In Fort Worth, Democrats and Republicans Eye Seat Left Behind by U.S. Rep. Ron Wright

Gov. Greg Abbott set the special election for Congressional District 6 for May 1.EXPAND
Gov. Greg Abbott set the special election for Congressional District 6 for May 1.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
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Like many other Texans, Shawn Lassiter felt like leadership left her in the cold amid record-setting winter storms last week. So this week, the Fort Worth educator announced she's ready to take on Congress.

The recent death of Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Wright left a vacancy in Texas’ 6th Congressional District. Now, the race to fill his seat is beginning to heat up, with several Democrats and Republicans announcing campaigns.

Lassiter said last week's deadly winter storms highlight the need for courageous politicians in Congress; representatives should fight for families, not just corporate interests.

It’s time to elect people "who are in the cold with you,” said Lassiter, who was also without power for a few days.

“I really felt abandoned in that moment — nobody to call, nowhere to go, no leadership really giving any instruction,” she said.

"It’s time to really challenge the status quo," she continued. "I think Texans are honestly fed up and ready for leadership that is speaking for them, speaking their values. And so that’s what I intend to do."

On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott scheduled the special election to fill Wright’s seat for May 1. A day later, Wright's widow, Susan Wright, announced her candidacy for the position.

Other conservatives are reportedly considering a run, such as Arlington state Rep. Tony Tinderholt and Katrina Pierson, a former presidential campaign spokeswoman for Donald Trump.

In a statement Wednesday, Susan Wright said she hopes to honor her husband by filling his seat.

“The taxpayers of the sixth district deserve a proven conservative in Congress who will stand up for them and do whatever it takes to stop the radical left’s socialist government takeover,” she said, according to NBC-DFW. “I’m running for Congress to continue my husband’s legacy by supporting economic growth, reforming our broken healthcare system, and defending Texas conservative values.”

But in a campaign ad that aired Wednesday, Lassiter said Texans are ready for a change. In the video, Lassiter sits in the dark and highlights the need for effective leadership during crises.

“Families who had power were bringing in strangers during a pandemic, but our senator leaves for a beach vacation,” Lassiter says in the ad, referring to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s infamous trip to Cancún. “It should be instinct for our leaders to care — to fight.”

Lassiter was raised by a single mother and is one of five children. The first in her family to go to college, she later became a science teacher and basketball coach with Fort Worth ISD. For the past two years, Lassiter has helped lead a nonprofit organization focused on attaining equity in education called Leadership ISD.

North Texas needs bold leadership to tackle education, health care and COVID-19 relief, Lassiter said. Last week’s challenges underscore the need for unity when solving problems: Texans came together in the trenches to get the job done.

“When we were looking for people to bring us firewood and milk to give our children, we didn’t care their political background,” Lassiter said. “I didn’t ask you if you were a Republican or a Democrat or an independent. We focused on basic needs; we were in survival, and I think we have to start speaking to that.”

Several other Democrats have also launched their campaigns, including Lydia Bean, who vied for state House District 93 last year. Jana Lynne Sanchez unsuccessfully ran against Ron Wright in 2018 and has also decided to run once more.

Sanchez told the Observer she feels as though American democracy is at risk, but that she’s doing all she can to fix it. After Trump won in 2016, she cofounded Tarrant Together, a volunteer organization seeking to mobilize and register Democratic voters.

Sanchez was unsure whether she’d run for Congress again, but said she felt compelled to after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. After Wright’s death, she called her top supporters to discuss the prospect of another run.

“We all agreed that it was a great opportunity to bring this district back to a situation where it’s actually representing the people of the district, and not … the special interests and ideological interest groups that control the Republican Party,” Sanchez said. “The district is fundamentally a Democratic district in which Democrats just don’t vote at the same rate as Republicans.”

Sanchez came within eight percentage points of beating Wright in 2018. And just as Georgia went blue in 2020, she feels that many Republicans are becoming disillusioned.

“This district is winnable now,” Sanchez said. “Trump only won it by three points, and I think we’ve seen lots of people leaving the Republican Party in the last few weeks, since Jan. 6. And I think it puts this district in play.”

Some have speculated Wright’s widow would be the conservative favorite, but that might not be the case, said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. Susan Wright may win some “sympathy votes,” but it may not be enough for her to secure a win.

Congressional District 6 is conservative, Jones said, but a strong liberal candidate could stand a chance of success there. First, they would have to make it to the runoff race. Then, their Republican foe would need to be divisive, which would mobilize Democrats.

“The more polarizing the Republican opponent,” Jones said, “the greater [a Democrat’s] prospects of victory in a runoff.”

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