Tarrant County Commissioner Devan Allen’s victory in 2018 for the Precinct 2 seat on the Commissioners Court marked a gain for Democrats.
Before Allen’s victory, the seat representing the southeast corner of Tarrant County had been held by a Republican since 1985. Precinct 2’s fate is now back in the hands of voters who will decide whether it will remain blue or revert to red.
The open seat has brought back familiar names to the ballot. Former Precinct 2 Commissioner Andy Nguyen, the sole Republican candidate, is running on a similar platform that got him elected in 2010. The Democratic primary is shaping up to be more competitive, with Arlington City Council member Ruby Woolridge and Arlington NAACP President Alisa Simmons vying for their party’s nomination.
The upcoming election cycle for Precinct 2, which features some of the county’s most diverse cities, could be an opportunity to bring different voices to the politics of Southeast Tarrant County and could determine whether the Republican or Democratic party makes gains in the county, said Rebecca Deen, associate professor of political science and interim associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Precinct 2 is the most populous precinct in the county. Over 532,000 people live in Precinct 2, according to 2020 census data presented to the Tarrant County Commissioners Court. The area also is the second most diverse of the four precincts, with 36.17% of residents identifying as non-Hispanic white.
“Twenty years ago, Tarrant County was red, red, red. It’s the cradle of the Texas Tea Party movement,” Deen said. “But increasingly, the Democrats have found strength in Tarrant County. It’s a trend that Democratic candidates have been doing better than historic rates in Tarrant County. Not blue like Dallas, but not as rare as it used to be.”
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Nguyen made history in 2010 when he was elected to the Tarrant County Commissioners Court as the first Asian American to serve on that court. However, Nguyen lost his bid for a third term to Allen in 2018.
Allen, a Democrat, was the first African American to represent Precinct 2. She is one of only three women to ever serve on the Commissioners Court.
Early voting starts on Monday, Feb. 14. Election Day is Tuesday, March 1. To find more information about polling places and voting by mail, visit Tarrant County’s elections website.
“The fact that she won was seen as a huge loss for Republicans in the area,” Deen said.
Allen declined the Fort Worth Report’s request for an interview.
In November, Allen explained she gave her absolute best to serve the people of Precinct 2. Allen did not divulge the exact reason why she was not running again, but she referred to instances of bullying and discrimination during her time on the court.
“I understood the assignment. I was sent here to show up every day and to give my absolute best. Not to make my name great. Not to be the mouthpiece for an ideology or a puppet to any master. To show up and speak truths,” she wrote in a press release.
Nguyen is running unopposed in the primaries and benefiting from name recognition. He said he hopes his previous record as commissioner and his diverse upbringing will sway voters to put him back in office.
“I think with my background — where I came from — I can relate to the challenges and the difficulties our communities are facing. I’m not saying that I’ll be able to solve all the problems, but I know with my vision and my understanding, perhaps we can find some way…” Nguyen told the Report.
During his time as commissioner, Nguyen focused on infrastructure, mental health services and economic development for the diverse local businesses in the area. A decade since he was first elected to office, those priorities have remained unchanged.
“It is critical that we make sure that every member of our community, every resident, feels that they belong to our communities, that they are not an outsider,” Nguyen said. “It’s very critical to do the allocation of county and city government resources in ways that serve everyone equally — or at least we strive to do that.”
Newcomer Jose Riesco had filed to challenge Nguyen. However, the former candidate told the Report he pulled out of the race after finding out he did not meet the residency requirements.
Nguyen, as the presumptive GOP nominee, will be able to focus his resources on winning the general election, Deen said.
“Since he has good name recognition already, he can afford to wait a bit to get his campaign advertising out in front of voters,” she said.
The Democratic primary is expected to be much more contested as the party attempts to keep Precinct 2. Both candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, Woolridge and Simmons, have long-standing relationships and connections within the community.
Woolridge and Simmons’ platforms share similarities with their Republican counterpart — improving infrastructure, public health and developing the local economy. However, both women are betting on their local experience and involvement in their community will make them stand out on the ballot.
Woolridge, an Arlington City Council member, said she is uniquely prepared to pass policies that will address the community’s housing and health needs.
“There’s nobody else that can hold accountable to my ability to provide policy, my ability to legislate, my ability to plan budgets,” Woolridge said.
Woolridge unsuccessfully ran for U.S. 6th Congressional District in 2016 and 2018.
Simmons said her time as president of the Arlington branch of the NAACP and as a county 911 administrator gives her the skills to do on the groundwork that directly impacts constituents.
“Tarrant County is Republican,” Simmons said. “Precinct 2 became slightly more Democratic after the census, and so it’s going to be a tough fight, absolutely.”
In 2020, Simmons lost a bid for the Texas House District 94. However, her margin — garnering almost 46% of the votes in the general election — was a sign that the Democratic Party was making gains in that area, according to Deen.
“Like 46% is not nothing. That’s not close to winning, but it’s respectable,” Deen said.
The Democratic primary winner will come down to the money, endorsements and platform of the candidates, Deen said.
Recent campaign finance filings show that Nguyen raised $87,758.88 in the final six months of 2021. He has $101,735.74 in his campaign coffers.
Simmons raised only $100 during that same period. However, she has $32,675.85 in cash on hand.
Woolridge raised $6,219 between Dec. 6 and Dec. 31; she announced her commissioner campaign in early December. She has $4,589 in her campaign savings account.
The money will go a long way for the candidates, but Deen noted candidates have to be more than fundraisers.
“You can be the greatest candidate in the world, but if you run in an area where you don’t match the voters, the groups aren’t gonna give to you,” Deen said. “It’s about the candidate being good and the area being winnable.”
Editor’s note: This story was changed on Jan. 29 to clarify Rebecca Deen’s title.
Fort Worth Report fellow Sandra Sadek may be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter. 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.