Two Texas Tech professors to battle over congressional seat

By June 7, 2017Press
Houston Chronicle

Lindsay Ellis
Houston Chronicle
June 7, 2017

The spring semester is over, but two Texas Tech University faculty members won’t have much time to relax. The Democrats will be campaigning for a seat in Congress, inspired in part to run after President Donald Trump’s campaign victory.

Miguel Levario, a history professor, and Daniel Epstein, a political science visiting instructor, are seeking the Democratic nomination for the 19th Congressional district, a seat currently held by Republican Rep. Jodey Arrington – a former Texas Tech Vice Chancellor. The primary is next March.

The candidates – whose academic offices are on the same floor at Texas Tech’s Holden Hall – both criticize Arrington’s positions on the Affordable Care Act and immigration.

Levario, who has lived in the district for about a decade, announced his candidacy in May in a Facebook group called “Pantsuit Nation,” a group originally started for supporters of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton that has amassed nearly 4 million members.

Epstein, who announced his candidacy in April, is a visiting instructor who worked on Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign last year. He came to Texas Tech in August 2016, with his wife, who is seeking a Ph.D. at the university.

The two candidates have collaborated for at least one campaign event, a town hall on health care at a Lubbock library. Levario said he has heard from his department that if he wins the seat, he would have to resign from his tenured position.

Stumping and lecturing aren’t that different, said Levario, who is scheduling events between a research publication schedule, service on university committees, taking care of his two children and teaching summer sections of U.S. history, post-1877.

But he has to pay attention to the clock – few people attending a political rally want to listen for 120 minutes, he said. So far, he’s spoken at churches and in libraries.

“(Politics) seems like a natural progression for academics,” he said. “We’re trained to be critical thinkers. We’re trained in research and writing. What better skill set would you want for public office than those three?”

Epstein, who is teaching an online course this summer on international politics, is careful to respond to campaign emails sent to his university address from a separate unaffiliated account, making sure he doesn’t break any Texas Tech rules.

He recognizes that his approach to the campaign is academic, ticking off statistics on health care insurance and voter turnout. And he says that the political science department thinks highly of his run.

“It highlights the relevance of political science in general,” he said.

The incumbent, Arrington, won with 87 percent of the vote in November. He’s in his first term and has not said whether he will seek re-election. In 2016, Democrats did not put forward a candidate for his seat, which has been held by Republicans since at least 1990.

In 2014, the last time Democrats ran a candidate for the seat, former Rep. Randy Neugebauer, the Republican incumbent, took more than three-quarters of the vote.

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