State House District 47 runs through southwest Austin and Travis County. It has been represented by Republican Paul Workman since 2010, when he unseated two-term incumbent Democrat Valinda Bolton in a notorious GOP wave election. Since 2010, he’s been able to coast to reelection for two main reasons: his ability to keep a low profile, and a district that has been so heavily redistricted in his favor that Democrats declined to run against him in 2014.
Workman may not be as vocal as some of his conservative colleagues, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less extreme. On his website, he proudly lists endorsements from Greg Abbott, and groups like the National Rifle Association and Texas Right to Life. He’s also consistently voted with his party in favor of harmful bills like campus carry and HB 2. He even co-sponsored open carry, and a bill allowing religious organizations to decline to perform gay marriages. And, in a state where over 1 million children live in poverty, he voted against a free breakfast program for Texas students.
This year, Workman is once again facing a Democratic challenger. Ana Jordan, an attorney who lives in Barton Creek, has stepped up to challenge both Workman, and the system of partisan redistricting that has helped keep him in office. She’s worked in the Texas House and the Attorney General’s office, and served as a state prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. Jordan is working hard to make sure her next office is under the pink dome.
Jordan recently spoke with BOR about her candidacy, her opponent, and why she’s taken on partisan redistricting as part of her campaign. Our Q&A is below.
BOR: House District 47 has been a red district for several years now. What responses have you had from voters in your district while on the campaign trail?
Ana Jordan: Responses from HD47 voters have been mixed. Since the centerpiece of my platform is eliminating partisan redistricting, I have been targeting general election voters regardless of party affiliation. I believe general election voters are the most negatively impacted by partisan redistricting because it denies them choices at the ballot box. The responses have ranged from a teary-eyed “thank you for running” to an angry door slam from a voter who refused to talk to me because I am running as a Democrat. However, the majority of my conversations with voters have been positive.
Every candidate has their own reasons for running, which encompass both a drive for public service and issues of timing and commitment. Why state representative, and why 2016?
I began thinking about helping someone run for state representative on the gerrymandering issue in 2013, when I saw the rise of a very conservative, and, in my opinion, reckless group of legislators take over that legislative session. In addition, I was following Paul Workman because of what he did to District 47 in 2011. I knew that his reelection in 2014 was due to his gerrymander because his voting record was so obviously self-serving in 2011 and 2013. I fully expected someone to run against him in 2016, but when no one did, I knew I had to. He had again pursued a self-serving agenda in 2015 and I simply could not stand by and let him win by default. The timing worked because I was working part-time after leaving the Attorney General’s office in December 2012. My kids are now at an age where I have more time to give to work, so I entered the race. When I did so, I knew it would be difficult to win given the gerrymander, but I thought as long as I could educate voters about gerrymandering and shine a light on Workman’s record, I would have done some good.
Your Republican incumbent opponent, Paul Workman, has not sought out much attention for himself during his time in the Texas House. How familiar are his constituents with his positions and voting record, and how does that factor into your campaign?
Given Paul Workman’s self-serving legislative agenda and the characteristics of gerrymandered districts, it doesn’t surprise me that he has kept a low profile. Most of the constituents with whom I have spoken don’t know who Paul Workman is, much less what his positions are or what his voting record is. The few constituents I have spoken to who are familiar with him have donated to my campaign or are volunteering for me because they feel Workman has been unresponsive to their inquiries or pleas for assistance. His low profile is a hallmark of gerrymandering because he knows the less people know about him the more likely they are to vote for him based on party alone. I have tried to draw Workman out by inviting him to debate me in an open forum, but he has refused to respond. The League of Women Voters have likewise offered to host a candidate forum to give voters an opportunity to learn about the candidate positions on various issues, but Workman has refused to participate. He understands that partisan gerrymandering only gives him an advantage if he stays out of sight, which is apparently what he intends to do.
One of the most prominent issues you’ve highlighted is partisan gerrymandering. What about your race in particular motivated you to specify this goal as a part of your platform?
I have been watching the negative effects of partisan gerrymandering since 2011, when I represented the State of Texas as an Assistant Attorney General during the last redistricting cycle. I believed then, as I do now, that partisan gerrymandering, while legal, is completely anti-democratic because its expressed purpose is to eliminate competition in general elections to guarantee re-election for incumbents. The majority of Texans are general election voters, meaning they generally don’t vote in primary elections. When they show up to the polls in November, a large majority of voters will have no say in who represents them because the decision will have already been made in the primary elections. In this election cycle for example, 97 of the 150 state house races have already been decided because a candidate won their primary and they face no major opposition in November.
Why do you think progressives across the state should be interested in your race in HD 47?
I think partisan redistricting is an issue that progressives across the state should be interested in because it is affects everything that comes out of the Legislature. I recognize that a healthy democracy needs to have a strong party system. However, once in office, legislators should be more concerned with governing, rather than trying to find ways to gain partisan advantage. By making elections fair, legislators are more likely to focus on doing what’s right for Texas, rather than kowtowing to a small group of primary voters. The Democratic Party is not in power in Texas now, but given the demographics in this state, it will be. I don’t want to see what is happening to the Republican party repeat on the Democrat side.
Since announcing your candidacy, what kind of responses have you received? Has anything been especially surprising for you as a first time candidate?
When I first announced my candidacy, the Democratic insiders were grateful that I was running but they understood that the district was gerrymandered and that the previous election data suggested that voters were unlikely to elect a Democrat, no matter how meritorious my issue. So, understandably, they have chosen to focus their resources on races that they believe have a better chance of success. What surprised me was how much emphasis is placed on partisan messaging, rather than issue-based messaging, because general election voters, which make up the majority of Texas voters, are not highly partisan.
Do you think that the dynamic of the presidential race has affected down ballot races like yours? How so?
Yes, I believe the presidential race has made early predictions about election results less reliable. There will be more non-partisan voters showing up at the polls, which in my opinion is a good thing. Unfortunately, I don’t know how informed the voters will be about down ballot races.
What do you think are the most important issues facing the constituents in HD 47, and how does your platform and your candidacy better meet those needs than that of your opponent?
Based on the conversations I have had with constituents in the District, I believe the most important issues facing HD 47 are: 1) alleviating traffic congestion; 2) balancing environmental concerns with rapid growth; 3) getting control of our escalating property taxes; and 4) ensuring that our public schools are adequately, but fairly, funded. Along with gerrymandering, these are the issues on which I would focus at the Capitol. While gerrymandering is the centerpiece of my platform, it is not the only issue that is important to me. I chose to focus on it because it demonstrates my philosophy about how a representative government should work. I believe that representatives should have to answer to voters every two years about how well they have done representing their constituents. Partisan gerrymandering prevents that. And I don’t believe Paul Workman has done a good job representing District 47. Since his election in 2010, traffic congestion has worsened, property taxes have spiked, public schools are being denied funding at the state level, environmental groups and developers continue to be at odds, and uninsured healthcare costs have continued to go up. I believe I can do better because I would spend my time at the Capitol looking for ways to make government work efficiently for HD47 rather than looking for ways to help myself.
What’s the best way for progressive Texans to get involved with your campaign?
If progressive Texans live in House District 47, they can volunteer to block walk in their neighborhoods, talk to voters about the race, my platform, and Paul Workman’s voting record. Email me at Ana.Jordan@AnaforTx47.com to sign up. Progressive Texans in the district, and across Texas, can also donate to the campaign at www.AnaforTX47.com, or send a check to: Ana Jordan Campaign, P.O. Box 90301, Austin, Texas 78709; “like” and share our Facebook Page; follow me on Twitter; and help spread the message about gerrymandering.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about the HD 47 race?
Experts say gerrymandered district lines have a shelf life of about six years. If that’s true, coupled with the nature of this presidential election, we have a real chance of taking the first step toward eliminating partisan redistricting, i.e. electing a candidate who has made redistricting reform a priority. It is important that voters understand the urgency to get this done. Any inroads we have made in this district, or other districts with similar circumstances, will likely be wiped out during the next redistricting cycle, which is set to begin in 2020. Other states have been able to rid themselves of partisan gerrymandering by popular referendums. If Texas voters only vote for candidates who promise to vote for redistricting reform, we can get it done too.