Michelle Beckley, one of the Texas House’s most liberal members, joins Democratic primary for lieutenant governor

State Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton, announced Tuesday she will run for lieutenant governor. (Jordan Vonderhaar For The Texas Tribune, Jordan Vonderhaar For The Texas Tribune)

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Democratic state Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, who gained national attention for joining lawmakers who fled to Washington, D.C., to block a Republican election bill this summer, is running for lieutenant governor, expanding her party’s primary to three contenders.

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In her campaign announcement on Tuesday, Beckley said she was running because Republican incumbent Dan Patrick is implementing policies that “hurt Texas business and make life harder for all Texans.”

“I’m running for Lieutenant Governor because politicians are putting ideology ahead of results that matter to Texans,” she said. “In the last legislative session alone, they worked to limit voters’ rights, put bounties on women, marginalize minorities, and make-up false boogeymen in our schools, and the health and wealth of Texans suffered. I’m running to stop them.”

Beckley joins a race that already includes political commentator Matthew Dowd and Houston accountant and auditor Mike Collier, who was the Democratic nominee for the position in 2018 and came within 5 percentage points of beating Patrick. She said she was recruited to run for the position but did not say by who.

Beckley said she joined the race to give Democratic voters another option and a candidate with more legislative experience.

“Neither one of those candidates has won an election,” she said. “I won an election in a hard district and improved my margins.”

Collier has lost two statewide elections. First in 2014, when he ran for state comptroller against Republican Glenn Hegar and again in 2018 against Patrick. Dowd has not sought elected office before but was a political strategist for some of Texas politics’ biggest names, including Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Bob Bullock.

Beckley, the owner of a pet shop, entered Texas politics in 2018 when she flipped a traditionally Republican district in Denton County by ousting three-term incumbent Ron Simmons, who had authored the so-called transgender “bathroom bill” in 2017. Her victory was a surprise to many political observers, but Beckley said she plans to use the same shoe-leather approach to winning over voters in the lieutenant governor’s race.

Beckley said Republicans will have a fundraising advantage over her, but she plans to raise enough money to get her message out and win over voters.

“I was outspent 10-to-1 my first election. Nobody thought I was gonna win that either,” she said. “I've done it before. So I'm confident I could do it again. I wouldn't be running if I didn't think that.”

Beckley said her top priorities as lieutenant governor would be expanding Medicaid, fixing shortcomings in the state’s power grid and fully funding public education. Those issues are in line with the priorities of the other candidates in the Democratic primary.

But Beckley, one of the most liberal members of the Texas House, is also known for her support for marijuana legalization, abortion rights and her call for more gun control after the 2019 mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa.

Beckley said she is a candidate who can bring “balance” to the position of lieutenant governor. Issues like marijuana legalization and Medicaid expansion would benefit rural communities whose farmers could benefit from growing marijuana for business and whose struggling hospitals would be helped by a change in the health care system, she said.

But she does not back down from the positions she’s taken on immigration, abortion rights and guns, saying she’s portrayed as a liberal when she believes her actions are in step with the majority of Texas voters.

“Our state has gone to the extreme and I am the values of the moderate,” she said. “In many other states I would not be considered liberal at all.”

Beckley said Patrick is “the extreme of the extremes” and puts the interests of his donors ahead of those of average Texans.

“He told people to sacrifice their grandparents for the pandemic,” Beckley said, pointing to Patrick’s comments early in the pandemic that a failing economy was worse than the coronavirus.

Since her election to the House, Beckley has been a thorn in the side of the GOP majority, often butting heads with the chamber’s leadership and vocally opposing their policies in debates and in the press. Former House Speaker Dennis Bonnen derided her as “vile” in a secret recording with a political operative.

Beckley said she doesn’t plan to change her combative approach to politics during her statewide race.

“It's a benefit,” she said. “The voters know I'm going there to fight for what they vote me in for.”

Beckley’s blunt talk has sometimes landed her in trouble with her own party. After she was elected to the House in 2018, some Democrats in Denton County accused her of making insensitive racial comments during the campaign trail, when she said the only Spanish she spoke was “tacos and burritos.”

Beckley apologized for the comments but denied any racial bias. As her statewide race kicks off, Beckley said she will try to run on her record and not worry about past allegations.

“I've learned that people will say anything they want to about you,” she said. “I do have a voting record that is the antithesis of what those unfounded conversations were.”

Earlier this year, Beckley announced a run for Congressional District 24 in North Texas currently held by U.S. Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Irving. But Beckley suspended her campaign after lawmakers redrew the district to make it much more favorable to Van Duyne. At the same time, Republicans redrew her Texas House district to be more favorable for Republicans.

She considered several other offices, including municipal positions, before landing on running for lieutenant governor.

“They can’t draw me out of Texas,” she said.

Beckley welcomed former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke’s entry into the governor’s race as a development that could help Democrats down-ballot.

“It's great for the Democratic Party,” she said. “He has the infrastructure that we need. He is the strong voice that we need and he will help Texans. He will bring people to the polls.”

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