Politics
6:00 am
Tue May 15, 2012

Longtime Dallas Democrat Faces Primary Challengers

Politico calls Dallas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson one of the five most “at risk” incumbents in the remaining primaries. It's not just because of District 30's new territory. 

“Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise today in strong support of President Obama’s American Jobs Act.”

Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson, 75, has represented District 30, south Dallas County, for 20 years. This year, she’s facing two younger challengers in the May 29 primary election.

“I’m Barbara Mallory Caraway and I’m running for Congress." 

“I’m Taj Clayton, and I’m running for you.”

On a Saturday morning, Taj Clayton, a 35-year-old Dallas attorney -- dressed in shorts and a campaign t-shirt – campaigns door to door in a Cedar Hill neighborhood.

 "I’m Taj Clayton. How are you doing?"

"Are you soliciting?" a homeowner asked.

"I’m running for Congress," Clayton replied. "I’m coming by to introduce myself, to meet you and let you know who I am."

The Clayton campaign had two dozen volunteers walking targeted neighborhoods. They carried campaign door hangers and yard signs. Veronica Navarro was one of them.

"The fact that he went to Harvard and is back here in this town, I think that it speaks in volumes," Navarro said. "He chose to come back because he really feels that he can do something."

Clayton, a political newcomer jokes this is not his first race, he ran track in high school. And then he worked his way through Harvard.

"I was trained as lawyer. I have experience in my career being an advocate, a champion. I have experience in my career for being a problem solver," Clayton said. "You know, growing up the son of factory workers who never went to college, I understand what it’s like to struggle."

Taj Clayton’s top issues are economic development and education. He would eliminate tax incentives that encourage businesses to take jobs overseas. And he wants to explore micro-financing for small businesses. He would tweak No Child Left Behind: easing some penalties, and guarding against teaching to the test.

“Good morning. I’m Barbara Mallory Caraway. I’m out walking the neighborhood. I’m running for Congress, and I was stopping by to ask for your vote.”

Mallory Caraway got Belinda Rhone’s support.

"I remember her when you were on Heaven 97," Rhone said. "So I kinda followed you a little bit. She’s a people person. I like her spirit and everything."

Mallory Caraway, 56, is putting some miles on her favorite pair of tennis shoes – walking neighborhoods every day.

She is a very distant third in campaign fundraising: about $55,000 in the last report compared to Clayton’s $350,000, and Congresswoman Johnson’s $450,000. Mallory Caraway says when it comes to campaign war chests, hers is a David and Goliath story. But she’s convinced a grassroots campaign can win.

"The time is right for me to run. I think that District 30 needs leadership, someone who is available and accessible," Caraway said. "I have the willingness and the talent to listen to the people I represent. And I think that that is most important to any representative."

Mallory Caraway’s top priorities in Washington would be jobs, neighborhood redevelopment and health care. She says that includes better coordination of training for the job market – especially technology jobs.

Representative Mallory Caraway says her eight years on the Dallas City Council and six in the State Legislature have prepared her well for Washington.

At a fundraiser in the Dallas design district, Eddie Bernice Johnson is not so sure.

"The people who are running against me don’t have a clue to what Congress is all about in my judgment from experience and what some of the things that they are saying. I take them as opponents seriously, as I do any opponent," Johnson said. "But I really feel that I can indeed with confidence run on my record."

Her record includes senior positions on the Transportation and Infrastructure and Science and Technology committees. She’s brought millions of federal dollars to Trinity River flood control and to DART. But her record also includes a 2010 scandal over award of Black Congressional Caucus scholarships to grandchildren and children of staffers: money she personally reimbursed. Congresswoman Johnson says the episode has little traction among her constituents. Cheryl Jenkins is one of them.

"You know what, the work that she’s done is not an easy job, and she’s done it. She’s been successful, and I’m proud to support her," Jenkins said.

Congresswoman Johnson says a top priority for an 11th term would be education for women and minorities in the STEM courses: science, technology, engineering and math. She’s filed a bill she hopes to shepherd through in 2013. The Congresswoman says President Obama was among people urging her to run again and publically endorsed her.

Johnson: I think it’s very important to have consistency. I think it’s really a tough environment for new people to come. Ah, so, it does indeed help to have a pretty good grip on what it’s all about. I think it’s a tough environment for new people to come. It is a time I think when seniority and experience does help.

All three candidates promise to be strong supporters of President Obama’s agenda.

District 30, strongly Democrat, includes most all of South Dallas County – adding for the first time Grand Prairie and Cedar Hill. Travis Washington, Jr. is running unopposed in the District 30 Republican primary.