Situated in western Travis County, House District 47 was the lone Republican seat in a county otherwise dominated by Democrats from the “People’s Republic of Austin.” Was being the operative word. HD 47 fell into Democrat hands in 2018 as part of the strong Democrat performance led by the Beto O’Rourke campaign.
The result was the defeat of former Republican State Rep. Paul Workman and the election of Democrat State Rep. Vikki Goodwin (Austin). A realtor and Democrat activist, Goodwin ignored the standard advice to freshman Democrats in Republican-leaning district and pursued a far-left policy agenda.
She also voted with the far-left wing of the Democrat Party. Indeed, Goodwin earned an incredibly low score of 20 on the Fiscal Responsibility Index and has been rated as the fourth-most liberal member of the Texas House.
But on July 14, voters will decide which of two Republicans is best equipped to take her on in the November election: Jennifer Fleck or Justin Berry.
In the March 3 GOP primary election, Fleck earned first place at 32 percent of the vote; Berry was one vote behind former Austin City Councilman Don Zimmerman, with about 23 percent. However, when absentee votes were all counted and the total was compiled, that margin flipped to one vote in Berry’s favor.
Many in Austin believed the election result was likely to be contested, but Zimmerman declined to pursue a recount and instead swiftly issued a statement endorsing Fleck.
“Jennifer Fleck, who finished in first place with a respectable lead, is a hard-working and well-qualified candidate,” said Zimmerman. “She was the voters’ primary pick, and it makes sense for all Republicans to help propel her to the November general election with the largest possible margin of victory to take back House District 47.”
An attorney by trade and an activist by hours, Fleck sat down for an interview with Texas Scorecard’s Jacob Asmussen—telling him that if she is elected, her priority is to advance the Texas GOP’s legislative priorities.
“As a conservative and grassroots activist, my top priority is to be attentive to and prioritize the Texas Republican Party legislative priorities,” Fleck said. Those priorities last session included plans to advance pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, and pro-border security causes—most of which failed to happen in the Republican-controlled legislature.
Justin Berry is a less well-known commodity and less traditional candidate in that he isn’t an attorney. Instead, Berry is a 12-year police officer and the owner of a small brewery, and he has a history of political activism.
The Austin Police Association characterized his activism thusly:
“Berry is no stranger to lawmaking. After he was targeted by anti-police activists and saw other officers and their families receive the same malicious treatment, he worked on anti-doxxing legislation during the 2017 legislative session.
“His work became Texas Senate Bill 923. That new law made it a felony to post the personal information of a peace officer or their family online.
“This legislative session, he worked on public safety issues at the Capitol on behalf of the Austin Police Association. One prospective bill he drafted would have protected officers from wage cuts during labor contract negotiations. ‘Cities should not use officers’ hard-earned pay and leave benefits against them as political leverage,’ he argued.
“Berry isn’t just a freelance political advocate. He also volunteers his time to serve as an appointed vice-president for his police union.”
Originally scheduled for May 26, the primary runoff elections have been delayed until July 14 due to the Chinese coronavirus. This crisis has also forced campaigns to think differently, as election season staples such as door-to-door block walking and in-person events have been largely out of the question.
Whichever candidate wins the Republican primary can expect an uphill battle to retake the seat from Democrat hands.