One in a series about elections for the Texas House of Representatives.
State Rep. Morgan Meyer says the district he represents is centrist.
Because of that, the Republican lawmaker said he’s focused his five years in Austin on middle-of-the-road issues where he can work across the aisle with Democrats.
“We are not far to the left, we are not far to the right,” he said. “We are right in the middle.”
But his Democratic opponent Joanna Cattanach says that old line won’t work. House District 108 — which spans the Park Cities, Uptown, parts of downtown and Old East Dallas — has moved politically to the left and Meyer is “out of touch” with its needs on issues like access to abortion and preventing gun violence.
After coming within 220 votes of ousting Meyer two years ago, Cattanach said she’s back to finish the job in November.
“The issues that I fought for in 2018, did not change,” she said. “The district has become, frankly, even more socially liberal on many of these issues and they do want change.”
The political rematch is one of the most closely watched races in the November elections, partially because the district is one of the Democrats’ top targets this year.
The outcome could also have deeper implications for the battle for the Texas House, as Democrats try to take the chamber for the first time since 2001. Such a victory could dramatically alter the political landscape in Texas.
What’s the right fit for the district?
Meyer, a 46-year-old attorney, said the district’s politics remain the same as when he was elected. If voters need proof, just look at the last election.
In 2018, the district voted against Republican candidates Ted Cruz and Pete Sessions by more than 10 percentage points in their Senate and congressional races. Don Huffines, the Republican state senator that covered his district, was swept out of office.
But the district stuck with Meyer. Meyer said that’s because he’s worked well with other lawmakers to pass bipartisan legislation like protecting special needs students in schools and criminalizing the unsolicited electronic sending of lewd pictures.
“I have the experience to do it and have shown over my entire career, the ability to work across the aisle with Democrats and Republicans to tackle the most serious issues of this state,” he said.
As a member of the public education committee last session, he said, he played a key role in the state’s marquee school finance bill, which increased school funding by $4.5 billion and put an additional $2 billion towards teacher pay raises.
“Those are the results my constituents want to see,” he said.
But Cattanach, a 39-year-old journalism professor and former reporter for The Dallas Morning News, said the voters she talks to are concerned about Meyer’s record on guns, access to abortion and other social issues.
In 2015, Meyer supported the “campus carry” bill which would allow people with a handgun license to conceal carry a weapon in most buildings at public universities. In 2017, Meyer was a co-author of the House’s “bathroom bill” which would dictate what bathrooms transgender Texans could use.
And last year, Meyer supported a bill that would block taxpayer money from going to health care providers that perform abortions, like Planned Parenthood, and another that would punish doctors who do not treat an infant born alive after an abortion — which critics say is an infinitesimally small occurrence.
“People want change,” Cattanach said. “Morgan is not change. He is not capable in standing up to leadership and standing up for his district.”
Cattanach said she supports access to abortion and would stand up for Planned Parenthood, which she believes the district supports. She also wants to curb access to guns through universal background checks and “red flag” laws that would allow authorities to seize guns from a person deemed dangerous.
She also attacks Meyer’s record as a public education advocate because he receives campaign donations from political action committees that support charter schools. Cattanach supports a moratorium on new charter schools because she said they divert funds from traditional public schools.
“I don’t think he was a public education advocate before 2018 when he almost lost his seat to a teacher and his voting record says the same,” Cattanach said.
In 2017, Meyer voted against a school finance bill that would have brought millions more to schools across the state – including Dallas ISD – because he said it would require Highland Park ISD to contribute more to the system.
Meyer said Cattanach’s attacks are baseless and his record reflects the wants of his constituents. He was happy to vote for the school finance bill last year because it gave more to schools overall while reducing the “recapture” payments that property-wealthy school districts like Highland Park ISD have to pay to ensure equitable distribution to schools across the state.
He said his backing of charter schools and programs incentivizing teachers by performance metrics are also supported by his constituents.
He dismissed Cattanach’s criticism that he is out of touch with voters as campaign tactics.
“People in my district don’t like negative false partisan attacks,” he said. “Folks in my district want you to show what you’ve done and how you’ve represented them.”
Cattanach said any lawmaker can compromise on big-picture issues like school finance and the budget. As a Latina foster child who grew up in rural Texas, she said, she has many shared experiences with other lawmakers that can help her build working relationships.
“That will help bridge the divide,” she said.
Meyer said constituents will need an experienced lawmaker to navigate next session which will bring the state a projected budget shortfall of $4.5 billion.
On top of that deficit, lawmakers will need to address health care coverage shortages and a lagging economy. To tackle that, Meyer said he would support expanding Medicaid to essential workers.
Cattanach, who supports a full expansion of the program through the Affordable Care Act, said Meyer is changing his tune after having voted against expansion in the past.
“You shouldn’t be voting no on health care expansion, especially in Dallas County,” she said.
Meyer said he has supported limited Medicaid expansion in the past, for special needs children and new mothers. He said the pandemic has brought on “unprecedented” circumstances that call for the program’s further expansion.
To tackle the budget deficit and get the economy back on track, Meyer said he’ll focus on clearing the path for the oil and gas industry’s recovery and cut spending in some state agencies.
Cattanach said the state needs to look for new sources of revenue and proposed legalizing marijuana so the state could collect taxes from its sales.
Meyer, the incumbent, has comfortably won the fundraising race this election cycle. As of Sept. 24, he had nearly $650,000 heading into the last month of campaigning.
But after a grueling primary battle in which she was outraised by a margin of 2-to-1, Cattanach’s fundraising support has been bolstered. She received $463,416 in campaign donations from July 1 to Sept. 24, from 13,000 individual contributors, according to her campaign.
While that sum was $100,000 less than Meyer’s total, Cattanach won the direct donations battle, raising over $400,000 to Meyer’s $316,000. The rest of Meyer’s total was in-kind donations of about $250,000 primarily for television advertising.
Cattanach’s infusion of funds — she had more than $300,000 left on hand — gave her the cash to keep up with Meyer in outreach and make her case to voters in the final month of the campaign. And she expects the money to keep rolling.
“If we can do in the general election what we were able to accomplish in the primary with the same funding dynamic then we will be flipping this district in November,” she said.
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