Rural Democrat Sees Opportunity In Texas Conservative Stronghold

Drew Landry is running for Texas State House in House District 83

Drew Landry (Courtesy)

This article is the sixth installment of the Blue Texas Project. A series of interviews with Texas Democrats running for Congress in 2018.

Rantt’s Abigail Barker contributed to this article.

Drew Landry, a government professor at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas, is running for Texas State House in House District 83. He knows that winning will be an uphill battle.

“Lubbock is not exactly the hotbed of liberal thinking,” says Landry.

House District 83 in west Texas consists of seven counties, including parts of Lubbock County, and is one of the most conservative districts in the state. Donald Trump won the district with 76% of the vote in the 2016 presidential election.

State Representative Dustin Burrows, the incumbent and Landry’s Republican opponent, has never faced a serious challenge in HD-83. He was elected in 2014 with 81% of the vote and ran for re-election uncontested in 2016.

Landry sees an opening in the district after Republicans spent the 2017 state legislative session focused on social issues.

Texas Republicans led by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick made headlines in 2017 for their legislation regarding bathrooms and sanctuary cities, but Landry believes that voters in his district care more about farming, infrastructure, and education than divisive social issues.

Rep. Burrows supported a “more thoughtful” version of the failed bathroom bill, which would have prevented transgender individuals from using the restroom of their choice. He was a House co-sponsor of Senate Bill 4, a bill that penalizes counties and municipalities for providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

While Texas Republicans double down on culture war issues, Lubbock area Democrats are fielding candidates in races that usually go uncontested. Led by young faces like Landry and Stuart Williams, the 27-year old Lubbock County Democratic Chairman, local Democrats are generating excitement for the first time in a generation.

Landry knows he will have to run a unifying campaign to flip deep red HD-83 and is confident that he is up to the task.

“We need to be a repairer of the breach, not someone who wants to burn bridges. So far, that’s been a pretty good message,” says Landry.

Read the transcript of my interview with Landry below. The interview is lightly edited for clarity.

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MR: What prompted you to run for the Texas House? Why was 2018 the right year for you to run?

Landry: The thing that got me in it was the Legislature’s lack of commitment to public education?—?both secondary and higher, and even primary. I teach government at South Plains College which is like a junior/community college in Levelland and so I’ve been paying attention to the Legislature for the past three or four sessions. To see public education be on the chopping block or a bartering chip never sat well with me. And finally, it came to a head where I just, we didn’t field 2016 candidates for this race and it just, the lack of leadership that was coming from [Rep. Burrows]?—?and especially on education?—?that was the end all for me. That was the thing that made me say, “okay, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next year, but I’m going to be on the ballot. I’m going to do everything I can to do that.”

“Ya know he’s been anti-public education since he walked into that place in 2015.”

-Drew Landry on Lt. Governor Dan Patrick

MR: Just following through on that answer, it seems like public education was targeted a few times in the last legislative session. I know there was a push from Lt. Governor Patrick to take some money out of public education and put that toward vouchers for charter schools. What do you think of that?

Landry: Yeah that’s a totally dumb idea. The thing is when it comes to education that’s an uneducated decision for him to do that. Ya know he’s been anti-public education since he walked into that place in 2015. He’s got cohorts here in West Texas with the state senator and even my opponent being a big fan of his too, so we’re feeling the effects of this.

And here we go again, we’re dealing with the problems of public education. They always like to say “well, it’s the number one part of the budget what more money could we possibly throw at it?” Well, the thing is, yeah it is the top budgeted thing, I’ll give them credit for that, but the amount of money that they put into it gets less and less and less every [session]. And that raises people’s property taxes. And that was another thing he was on?—?that little magic trick of trying to cap what counties could do and saying that’s property tax relief. However, true property tax relief comes from funding education. Because when the state does that, that means less taxes from the local school board. And so, there’s Lieutenant Governor Patrick coming up with these little half-kooked out ideas about how we can better education just by creating competition and vouchers.

There are so many half-truths about vouchers that it just puzzles me as to how somebody who says they’re on the right side of things can really argue this. And that voucher doesn’t guarantee one’s admission to the school, nor does it guarantee one’s transportation to the school, it doesn’t guarantee anybody’s school uniform. All that thing guarantees is the price of tuition, it doesn’t say that they are going to get in.

It bothers me that there’s not a leader in West Texas who wants to stand up and say, “No that’s enough we’re not doing this anymore when it comes to public education.” This is our future. This is how we’re going to better our state and make it a stronger Texas. That particular leader doesn’t exist for us in this area. I’m looking to change that.

“Our families have values, it’s our government that doesn’t.”

MR: Beyond public education what do you think are some of the other major issues facing voters in House District 83 or in Lubbock County?

Landry: Oh sure, HD-83 is big in the rural area so farming is it. You got our public schools, you got the farmers, they’re concerned about what’s going on with Monsanto. They’re also concerned about what’s taking place with the water situation. Those are things that the incumbent has never mentioned. I think I heard him say ‘water’ for the first time ever last month or maybe a month or two ago. That really stunned me because I’ve been talking about that for about six or seven months and he’s just come out on to the game. And he’s been in that thing for two terms. So yeah, farming is a big deal, business owners and a lot of other truckers are really concerned about our roads around here because they have not improved. So that’s another particular problem.

Our county judges and our counties are concerned about the Lieutenant Governor attacking them and trying to limit what they can do, like the whole tax cap type of spending thing. And they also are concerned about energy and nearly every county judge that I’ve talked to has mentioned to me that they want wind turbines and they want solar panels. They want us to make it easier for them to get those things. Schools want them cause that’s more resources for them. And farmers want them on their farms, that’s more resources for them too.

So one of the biggest hurdles in getting that is getting counties in West Texas on the Texas grid. And Lubbock County is gonna be on that in 2019, they’re going to take a vote in January or February of next year. So they’re gonna finally see if they’re gonna make that one great step to get on the Texas grid, which is going to be very good. More wind turbines, more solar panels, and that’s going to help out a lot of our county resources. So those are really the main things that I really like to focus on.

Public education is big for me, but when I talk to farmers they’re concerned about education as well. They are also concerned about the young farmer and how it’s hard for them to even get a startup and all the other things that go into that. And they’re concerned about the water situation, the roads that they have to drive on. This is like one big circle here. They all connect. It’s rather interesting as to how that’s happened over the past seven months, eight months that I’ve got into this race.

“[Joe Straus] was the adult in the room between the petulant lieutenant governor and the governor who just never really wanted to show his head.”

MR: A lot of the issues you’re mentioning: wind turbines, energy, farming, a lot of this didn’t come up in the Texas Legislature last session because there was high-profile, controversial legislation like Senate Bill 4 and Senate Bill 6 that seemed to get all the headlines. What do you think about what’s going on in Austin right now with the Republican majority and the kind of stuff they’re focused on?

Landry: An American president once said that we’re sick of politicians telling us about how they have family values. Well, our families have values, it’s our government that doesn’t. And that couldn’t be any more true because when we look at what they focused on in this past session: where people pee, if you’re brown, and if you’re driving and trying to scare people with this whole ‘show me your papers’ stuff?—?more of these social issues.

In House District 84, the representative (John Frullo) said it’s okay if you carry around machetes. In the special session you heard things about trees, ya know [laughs], dealing with trees in Austin. So if you look at this, we have lost so much focus as to what we need to do for this state. We were the third best economy in the country when Governor Abbott walked into Austin in 2015. In his one term, we’ve dropped eighteen spots to twenty-one.

Now you can carry any knife (almost) anywhere in Texas

[They] feel that telling people where to pee, that’s the top priority for us; dealing with trees?—?that’s a top priority.

The aquifer ain’t gonna be there forever and that’s where we get a lot of our water to produce the cotton and all the food that goes on our table. That is turning into a dire crisis. Our roads have not gotten any better at all. Our firefighters, our first responders, their pensions are being threatened here. Yet, somehow, someway we have to find a way to talk about trees, and making sure people can carry around those bully knives, and making sure that they preempt all the city laws and all the county decisions that they make because you can’t trust them. I don’t understand it, I don’t understand it. They’ve really lost their measure here.

Now if we were number one in everything, we wouldn’t have any problems. Okay I can see how they could do that, but we’re not. We are number one in wind energy and there’s a threat that we could be going down in that. I want to keep us competitive in that and get us competitive in solar because that’s what we have to lead on. That’s my take on it. I just think we have lost our focus when it comes to what this legislature needed to do in the 85th session. There’s a fight that broke out on the last day on the House floor and my opponent told us that “it was a good session, we did a lot of good things, I’m proud of it.” [laughs] Proud of what?!

This is going to be a good campaign. I’m out and talking to people, listening to them, and asking, ‘what is important to you? What do we need to do?’ and they say, “I’m concerned about my schools, I’m concerned about my healthcare, I’m concerned about the roads that I drive on.” These are the things that they’re telling me. I haven’t talked to a single person whose walked up to me and said “I’m really concerned about someone peeing where they’re not supposed to pee.”

I haven’t had anyone tell me that. It’s not like I’m just going to my own little bubble of people. Lubbock is not exactly the hot bed of liberal thinking. [laughs] So whenever I go out there I talk to them, “I’m worried about my schools, I’m worried about property taxes, what about the roads? I’m worried about…” All those other types of things that we mentioned here. That’s where I get my ideas from. I don’t have any consultants.

That’s why I was so glad that Speaker Straus was there. I don’t always agree with Speaker Straus, he’s Republican, and I am not, so we have some fundamental differences there. But he was the adult in the room between the petulant lieutenant governor and the governor who just never really wanted to show his head. He’s going to be missed and oddly enough, my opponent is the one who came up with the idea to choose the next speaker from the [Republican] caucus. That was his idea and he’s the one who proposed that and there’s some reasons for that. He got punished because he voted for Scott Turner instead of Straus and he still didn’t get out of the dog house in this past session. So he said, “well I don’t want to punished”?—?yeah he actually said that?—?“I don’t want someone to punish me,” well then don’t vote for him. [laughs] You’ve lived here your entire life, come on man, you know how these speaker elections work; but apparently he didn’t.

I have to give kudos, if you are thinking in a rational manner you have to look at Speaker Strauss and go, “you know what, he didn’t let a bunch of crazy stuff happen.” That’s why I was glad that he was there. I was a bit shocked that he wasn’t going to run anymore, but I’m sure he’s got bigger plans.

I haven’t talked to a single person whose walked up to me and said “I’m really concerned about someone peeing where they’re not supposed to pee.”

MR: With Speaker Straus leaving does that make it more essential that Democrats gain back some ground in the House because the Republican caucus might be a little more unhinged without him there next session?

Landry: Oh yeah, Democrats are going to have to win some more seats and I think this is the first time in a long time that Democrats have gotten a lot of races to be competitive as opposed to ’16, ’14, and even ’12. But, we have to make this more competitive. I don’t know if we’re going to get to seventy-four like we did in ’08, but it has to get somewhere where we can have more leverage. The speaker position is ever so important and if the Republicans somehow gain ground this state is going to be too conservative for businesses. That is not going to help anybody. That’s not gonna help the state, that’s not gonna help our workers, or any of those things. So all the things that people really care about are going to go by the wayside if that happens. Yeah, in answer to your question, we have to make this very competitive. When you talk to everyday, average people they are not going to be that concerned about the speaker race, they’re not gonna be sitting at the edge of their couch or up at night worrying about that, ya know? It’s up to us to kind of make that, to kinda spin that for them so they can understand why this is a thing, but if we’re spending the entire time campaigning about the speaker race then we’re really missing the point too. There’s gotta be some even ground when it comes to that. That’s gonna be an interesting thing there and the Republicans have their ideas as to what they want. They’ve been kind of mum as to who they want and that’s fine. I have some ideas as to who it could be, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw Tom Craddick’s name come up?—?I don’t want to live through that again. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had Drew Springer out of Muenster [laughs]. So I mean these are all rather conservative people who have ideas akin to the lieutenant governor.

Reyna: You said “Lubbock is not exactly a hot bed of liberal thought,” and HD-83 in Lubbock County is traditionally pretty conservative so what do you think your pathway to victory is here? Do you think you’re going to have to pull off moderate Republicans that think the GOP has gone too far? I know we saw what happened in Alabama the other day. What do you think?

Landry: You mentioned an interesting thing?—?there’s a lot of people who identify as Republicans who have told me to my face, “the Republican Party has left us.”

Believe it or not there is a movement with teachers. They’re fired up! They haven’t been fired up this way since 1986 when they voted Mark White out. It’s kind of interesting that his son is running for Governor, but that’s neither here nor there. Being part of that education family and talking about that, that is an issue that has gone beyond party lines in West Texas.

The issues with the roads, farmers, these are all things that go beyond party lines. I’m talking about a message that’s bringing everybody together. I’m not being divisive, I’m not going after divisive issues. These are things that I want us to focus on to show that there is somebody in this race who has a level head, who is not going to do the bidding of the lieutenant governor or tow the party line on certain issues. There’s somebody who is going to look at the issue at hand and decide one way or the other and make my own decision. The people I’ve talked to from Shallowater down to Loraine have said, “yeah, that really makes sense. That’s how it should be.” We need to be a repairer of the breach not someone who wants to burn bridges. So far, that’s been a pretty good message.

Primary Election Day in Texas is Tuesday, March 6. Early voting begins on Tuesday, February 20, and runs through Friday, March 2. Landry is running uncontested in the Democratic primary.

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Interview // Democratic Party / Elections / Politics / Texas