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Valinda Bolton hopes to improve transportation in Arlingtonparticularly in advance of the new Dallas Cowboys stadium under construction. Another hot topic in her area is the proposal to build 18 new coal-fired power plants that could pollute North Texas air. Patrick said she wants to “make sure that [plants] are using the highest [air quality] standards.” Yet it’s her knowledge of the complexities of public education that helped put Patrick in the House and could make her an interesting legislator to watch this session. DM WALKING THE LINE As Valinda Bolton strode onto the House floor for the first time, surrounded by family members and clad in the red power suit she wore when she kicked off her election bid, she had no doubts about whom she was going to vote for in the speaker’s race: Jim Pitts. Then the hours of wrangling and parliamentary maneuvering began. “We had several votes,” Bolton said. “I tried to vote in a way that would support Pitts and make the process more confidential and less risky.” Suddenly Pitts withdrew from the contest, leaving Bolton and other House members with one choice: a vote for or against Craddick. Bolton, the new Democratic representative of District 47, which encompasses southwest Travis County and the southern tip of Austin, was conflicted. Her index finger nervously moved back and forth across the red and green buttons. “I had a strong, strong feeling that we needed different leadership,” she said. “But I also felt it was important to cast a vote for the healing and solidarity of the House and the ability to work across the aisle.” Taking a deep breath, she pushed the button for Craddick. Bolton’s dilemma mirrored that of several other freshmen Democrats this session. Her district, formerly held by Republican Terry Keel, is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. If she wants her political career to last longer than one session, she’ll have to be responsive to both sides. How freshmen Democrats in tough districts like Bolton play the game in Austin and communicate with their constituents back home will determine in part how they fare in 2008. Bolton has red hair, a warm smile, and an innocent demeanor that belies an inner toughness that enabled her to survive a bruising primary and equally bruising general election. She was one of 11 candidatesfive Republicans, four Democrats, and two Libertarianswho vied for the position Keel vacated. Though Bolton was a newcomer to politics, she nevertheless managed to beat back a challenge in the Democratic primary from Jason Earle, the son of Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, and went on to defeat Republican Bill Welch in the general election. The Republicans lined up solidly behind Welch, who raised almost $700,000, compared with the $225,000 amassed by Bolton. Welch received nearly $435,000 in contributions from the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC and another $65,000 from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry. TLR will no doubt be watching Bolton’s votes closely. Bolton, 47, has spent most of her career working for nonprofits, including as training director for the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence. Bolton’s district is considered the gateway to the Hill Country and is facing numerous problems, including how to cope with expanding population and development at a time when wells are running dry and water resources are shrinking. At the Lege, she hopes to focus her attention on issues she campaigned formore pay for teachers, better healthcare for children and the mentally disabled, affordable housing, and a more open and accountable government. She also hopes to help draft legislation that would give county governments more tools to manage growth and development. As a state legislator from a swing district, Bolton knows there will be more tough votes ahead. She’s ready. “I live in a district that’s evenly split and has mainstream values,” she said. “They want the House to get focused and work on issues that will benefit all the families of Texas.” EW 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JANUARY 26, 2007