The Anti-Vaccine Lobby’s Revenge Candidate is Running in North Dallas

John Turner, Lisa Luby Ryan
John Turner, Lisa Luby Ryan Courtesy/Twitter

Democrats are hoping to flip a state House seat in North Dallas where even some Republicans think GOP primary voters swung too far right in their candidate choice.

Lisa Luby Ryan, an interior designer, beat three-term state Representative Jason Villalba in the Republican primary in March, aided by a slew of far-right groups fed up with the moderate-ish incumbent. She’s backed by Empower Texans and Texas Right to Life, and has endorsements from Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick left Ryan off his list of endorsements that included more than 60 other House Republican incumbents and candidates. Ryan has said she supports the “sanctuary cities” ban, which requires local officials to cooperate with federal immigration agents. In explaining her opposition to gun control or even studying gun violence, she said, “My son, who is autistic, was robbed by three black thugs.”

Perhaps Ryan’s most vocal advocate in the primary was Texans for Vaccine Choice, a group of self-identified “mad moms in minivans” fighting for “medical freedom” and “parental consent,” code words for the right to not vaccinate children. The group was created in direct response to a 2015 bill filed by Villalba that would have eliminated non-medical “conscience” exemptions for vaccines at public schools, which have skyrocketed in Texas in the 15 years since they were allowed. (“If we don’t do something quickly, the blood of our children will be on our hands,” Villalba told the Observer earlier this year.)

Flanked by Texans for Vaccine Choice leaders on primary night, Ryan said she couldn’t have won “without my amazing group of moms who believe in the power of family.” Volunteers with the organization block-walked for Ryan during the GOP primary.

Villalba, following his defeat, told the Texas Tribune that Ryan is too conservative for the “centrist” House District 114, which is a longtime Republican district but went for Clinton over Trump by 9 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election.

John Turner, Ryan’s Democratic opponent, is positioning himself as a moderate who would be a better fit for the North Dallas district. Turner, an attorney and son of former Congressman Jim Turner, has indicated that he supports Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (without calling it by that name). He told the Dallas Morning News that he identifies as “strongly pro-vaccination” and supports health policies that “align with science and the best research from the medical community.” He’s picked up endorsements from both Democrats and Republicans, including GOP Dallas business leaders.

Turner has raised about $688,000 this election cycle, compared to Ryan’s nearly $781,000.

Sophie Novack is a staff writer covering public health at the Observer. She previously covered health care policy and politics at National Journal in Washington, D.C. You can contact her at [email protected].

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Published at 7:11 am CST
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