From Houston Public Media:
The contest to fill Houston’s newest congressional district, Texas’ 38th, features Republican Wesley Hunt, a former U.S. Army captain and Iraq War veteran, and Democrat Duncan Klussmann, previously the superintendent of Spring Branch ISD. The race appears to be Hunt’s to lose.
The reason for that can be found in Jersey Village, a city northwest of Houston that sits at the waist of the new 38thCongressional District. It also provides an example of why some residents, even Republicans favored by the new political map, are not entirely thrilled to have shifted from what was a swing district represented by a Democrat to a potentially safe Republican seat.
“Jersey Village is a ruby red district,” said Andrew Mitcham, the city’s former mayor and now owner and brewmaster of Senate Avenue Brewing Company.
That’s ruby red just like Mitcham, who’s a Republican. But up to now, Jersey Village been part of Congressional District 7, a district represented by Democratic Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher. That changed last year, when Texas gained two new congressional seats, and Republican state lawmakers redrew the maps.
You’d think Mitcham would be happy, but he’s concerned the newly designated conservative 38th district won’t necessarily help Jersey Village.
“What was so great about Lizzie Fletcher, being our congresswoman was the responsiveness of when we would call, but also the proactiveness when we had horrible issues happening, a lot of big challenges that happened over the last few years, and she was proactive and reactive,” Mitcham said. “What’s the incentive for that elected official to be as responsive as they would be were it not a competitive district anymore?”
Texas Congressional District 38 winds from River Oaks and the Energy Corridor north through Jersey Village up to Cypress and Tomball. It includes the most conservative portions of Fletcher’s old district, plus portions of two districts now held by Republicans – Congressmen Kevin Brady and Dan Crenshaw.
Political scientist Michael O. Adams of Texas Southern University broke down what’s known as the Partisan Voter Index of the new 38th: “If we were to look at those voters in Congressional District 38, how they voted in the last presidential election, 58.4% of those voters voted for Trump and 40.2% of those voters voted for Biden.”
State Republican lawmakers drew the 38th with Wesley Hunt specifically in mind. “Wesley Hunt,” Adams said, “he ran for Congress in Congressional District 7 in 2020, where he lost a very close election by 4 percentage points to Lizzie Fletcher.”
Hunt himself is African American, but the new district holds a sizable white majority of 63%. Hispanic residents make up 18% of the new district, Black residents 10%, and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders just 8%.
“There’s nothing wrong in terms of partisan gerrymandering, as long as you do not base it on race,” Adams said.
That linkage was often what triggered the Justice Department or federal courts to get involved in redrawing maps in states like Texas before the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision gutted the preclearance requirement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
“With the elimination of Section 5 preclearance, that basically favors those Republican state legislative bodies that are drawing these congressional districts that clearly favor the election of Republicans, and some people say that they discriminate on the basis of race,” Adams said.
In addition to his advantage in the district’s partisan makeup, Hunt holds a huge lead in fundraising. According to the latest reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Hunt’s campaign has more than $1.8 million in cash on hand. His Democratic opponent, Duncan Klussman, has less than $56,000.
Klussmann, a resident of what is now the 38th District for 24 years, said he’s the far more experienced candidate. He ticked off his qualifications: “Superintendent of schools in Spring Branch for 11 years. Leading an organization with 4,500 employees, a $250-million budget, overseeing a $597 million bond program that we produced under budget and on time, which is, I think, just critical. Being a former city council member in Jersey Village. Serving for many years on the Jersey Village Crime Control and Prevention Board. Being in the staff leadership roles at Foundry United Methodist Church and being a youth coach, also, sports coach in the area.”
Turning to his opponent, Klussmann said, “I applaud and I honor Wesley’s service to our country. But the Iraq War ended in 2011, and I’m not sure exactly what leadership experiences he’s had since then.”
Hunt declined to be interviewed, instead sending a written statement, saying, “Our country is in a horrible state of despair due to the appalling policies that Democrats have enacted over the past 17 months. We’re facing the highest inflation, highest gas prices and highest food prices I’ve seen in my entire lifetime with no end in sight. I look forward to campaigning in the district I call home and talking to voters who already know that Democrats cannot be trusted to lead in Washington.”
Klussmann responded to Hunt’s charges by saying inflation is a serious problem, but it’s more complex than Hunt implies.
“We had very protectionist policies during the Trump administration” Klussmann said, “and we know that protectionism policies drive prices up. We’re seeing that occur. We then had the pandemic and the disruption of the supply chains, which again drive prices up.”
Klussmann identifies flood control as another major issue facing the district. The 38th includes the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs, which overflowed disastrously during Harvey.
“Often government takes a very specific, one-issue approach to solving major issues, and I think we need to have a very comprehensive approach to flooding, and I think that includes making sure that we are upgrading both reservoirs because they have not had major upgrades in years,” Klussmann said.
Hunt lists flood infrastructure as one of his main priorities on his website. However, when asked to provide specifics in writing regarding what he would do either to strengthen flood infrastructure or to combat inflation, Hunt did not respond.
Back in Jersey Village, Andrew Mitcham said he’s supporting Wesley Hunt, a fellow Republican and fellow veteran. Asked what he thought about Hunt declining to be interviewed for this story, Mitcham said, “I think that’s a little disappointing, and that may be a product of the district being sort of tailormade for a Republican is they’re less responsive to media inquiries, and that’s a danger that I worry about, that’s something that I worry about, with a district being less competitive is you’re less responsive to the institutions in your district. I don’t see a reason why you wouldn’t want to respond to and sort of be well known in your community on any topic, any issue, especially if your seat is pretty safe.”