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11111111111111 THE BURBS DIANA MALDONADO VS. READ more about Irving c at LEARN more about Harper-Brown’s campaign at Haldenwang says Harper-Brown, the three-term conservative incumbent, is out of step with the needs of her constituents, pointing to her conservative positions on pocketbook issues like utility rates, homeowners insurance and school funding. “We definitely had a real demographic shift,” says Haldenwang, whose name is Bavarian. “Every ethnicity, every religion, every color under the sun is part of Irving.” That diversity, she says, has created a “kaleidoscope of ideas and people that are getting out to the polls and are ready to vote differently.” The Harper-Brown cam paign concedes that her narrow victory in 2008 got its attention, but her team argues the political dynamic is different now. For one, they say, Haldenwang can’t count on the Obama campaign to energize new voters or rally the base. Instead, the national political mood is a major liability for Democrats. “The real problem Loretta is having is that her views are to the left of the political spectrum of the district,” says Harper-Brown campaign spokesman Brian Mayes. “The policies and the issues that Loretta supports are not popular nationally. She’s trying to bring the same Washington-style policies that have put our country in the situation we’re in right now; she’s trying to bring those policies to Irving.” Haldenwang contends that anti-incumbent fervor could just as well hurt Texas Republicans, who have held every statewide office for 16 years and control both chambers of the Legislature. “If you’ve really had enough, with regards to this election, you’d vote Democratic,” she says. Harper-Brown is also calling attention to Haldenwang’s youth, lack of experience, and relative newness to the district. “I think there’s a very good chance she was moved hereI know it’s a cliche to say itby some liberal special interest groups,” Mayes says. Harper-Brown’s campaign has gone further, engaging in what Haldenwang calls “pretty nasty race-baiting.” The demographic changes in Irving have spawned racial tensions. In 2007, the city made national news by implementing a program to check the immigration status of everyone booked at the local jail and turning undocumented immigrants over to the feds for deportation. The program created a rift in Irving between the Latino and immigrant communities on one side and some Anglos on the other. The controversy died down, but the tensions haven’t subsided. Haldenwang says that Harper-Brown’s pitch is: “I’m from South Texas, I worked for someone named Castro, trying to make people believe I want to open up the borders and let people just walk back and forth,” Haldenwang says. “I’ve gone to these intimate settings with homeowners and they’ve told me they’ve heard stories from people surrounding her campaign that my last name is really Garcia and I’m Hispanic.” The Harper-Brown campaign says these accusations are “preposterous.” Harper-Brown seems to be counting on an agitated base to keep her in office. Whether this form of reactionary politics succeeds on Election Day will tell us just how much Irving has changed. THERE’S A DIFFERENT SORT OF CULTURAL transformation underway in House District 52, north of Austin. For decades, Williamson County has cultivated a sort of anti-Austin image. Instead of Keepin’ It Weird, WilCo, as it’s often called, has prided itself on maintaining law and order and electing conservative Republicans. But an influx of more liberal-minded voters from nearby Austin and other parts of the countrydrawn by the area’s cheap housing, robust economy and good schoolshas moderated southern WilCo’s politics. The percentage of Latinos has climbed, too, though not as rapidly as in some other older suburbs. Between 2000 and 2009, the county’s Hispanic population increased from 17 percent to 22 percent. Two years ago, Diana Maldonado, a Latina Democrat from Round Rock, eked out a narrow victory in House District 52. A mix of the suburban and rural just north of Austin, the district had been controlled by Republicans for 16 years. This year, ‘Maldonado hopes to fend off a strong challenger, Round Rock political operative Larry Gonzales, who says Maldonado is not conservative enough for the district and insists her election was a fluke. The Gonzales-Maldonado race will test whether Texas Democrats can overcome a tough political climate in swing districts that are trending in their direction. Like many Republicans this year, Gonzales is trying to connect Maldonado to national Democrats and capitalize on a political mood favoring Republicans. Maldonado, meanwhile, is trying to keep the conversation focused on local issues like jobs, transportation and public education. “People say, oh, it’s a fluke, or she was riding the Obama wave, but I think it’s more about keeping politics local,” Maldonado says. The Gonzales campaign hopes to stir the district’s hefty cache of reliable Republican voters by talking about a mix of issueshealth care reform, for example. “Rep. Maldonado’s vigorous and dedicated support of the new health care bill has voters in HD -52 very worried,” Gonzales wrote in an e-mail. Maldonado has responded by moving to the right. In September, she signed a letter to President Obama calling on him to redeploy surveillance aircraft from Iraq to the Texas-Mexico border. Gonzales, on the other hand, makes no apologies for his muscular partisanship. For most of the past 20 years, Gonzales has worked for GOP elected officials, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, during legislative sessions. During campaign seasons, he has turned his attention to Lazarus Graphics, a political consultancy that puts together direct mail for conservative candidates. Gonzales knows how to go on the offensive. In July, he spoke at a Georgetown Tea Party rally. On his website, he blasts “a liberal, over-reaching federal administration in Washington, D.C.,” and advertises his belief in state sovereignty. Maldonado says such ideological stances are irrelevant to the needs of the booming district: jobs, education and transportation. “His positions have to do with guns, a sovereign state,” she says. “And quite frankly, “People say, oh, it’s a fluke, or she was riding the Obama wave, but I think it’s more about keeping politics local.” 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG