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Meet the Candidates in HD 50 Special Election

The Travis County Clerk's office is looking to hire 100 people to staff the polls on Election Day.
Nathan Bernier
Along with constitutional amendments, voters in Northeast Travis County have a special election for House District 50.

The early retirement of former State Rep. Mark Strama, who's now heading Google Fiber's operations in Austin, means we're going to have a special election on November 5th to pick someone to fill out the rest of Strama's term.

Strama's term ends January 2015, which means the winner of the special election will also have to win the 2014 March primary and November General Election as well if they want to represent Central Texas in the 2015 Legislative session.

So to help you decide who gets your vote, we've put together a short bio of each candidate, including endorsements and top campaign issues.

  • Celia Israel (D)

Israel is a first-generation college graduate and realtor who has lived in the Central Texas area for thirty years.  She is a long-time community activist and currently a member of several minority rights organizations including the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Alliance for Public Transportation and Stonewall Democrats of Austin.  Previously, she was President of the YWCA of Austin and Austin Women’s Political Caucus

Israel got her start in state politics as an aide to former Governor Ann Richards.  In 2004, she lost a campaign against Ron Davis for 1st Precinct Travis County Commissioner.  She claims higher education, health care expansion, ending discriminatory practices and public transportation as her core issues

As an openly gay candidate; Israel has been endorsed by Equality Texas, Stonewall Democrats of Austin, University Democrats, Austin Environmental Democrats, State Representative Eddie Rodriguez and Assistant District Attorney Gary Cobb and former Travis County Democratic Party Chair Chris Elliot among others. 

  • Rico Reyes (D)

Reyes is a graduate of Harvard with a JD and MBA from UT Austin.  A former Marine, Reyes still serves in the reserves. He is an attorney and was previously a Assistant District Attorney and part of the Travis County Public Integrity Unit.

Reyes stresses his family’s long history of community service.   His core issues (he calls them his “Pillars of the American Dream”) include public education, healthcare and middle-class job creation.  His ties to law enforcement have garnered him endorsements from several groups including the Hispanic Bar Association, Travis County Sheriffs' Law Enforcement Association and a co-endorsement by the Austin Environmental Democrats shared with Celia Israel. 

  • Jade Chang Sheppard (D)

Sheppard is the owner of Gideon Contracting, which specializes in the construction, renovation and repair of federal government facilities.  Born in Taiwan, Jade moved to the United States when she was two.  After attending the University of Texas, she decided to stay in the Central Texas area.  In addition to her business experience, Sheppard also stresses her commitment to women’s issues and participation in Planned Parenthood and Annie’s List. 

Her core issues include economic development, public education and making college more affordable, protecting access to women’s health, expanding Medicare, and upgrading the state’s transportation infrastructure.

Sheppard, for now, only has one political endorsement from State Representative Gene Wu.

  • Mike VanDeWalle (R)

VanDeWalle is a chiropractor and thirty-year resident of Central Texas. His core issues center around stopping the Affordable Care Act and reducing government regulations that hurt small businesses.  According to his campaign’s press release, his childhood experiences working on a dairy farm and his experience as a small business owner have shown him first-hand the dangers of over-regulation.  He is against raising taxes and supports improving education.

In addition to the endorsement of libertarian gun store owner Michael Cargill, VanDeWalle has the full backing of the Travis Country Republican Party.

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