Laubenberg's record of legislation that harms vulnerable Texans is an important reason to run. Another one of her stated goals is to “restor[e]civility and bipartisanship to Texas politics.” She wants to help return respect and cooperation to the Legislature.
- “Anyone who has followed Texas politics over the last 10 years has seen the erosion of civility, and the near-extinction of the sort of bipartisan cooperation that prevailed when Ann Richards was governor, and that continued through most of George W. Bush's tenure. The recent influence of more extreme Tea Party politics within the Republican party has caused any attempt at cooperation and compromise to be labeled as betrayal and surrender. This isn't how government should function, or even can function, for long. Texans recognize that there is strength in their diversity, and that they share more optimism and positive energy than their current representatives are displaying. I am promising to respect and cooperate with my fellow legislators of both parties, and to represent my constituents with the maturity, inclusiveness, dignity and professionalism that the office demands.”
Karmally wants to capitalize on the progressive spark lit by Wendy Davis last summer and use that to energize voters to come out against Laubenberg.
- “These votes, and these policies, do not reflect the my values, and they do not reflect the values of my neighbors. I want my children, and my friends and neighbors, to live in a better Texas than the one these types of votes are attempting to create.
Why 2014? How can we accept delay? Wendy Davis' filibuster of Jodie Laubenberg's bill lit a fire and I believe my campaign against Laubenberg can add fuel to that fire. If we can succeed in reaching the voters of HD89 and informing them about the clear choice my campaign offers, they will choose change.”
Karmally says she's already experienced enthusiasm on the campaign trail from progressives in HD 89 who are excited about the possibility for change.
- “I've been excited by the energy I've encountered! The first thing out of most folk's mouths when they come to a gathering of local Democrats is: “I thought I was the only one!” I tell them to just look around at the crowd. The Wendy Davis campaign is already energizing women and progressive voters. My goal is to reach out to these voters, but also to the long-neglected residents of the district who are frustrated by the incumbent and her party.”
Karmally also pointed out that HD 89's changing demographics could help turn the district blue, as could a serious investment in educating voters about Jodie Laubenberg's record.
- “Reaching and educating voters about Laubenberg and her record is key. Laubenberg was first elected in 2002, and has never faced a serious challenge. Most years she has been unopposed. The Democratic Party and progressives have never invested in voter outreach in the District. Recent redistricting has increased the percentage of youth, naturalized citizens, Asians and other minorities, all of whom should favor my candidacy. About 1/3 of HD89's residents arrived in the last six years, most from out of state. Most voters here don't know who their representative is, let alone what she stands for. My campaign is committed to changing that.“
Ultimately, Karmally recognizes the challenges of running against such an established opponent–but believes recent attention has made Laubenberg vulnerable and is urging Texas Democrats to help her oust one of the Legislature's most harmful members.
- “This district may look like a tough district for progressives, but they need to look closer. This is the right election, I am the right candidate, and Laubenberg is the right opponent, to justify mounting a real challenge. House District 89 and districts like it have been too-long neglected. There is untapped potential that is already being energized by the Wendy Davis campaign, as supported by Battleground Texas. Laubenberg's record is vulnerable, making my race uniquely attractive, and deserving of investment and attention. This district is the battleground. The 50-state strategy works, and we need to apply it in Texas if we want to turn the state blue.”
This year, strong women like Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte are promising change on the top of ballot, and Sameena Karmally is well-suited to join them to promote change on the local level.
This race represents an opportunity for Texas Democrats to take back a key seat in the Texas House. And for the residents of HD 89, Sameena Karmally is a breath of fresh air who promises real change in the right direction.
This post has been updated to correctly reflect that Karmally was not born in India.