Texas House District 97 Democratic runoff election to be decided May 28

Two candidates in southwest Fort Worth face off in a May 28 runoff election to determine the Democratic Party nominee in the race for Texas House District 97.

The runoff pits Carlos Walker, director of the Fort Worth ISD Family Action Center, against photographer and former presiding election judge Diane Symons. Walker and Symons are both first-time candidates.

In the initial race, Symons garnered 44.1% of the vote in the three-way race against Walker, who earned 34.6%. Arlington high school teacher William Thorburn finished third with 21.3%.

The race pits two anti-voucher candidates, who are both advocates for abortion rights, against each other in an attempt to keep pro-voucher candidates from being sworn into the Texas House, both Walker and Symons said.

Gov. Greg Abbott recently urged voters to make the final push during runoff elections to bring a pro-school voucher majority to the Texas House. On March 20, at an annual conservative policy conference in Austin, Abbott said the House is close to passing the school choice bill, which would allow Texas students to use public money to offset the cost of private-school tuition.

In the 150-member House, 76 votes are needed to move a bill forward — there are currently 74 votes in favor of school choice in the House, Abbott said. Both candidates in the Republican primary election for District 97 support vouchers and school choice.

While Walker is a first-time candidate, he’s received an endorsement from the Texas American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and raised $4,333 in political contributions.

Walker has also received support from many Fort Worth ISD families he’s worked with throughout the years, he told the Fort Worth Report. Increasing teacher pay is a priority for Walker, as is fighting for robust public education funding, he said.

“Teachers put in a lot of work, they put in a lot of hours, they need to be rewarded,” Walker said. “A lot of teachers I know have a second job in order to make ends meet. That’s not right.”

If elected, Walker would vote against Abbott’s school voucher campaign, he said.

He’d also find ways to support North Texas farmers and sustainable agriculture, he said. District 97, especially the southwestern corner of the district, is majority rural farmland.

“Making sure they’re getting the education and the funding that they’re needing in order to help us put more food on the table of Texans, that’s key,” Walker said.

Symons has no endorsements, and has received $106 in political contributions during her campaign. Her platform was featured in a recent YouTube video produced by Mothers Against Greg Abbott, a left-leaning political action committee.

While Symons admits not having much experience in politics, she said that’s what makes her an intriguing candidate. Symons has worked as a presiding election judge and owns her own photography business.

The closest she’s ever been to politics, she said, has been when taking candid shots and portraits of Fort Worth legend Opal Lee.

“I know the struggles of many in our district,” Symons said. “I know what it’s like to go days without food so I can get my medication. … Everybody deserves a second chance.”

Symons said her priorities lie within the three “E’s”: Education, economy and equality. If elected, Symons would vote against school choice, she said.

“There’s not enough space at private schools to admit everybody,” she said. “Are companies going to want to come to Texas and not have a good, well-funded public school?”

And, Symons would fight to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15, she said. The minimum hourly wage in Texas sits at $7.25.

House members serve two-year terms, are not subject to term limits and earn an annual salary of $7,200.

State Rep. Craig Goldman, who currently sits in the District 97 seat, first took office in 2013. On Nov. 3, 2023, Goldman announced his campaign for Texas’ 12th Congressional District, leaving his seat in the Legislature open. Goldman is now in a runoff with business owner John O’Shea for retiring U.S. Rep. Kay Granger’s seat.

The winner of the May 28 runoff for District 97 will face either Republican Cheryl Bean, who owns a home remodeling company, or Republican John McQueeney, who owns a Chicken Express franchise, in November.

House District 97 encompasses southwest Fort Worth, Benbrook, Crowley and White Settlement. The estimated population for the district is nearly 190,000.

Early voting is May 20-24. People who voted in a party primary in March can vote only in the same party’s runoff. Voters who didn’t cast a ballot in the primary can vote in either party’s runoff.

Matthew Sgroi is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at matthew.sgroi@fortworthreport.org or @MatthewSgroi1 on X. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.