Special election for House District 50 includes three UT alumni


The November election will include a special ballot for a representative of House District 50, and three of the four candidates campaigning for the spot are UT alumni. 

Mark Strama, former House District 50 representative, held the seat since 2004 but resigned to work on the Google Fiber program in Austin in June. District 50 is an area encompassing parts of northern Austin and eastern Travis County.

The candidates include three Democrats, all of whom are alumni of the University, and one Republican. The Democratic candidates are Celia Israel, Rico Reyes and Jade Chang Sheppard. Mike VanDeWalle is running as a Republican.

Clay Olsen, economic and finance senior and the College Republicans of Texas communications director, said the student organization supports — but has not officially endorsed — VanDeWalle, because his policies will ensure jobs for students.

“Of course there are many stories out about how great Texas is for business,” Olsen said. “This is due to low taxes and light-regulatory policies.”

Olsen said the College Republicans have helped VanDeWalle’s campaign by phone banking and also plan to participate in a block walk for the candidate later this month. 

VanDeWalle said if elected he would focus on decreasing governmental regulations on industries such as real estate, small businesses and health care. 

“I think what we need to do is maybe put some regulations on the regulators so they can’t go off and create laws without any accountability,” VanDeWalle said. “My plan is to go to these different industries … And I want to know what regulations are abusive, which ones are good ones.”

Blake Medley, University Democrats president and government senior, said the student organization endorsed Israel, the only openly-gay candidate.

The organization hosted a debate between Israel and Reyes in September. Medley said Israel appeared more prepared to answer questions about certain initiatives — such as water — and specific committees than Reyes.

“Rico’s a good candidate as well, but there was a stark contrast [at the debate],” Medley said.

Israel said she would work to increase the affordability of college by bringing attention to leaders who are meddling with the University’s administration. 

“I think there [are] political hires that are only harming our flagship universities,” Israel said. “Rick Perry has unfortunately micromanaged what’s been going on in the Board of Regents … And I think he’s overreached his authority as a governor.”

Sheppard, one of the Democratic candidates, said Texas should focus on funding both universities and technical, vocational and community colleges.

“Where a number of students are going to take that four-year degree college track, many can’t,” Sheppard said. “So I think the legislature needs to make affordable higher education priority and look at supporting both options for students.”

Sheppard said she is a young mother with school-aged children, and in the legislature, there is only one other young mother. 

“I think it’s really important for young moms to have their voice in government because we make up a big part of the population in Texas, and we need to have a voice because we’re raising the next generation,” Sheppard said.

Sheppard said she would work to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation in order to help small businesses.

“I think that access to capital and credit and working capital is very important for small businesses,” Sheppard said. “Apple gets great incentives to build a headquarters here in Austin in our district … But if a small business wants to go and build a $3 million headquarters, they often can’t find access to the capital they need to grow.”

Matt Glazer, Reyes’ campaign manager, said Texas should work on keeping doctors in the state.

“We are literally spending tons of taxpayer money to train folks in the medical profession only to ship them to other states to go get a residency, and most people who practice medicine practice for their lifetime within 100 miles of where their residency is,” Glazer said.

Glazer said Reyes’ business and law background, in addition to his background working in the Public Integrity Unit, prepared him for the position.

“If you’re going to write laws, you should probably know and understand laws,” Glazer said. “He’s the only one with an MBA that I know of, and if you’re going to be talking about multi-billion dollar budgets, you should probably understand how to dive into the numbers and extrapolate how things are going to work years out, something that gets lost in the Texas Legislature. UT made both of those things possible.”