Earlier this year, Dallas hair salon owner Shelley Luther entered the national spotlight after she was jailed for defying state and local orders to close her business. Now she could be sliding into a Texas Senate seat.
Saturday, Prosper state Sen. Pat Fallon received the Republican nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives during a unique election. Should he win, that would leave a vacancy for Texas’ Senate District 30.
Luther has not yet announced whether she’ll run for the spot, but on Monday, she teased the idea on Facebook.
“With Sen. Pat Fallon's victory in this weekend's special election, dozens of you have called, texted, or emailed to ask me about running in the upcoming special election in Senate District 30,” she wrote. “I'm not a politician, but as a conservative business owner, I am immensely concerned about the direction of our state. Please pray for my family as we consider our next steps.”
Luther does not have a political background per se, but what she lacks in experience she makes up for in name recognition. Some political experts believe that Luther stands a strong chance of beating out seasoned candidates for Fallon’s seat.
Wednesday, Luther’s team said in a Facebook message that at this point, it’s still too early to say whether she’ll run.
“We are weighing options, and the Senate seat in our district is definitely an interest of ours,” they wrote.
Luther’s social media posts indicate she has political aspirations. Over the weekend, she posted a picture of herself with Republican U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky. She’s also criticized Gov. Greg Abbott’s handling of the coronavirus and the fact that U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess voted to remove Confederate monuments from the U.S. Capitol.
Saturday’s atypical election was called following former U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe's confirmation as U.S. director of national intelligence. Fallon received 82 of the 145 votes cast by Republican activists for Ratcliffe’s spot, according to the Texas Tribune.
Should Fallon win, that would leave a vacancy for District 30, which covers much of North Texas including Wise and Parker counties, as well as parts of Denton and Collin counties.
The district is decidedly Republican, with Fallon having garnered nearly 74% of the vote when he ran in 2018, according to the Texas Tribune. Although he'll likely win his congressional race, Fallon has not yet indicated when he will vacate his state Senate seat.
Kimi King, a political science professor at the University of North Texas who specializes in American and Texas government, said that Fallon will likely hang onto it until after November’s election. He's favored to win his congressional bid, she added; Ratcliffe earned 75.7% of the vote when he was up for reelection in 2018, according to politics website Ballotpedia.
Luther’s decision to defy Abbott’s executive order has also impressed a number of Republican voters. She’s similar to Fallon, too, in that they’ve both earned credibility among conservative politicians, King said.
“I think it is important to note that the same things in play with Fallon being chosen will be in play with Luther being chosen, and that is the support of Ted Cruz,” King said.
Following the reopening of hair salons in May, King said that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz got a haircut at Luther’s business, Salon à la Mode. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also showered Luther with support when he donated $7,000 to a GoFundMe set up to cover her legal expenses. That’s significant, King said, considering Patrick’s annual salary is $7,200.
The GoFundMe account quickly raised around a half-million dollars, King said, which signals to Republicans Luther's fundraising potential.
Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said that out of the experienced political contenders for Texas Senate, state Rep. Drew Springer is the frontrunner. Several others have their eyes on the prize, including state Reps. Lynn Stucky of Denton and Bedford's Jonathan Stickland.
Luther’s likeability among conservatives is also a major advantage, which could effectively outweigh her lack of political experience, he said.
“A district like that will occasionally take a thumb-in-your-eye view of the political parties and their leaders, Democrat and Republican,” Jillson said. “And so a person like Shelley Luther could actually see a campaign take off if people took her to be a sort of independent conservative voice unmanaged by the Republican elites in Austin or in Washington, D.C.”
Although this would be Luther’s maiden voyage for political office, Jillson said she has a solid team behind her.
A group of conservative activists looking for a case to challenge the governor’s shutdown order helped Luther stage her business’s reopening. Jillson said that the same team would likely help buoy her campaign for state Senate should she decide to run.
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Luther has also started working to aid the state’s bar owners, including The Rail Club Live's Chris Polone. In a similar move, Polone challenged the governor’s bar shutdown order by staging a statewide bar protest in July.
Polone recently began corresponding with Luther and said he believes she has a real shot at winning. He also compared her to President Donald Trump, who was viewed by pundits as an outsider candidate during his bid for the presidency in 2016.
Like Trump, Polone said Luther’s lack of political experience may actually improve her chances of success.
“If Shelley stands for anything, it’s for small business owners," he said, "and I believe that’s exactly what we need in the Senate."