Long-time civic activist launches independent bid for state rep

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Texas House candidate Linda Curtis campaigning at the Watermelon Festival in McDade, TX, July 9, 2022

Linda Curtis, a long-time Austin and Bastrop civic activist, has launched a bid as an independent for Texas House District 17, setting up a three-way race to replace a retiring Republican incumbent.

Linda Curtis

Curtis played a key role in several municipal petition campaigns that reshaped Austin, including a 1997 campaign finance reform and the 2012 transition from at-large to geographic representation for City Council seats. She also ran for Austin City Council in 1999 and 2000.

Although Curtis moved to Bastrop in 2002, she remained involved Austin politics, leading the 2012 petition drive for geographic representation, and battling soccer stadium subsidies in 2018.

House District 17

If she were to win this race, she would represent a five-county area east of Austin, which includes the cities of Bastrop, Elgin, Lockhart, Giddings, Cameron, and Webberville. The district’s western border comes within a mile of Austin’s eastern city limits. She describes herself as an “independent, election reformer, and water protection advocate,” while knocking her Republican opponent as a lackey for the “Austin and DC lobby” and “Rick Perry’s poodle.”

Curtis would be one of only a handful of independents elected to the Texas Legislature in the past century. Independent Laura Thompson served in the legislature just four months in 2016-2017. Before that Howard Green, a five-term Fort Worth Democrat, switched his affiliation to independent during one of his terms in office from 1959 to 1961.

According to a database published by the Legislative Reference Library of Texas, there were only four other unaffiliated legislators in the 20th century. (Independents had somewhat more success in the 19th century, winning 26 times from 1870-1899, as did candidates of several minor political parties).

But Curtis isn’t deterred by the lack of precedent, insisting a dark horse can win: “Though the odds are long for any independent to win a Texas House seat in 2022, (my) odds are better than Rich Strike, the 80-1 shot who won the 2022 Kentucky Derby,” she wrote in her campaign announcement.

GOP opponent Gerdes

Stan Gerdes

Curtis reasons that her candidacy shakes up an election that would otherwise be a “guaranteed win” for the Republican nominee. In the last election, House District 17 went for the Republican John Cyrier by 64 percent to his Democrat challenger’s 36 percent.

Cyrier, who has served four terms, decided not to seek reelection, triggering a five-way Republican primary and a primary runoff May 24th between the former Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape and a former staffer to Governor Rick Perry, Stan Gerdes.

Gerdes won that runoff with 6,591 votes to Pape’s 6,271, or 51 percent to 49 percent.

Democrat opponent Eden

Madeline Eden

The Democratic nominee is Madeline “Madi” Eden, who faced Cyrier in 2020 and also ran for Texas’ 10th Congressional District in 2018, but did not advance past the primary. On her website, Eden says she would prioritize improving Texas’ healthcare and education systems, reforming gun laws, and easing or eliminating jail sentences for nonviolent offenses.

Both Eden and Curtis share a focus on water protection, including revising the “rule of capture” that allows landowners to tap underground aquifers even if doing so has an impact beyond their own land.

But Curtis thinks she has a better handle on development and water questions than Eden does, having advocated on this issue for a long time, including by fighting the Vista Ridge water pipeline that supplies San Antonio with water pumped from HD-17.

“I won’t be really running against her (Eden) so much as I will be running against the Democratic Party’s obsession with growth and the whole way in which development is subsidized in certain ways,” she said in an interview.

What Curtis wants to do

Curtis wants to give groundwater districts additional tools to manage aquifers: “The legislature has not given the groundwater districts some of the tools that they need to allow them to set a level playing field for the landowners who do not wish to sell their water.”

She also advocates “making growth pay for itself through enhanced impact fees on new developments and giving additional tools for local government to manage out-of-control growth.”

On guns, Curtis says that she differs with her Republican opponent and supports the recent bipartisan Congressional legislation that passed in the wake of the Uvalde school shooting, spearheaded by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Chris Murphy (D-CT). “Most important on the gun issue is having some delay in these young people getting guns,” she said. “The gun manufacturers and the gun sellers want to allow impulse buying—well, there’s your problem right there.”

On the other hand, on abortion rights, Curtis aligns more with the Democratic Party and her HD-17 opponent Madi Eden. Curtis says she has advocated on abortion access since the 1970s.

But overall, Curtis places the emphasis of her campaign on local issues. She says her Republican opponent is using “red meat” issues like abortion and immigration to distract from the local issues that really matter in a district-level campaign. “It really depends on what the district really wants in a three-way race—and it’s my contention that the biggest issues here are growth, lack of control to manage growth, and groundwater,” she said.

Texas independents

For Curtis, the race is also about fighting the two-party system itself. She’s the co-founder and former executive director of the League of Independent Voters of Texas, a 501c4 nonprofit, and she worked as an organizer for Ross Perot’s Reform Party from 1996 to 2000. She’s also been involved in legal efforts to improve ballot access for independents and third-party candidates.

In the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Curtis supported Michael Bloomberg, the former New York Mayor who switched parties twice and has also identified as an independent. She explained in a blog post that she liked Blomberg’s “pragmatic vision and skill” and his environmental and economic ideas.

Curtis also recently wrote favorably of billionaire Mark Cuban, after a recent television appearance in which he said, “The underlying problem… is the duopoly that we have. Do we really think that the Republican and Democratic parties present the best candidates? And the answer is no… I’m a big fan of ranked-choice voting because I think it opens up the candidate pool significantly.”

This is Curtis’s second time running for the Texas House seat. She placed third in a five-way 2015 special election, behind two Republicans who went to a runoff but ahead of two Democrats. She thinks this time could be different in part because voters are so tired of the two dominant parties.

Several other independents are running in other Texas districts this year. “If we do well, I’m putting together a program for the next round two years that helps people get on the ballot. For these down-ballot independents and provides support about how do you raise money, how do you raise small-donor acquisition, and merge that with local activism,” she said.

“So that’s what I want to see happen out of this race. That’s the big win for me.”

To qualify for a place on the Texas ballot as an independent, a candidate must collect 500 signatures from voters who did not vote in either party primary or runoff. For statewide races, the signature requirements are higher. Texas law makes it harder for independents to obtain that number of signatures by requiring them to be collected after primary voting has taken place. In runoffs, that can squeeze the window to just weeks.

Candidate background

Out of the many initiative petition drives led by current House District 17 candidate Linda Curtis, the most far-reaching was the one resulting in November 6, 2012 voter approval to change the Austin City Council from an at-large structure to require representation from 10 geographic districts. Curtis is shown here standing in the front row in a pink blouse. The placards showing 33,000 represents the number of signatures gathered. (Photo by Ken Martin)

Curtis heads into this election with plenty of battle scars from past contests.  In the 1990s and early 2000s Curtis gained a reputation in Austin for not being shy of a fight. The Austin Chronicle described her as “Litigious Linda” in a 2002 article, and In Fact Daily (founded by Bulldog editor Ken Martin and now called the Austin Monitor) described her in 2000 as “one of Austin’s chief hell-raisers.”

One of her early wins was an effort in 1995 to block city subsidies for a AAA baseball team, the Phoenix Firebirds, that proposed to relocate from Phoenix, Arizona—but only if the city would pay $10 million toward a new stadium. Curtis formed an opposition group that forced the city to call an election to decide the matter, rather than issue certificates of obligation without voter approval, as the council had originally intended.

The result was the defeat of a bond proposition October 7, 1995, by a vote of 37 percent to 63 percent.

Curtis also led a petition drive called Austinites for a Little Less Corruption that resulted in new campaign finance restrictions. In an election November 4, 1997, voters approved her proposal to restrict candidates to $100 individual donations (a limitation that has since been increased).

In her 2000 council campaign, she used the slogan “Linda for a Little Less Corruption.” Twenty-two years later, she’s still calling herself that and still campaigning on corruption, insisting that the party politicians are too close to corporate interests. She recently published an analysis of Republican opponent Stan Gerdes’s campaign finance disclosures, pointing out that he had received donations from dozens of registered lobbyists. For his part, Gerdes is campaigning to “finish the wall and secure the border,” “ban critical race theory,” protect gun rights, and cut property taxes, according to his website.

Voter registration for the November 8th election runs through October 11th, and early voting begins October 28th.

Trust indicatorsBulldog reporter Daniel Van Oudenaren is a journalist with 13 years experience in local, state, and international reporting.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I want to thank Daniel and the Bulldog for the coverage. I really appreciate you digging in to grasp the heart of why I’m running.

    It’s seen best in your direct quote of Mark Cuban, whose new company — Cost Plus Drugs — is tearing Big Pharma a new one by disrupting their excessive and dehumanizing profiteering. Cuban’s statement about the “duopoly” is not just a nice quote. He’s backing a federal lawsuit that challenges the restrictive ballot access laws in Texas put in place by the two parties. Alas, they agree on something — choking off their competition.

    Keeping my fingers crossed for a ruling soon to free Texas independents to use the power of our numbers to tear the duopoly a new one.

    Love you bulldoggies! Linda Curtis, Linda4Lege.org

  2. I’m glad my friend, Linda Curtis, is running as an independent. Our politics desperately needs alternative voices other than same ‘ol same ‘ol we continue to get from the Rs and Ds. It’s way to difficult for such alternative voices to get on the ballot. Linda can be a voice in the Legislature to begin to chip away at that.

  3. I sure am happy to see that Linda is running as a true independent with a good track reecord.

    And also as an expert and activist in the area of water policy reform. We are facing many kinds of resource limits that will require expert policy attention in the near future. Not only water for farming, but enough affordable air conditioning to survive both thre summer heat waves and soaring inflation. Austin is a bad area to promote the perpetual growth.

    So long as the Dems run uninspiring candidates based on the expectation that Abbott’s boy is a sure thing, the status quo will prevail, but if the issue is strongly felt and has a good grassroots popularity, I can see where the small farmers could join forces with the local Dems to beat a crooked Abbot crony, even one with tons of money and good old boy connections. Echoes of the old farmer labor parties of yore. Sic em, Linda!

  4. Linda is too honest and has too much integrity. I worked with her on the “Strayhorn” governor’s race. She wouldn’t even tear down a Rick Perry sign!
    If you want someone with We The People’s best interest at heart; She Is It!!!

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