Texas Democrats Must Contest Every District — This Rural 24-Year-Old Is Leading The Charge
This is the seventh installment of the Blue Texas Project, a series of interviews with Democrats running for Congress in Texas.
Despite his young age, 24-year old Spencer Bounds is confident that he is prepared for the challenge he embarked on when he launched his campaign for Texas House of Representatives in District 82.
His opponent, State Representative Tom Craddick, is a 50-year incumbent and former Speaker of the Texas House. Rep. Craddick has been in the Texas House 26 years longer than Bounds has been on Earth.
Bounds initially did not plan to run in 2018 but joined the race after it became clear that Craddick would have no competition in the November general election. Craddick has run uncontested in every general election since 2008.
“Democrats don’t get out and vote because they don’t have anybody to vote for,” said Bounds. “They don’t think their vote matters and I just really gotta change that.”
House District 82 is in West Texas, and the largest city in the district is Midland.
Bounds is the first to admit that winning will not be easy in his staunchly conservative district, but he is pleased to see Democratic energy in the Midland area for the first time in his life.
If elected, Bounds lists public education, clean water, and fixing the infrastructure in his district as his top policy priorities.
My name is Spencer Bounds, and I am running for Texas House of Representatives, District 82, against Tom Craddick, a Republican former Speaker of the Texas House who was first elected in 1968 (yes, 1968). District 82 covers Midland, Upton, Dawson, Martin, and Crane Counties. 2/
Read my interview with Spencer Bounds below. It is lightly edited for clarity.
MR: First of all, why 2018? Why was it the right time for you to run?
Bounds: Well, there’s a couple reasons for that. Nobody ever contests this race. The last time a Democrat ran in this race, it was 2008 and [Rep. Craddick] has been in office since 1968. Fifty years. When I moved back to Midland, I had intended on being a precinct chair and doing all my Young Democrats stuff and growing the party and doing behind-the-scenes infrastructure things. Then I was going to look to run for school board in a few years once I got re-established because I’ve been gone for a little while.
I went with my friend Armando Gamboa who is running in Odessa for the State House seat there. We went down to Austin for the State Democratic Executive Committee meeting the weekend before the filing deadline. I was there, and twenty different people begged me to run for this seat. I hadn’t intended on doing it, but it took about twenty of them to talk me into uprooting the original plan and just going ahead and making it happen because it’s long past time for us to start contesting every race. People like my opponent, who’s been in office for fifty years, with no serious challenge — except once in 2008 — and that’s part of the reason West Texas, for example, is so red. Nobody runs, nobody comes out here and talks to people. Democrats don’t get out and vote because they don’t have anybody to vote for. They don’t think their vote matters and I just really gotta change that.
Why I was always going to run goes back to why I became a Democrat in the first place. Up until 2014, I was very much a Republican like most people in Midland, Texas. Through the end of high school, I always wanted to be a teacher, so I paid attention to education policy and talked to lots of teachers and administrators. I saw what was happening with our public education system. With their massive cuts and then the Republicans patting each other on the back for cutting education time and time again and then complaining about the state of our education system. I had intended on going to school to be a teacher, trying to be involved in politics a little bit, and making a change that way through the party.
When the 2014 Governor’s election rolled around, it just became too much. I like to say the reason I’m a Democrat is because Greg Abbott pissed me off. Which is kind of what happened. It was just a perpetuation of Rick Perry’s terrible plans specifically for education. Stuff like gay conversion camps on the official Republican party platform. Trashing Wendy Davis in the press for wearing her hair a certain length — I couldn’t be a part of it anymore. I knew I had to do something, so that got me involved in her campaign, it got me involved in the Young Democrats, and we’re here. And still, my number one issue is public education because we so desperately need a change.
“I like to say the reason I’m a Democrat is because Greg Abbott pissed me off.”
MR: Like you said, Tom Craddick has been in the Texas House since 1968. How would you assess his tenure in office? I know you’ve been alive for probably about half of it, but how do you think he’s done?
Bounds: I think for the Republicans he’s done great. I think for oil companies he’s been fantastic. But I’m not sure he’s been fantastic for anybody else. I can go back to when he was Speaker, I think it was 2003–2009, and he was authoritarian, divisive, hypocritical, any number of adjectives you want to use. Which is why they finally voted him out because he didn’t really get along with anybody. I don’t think he’s quite as insane, frankly, as the Dan Patrick’s of the world, but to me, it doesn’t seem like he’s helping people. He might be helping some people, but he’s certainly not helping everybody. In a place like Midland where you can go work on an oil rig and make $40 an hour, we still have people living on the streets. We still have kids who aren’t eating dinner. There’s no reason why in the Permian Basin anybody should be homeless, anybody shouldn’t have healthcare, anybody should be living on the streets. I don’t see that he has helped fix any of these problems.
“Making sure that we do everything we can at the state level to empower local communities, cities, counties to solve their infrastructure problems is going to be a big thing for me.”
MR: If you were to defeat him in the election, what would be some of your top policy priorities be in House District 82?
Bounds: Infrastructure, for one. There’s a stretch of Midland Drive right next to my house that seems like they’re repaving it every six months and it doesn’t need to be re-paved. But we have streets and buildings and parks on the other side of town that have had potholes in them for years and I know a lot of that is a local issue but making sure that we do everything we can at the state level to empower local communities, cities, counties to solve their infrastructure problems is going to be a big thing for me.
One thing that does span into the state’s purview would be water. I saw an article just a couple days ago talking about radioactive water. Now, it’s not going to kill anybody today, but it certainly might give somebody cancer if you’re drinking water from certain wells. Problems like that make you think, “how could we still possibly be drinking bad water?” Then you stop and remember in Midland, Texas every so often you know walking into someone’s house if they’ve taken a shower recently because their house smells like a swimming pool. Because they’ve had to pump so much chlorine into the water system that the house smells like chlorine. There have to be better ways to go about water and infrastructure.
Something else that I can certainly speak on is voting rights. What I said last night at the Midland Democrats meeting is my number one issue is public education, my number two issue is voting rights because education really is the silver bullet. Participatory democracy really is the golden ticket. Once everybody is educated and everybody is voting, all of the other problems will solve themselves — or they’ll fall into place anyway, not solve themselves. It’ll still take plenty of hard work to do it. But once everybody is aware of problems and participating in the system we can begin to address all of these problems.
In regard to voting rights, independent redistricting commission, all the way! Whether it’s Democrats or Republicans in office, their main objective when redrawing districts is in fact to win more elections, cause that’s what they’re there for — that’s what the party is there for. They’re there to win elections. In a place like Texas which has been red my entire life, a lot of the reason for that is because of partisan gerrymandering. Which somehow is still legal. That would be number one. If we’re getting rid of partisan gerrymandering, getting an independent commission, to make districts that are fair — one person, one vote is supposed to be a core value in this country it doesn’t really seem like it. When you have this many people, who either don’t care or they do care, but they don’t vote because they don’t think it’s worth their time, we have a problem. And it’s a problem that can be fixed and needs to be fixed.
Regarding things like voter ID, if we’re gonna have voter ID then we need to let college kids vote with their student IDs. If we’re gonna have voter ID then you should be able to get a drivers license free of charge or a state ID, free of charge. They need to open on Saturdays and Sundays, they need to be open until 8 or 9 pm at the DPS offices. My boss probably wouldn’t let me leave work for four hours in the middle of a Thursday just to go renew my license. Most people, if they even have access to sick days or personal days, they have to use one of those just to go renew a license to enable them to drive and to vote. Something they’ve already spent so much time getting in the first place. So we have to have better access.
Midland and Odessa for example, until very recently, we had a DPS office in Midland and in Odessa. The Midland one, for sure, was on the far edge of town near my house — the far west side of town. But now, they have moved, they have combined both offices and put them out of the airport. The stretch from Midland to Odessa is about 20 miles, and the airport is right in the middle. So if you live on the far east side of Midland, which is the poor side of Midland, which is the minority side of Midland and you don’t have a car, getting to the DPS office is next to impossible during their business hours. That’s an entire day that you and someone else have to take off of work to get over there and do it. I would rather us just not have voter ID cause I don’t think it’s necessary, cause we’ve had what, three cases of voter fraud in this state over the last 25 years? [laughs] So it just doesn’t make much sense to me to do it. Whether intentionally or not, in the end, it is discriminatory at very least to poor people.
MR: You mentioned that most of the time in places like Midland and Odessa, Democrats don’t even field candidates. This year, not only are the Democrats fielding candidates, they are generating excitement and receiving attention in the media. Why do you think the Democratic energy is so improved in Texas this year?
Bounds: The only time I will ever thank Donald Trump is for the resurgence of the Democratic Party. [laughs] It’s not all him. Bernie Sanders really inspired a lot of people, whether or not they’re really going along with his Democratic Socialist style of ideas, the fact remains that he inspired millions and millions and millions of people to wake up. And Hillary did the same thing, not as spectacularly, but the number of women — even Republican women — running for office because Hillary Clinton got the nomination — finally a woman — on the general election ballot for President combined with Bernie Sanders, combined with Donald Trump being terrible in every way, has been amazing.
There are more Young Democrats chapters in Texas than there has ever been before. I tried for years to get a College Democrats chapter going at Angelo State in San Angelo, couldn’t make it happen. Now there’s a Concho Valley, which is in San Angelo’s surrounding area, there’s Concho Valley Young Democrats. Then we chartered a Permian Basin Young Democrats, which blew people’s minds. So many people came to that chartering meeting, we had to send everybody over the age of forty home. And there were still people standing in the middle of the restaurant in Odessa. It’s been insane. The Pantsuit groups, Indivisible groups, Democratic Socialist chapters, Young Democrats chapters, Democratic Party — we have Democratic County Chairs in counties that have 2,000 people in them. Every time Donald Trump opens his mouth, three more people come to a meeting someplace or three hundred. They’re just fed up with it. They don’t like him, they don’t like what he stands for, they’re tired of the Republican party, and they’re exhausted with nothing ever changing.
That goes with and without the Democratic party. So many people are fed up with how the Democratic party operates. They may have loved President Obama, but they still don’t think the way we hold elections and the way we do politics has changed at all. So there’s just a surge in giving a damn. And it is amazing.
MR: You had mentioned earlier how many times Tom Craddick has run uncontested and you’re in a very conservative district. What do you think you have to do to win this district? What’s your pathway?
Bounds: I have to give people a real choice, number one. I will probably lose. [laughs] But I will lose by less than the last guy because I’m going to go do all the handshakes and the hot dog events and go to all the banquets and attend all the meetings at the city council and all the civic clubs and all that good stuff. But at the end of the day for the first time, in I don’t know how long, there will be Democrats knocking on doors in Midland, Lamesa, Crane, Stanton, and Rankin, Texas, places that maybe have never had anyone — Republican or not — knock on their doors and say, “Hi, I’m Spencer Bounds, I’m running for Texas House Representative. How can I help you? What do you need?” No one ever does that out here.
Republicans out here don’t have to campaign because there’s an “R” next to their names and they know that they will win. So nobody talks to people. Politicians out here do not talk to the people because they don’t have to, to win. And so, I’m gonna be out there.
MR: I know there’s been a wave of younger candidates. In the Oklahoma special election, we had a twenty-six-year-old candidate win. But do you worry about someone who doesn’t want to vote for someone that’s 24 years old? Will age be a factor?
Bounds: Of course it’ll be a factor. People out here especially are used to older people running for office. It provides them with a semblance of comfort, the older the wiser sort of thing, there are over 100,000 people in Midland, Texas but everybody acts like there’s only twenty-five.
It’s still very much old South, small-town Texas and so the older people are seen as the elders. I will say, however, there’s someone — I believe it’s my city councilman, but it may be a neighboring district — there’s at least one person on the city council that’s been there twice. We had started highlighting like forty under 40 in the Midland magazine and that kinda thing, so there’s a lot of youths popping up. It’s certainly a benefit to me that I can point over there and say the city councilman has done a fantastic job and he’s only twenty-six.
But the best retort to that for me is in 1968 when the good people of Midland elected Tom Craddick, he was twenty-five. In the same situation: Texas was a one-party state, and he was a kid running for office. Everybody told him it couldn’t be done and said, “you can’t win. You’re too young. You’re a Republican in a Democratic state.” What did he do? He won. And he’s been there for fifty years. So, Tom Craddick is part inspirational story and part, Good Lord, you’ve been there way too long.
Just looking at him, I know that a twenty-four-year-old can win an election for State Representative in Midland, Texas because it’s been done before.
Primary Election Day in Texas is Tuesday, March 6. Early voting begins on Tuesday, February 20, and runs through Friday, March 2. Bounds is running uncontested in the HD-82 Democratic primary.
Rantt’s Abigail Barker contributed to this article.