Democratic State Rep. Julie Johnson wins congressional primary race for North Texas seat

Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Farmers Branch, speaks during the general caucus of the Texas Democratic Convention at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas on July 15, 2022.
Julie Johnson is vying to replace U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, in U.S. House Texas District 32. Credit: Kylie Cooper/The Texas Tribune

State Rep. Julie Johnson of Farmers Branch appears to have narrowly avoided a runoff in the Democratic primary to replace U.S. Rep. Colin Allred in the 32nd Congressional District.

While she handily beat second-place finisher Brian Williams, a trauma surgeon, she had hovered near the threshold of being forced into a runoff against him as results came in late Tuesday and early Wednesday. Johnson claimed victory Wednesday.

“This win belongs to all of us, and together, we’re going to make history,” Johnson said on X. “Today, we celebrate.”

The North Texas district is considered safe for Democrats, so Johnson could be the first openly LGBTQ+ member of Congress from a Southern state if she prevails in November.

Allred, who first ran for Congress in 2018, is leaving his House seat to challenge Sen. Ted Cruz. Allred won the Democratic primary outright in that race Tuesday night.

Williams congratulated Johnson on X on Wednesday.

“I got into this race because I’ve had to pronounce too many victims dead on arrival due to gun violence and while this campaign is over, I look forward to continuing that work alongside the tireless friends and activists who were part of this team,” he wrote.

Williams and Johnson led the field of 10 Democrats in the primary with their fundraising efforts, each amassing about $1 million in political donations since their campaigns were registered at the beginning of last summer.

Williams and Johnson are ideologically aligned. They both rank health care a top priority and have touted their ability to work across the aisle.

Johnson, a trial lawyer in her third term in the state House, ousted hardline conservative incumbent Matt Rinaldi by 13 points in 2018. Rinaldi now chairs the state GOP.

As a Democrat in the Republican-dominated state Legislature, Johnson has played a lot of defense trying to kill bills she and other progressives deem harmful. Johnson, who is gay, said she and other members of the House’s LGBTQ+ caucus have had success in killing anti-LGBTQ bills by mastering the rules of procedure and “being better at the rules than the other side.”

She drew notable endorsements from Beto O’Rourke, Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin, EMILY’s List, Equality PAC and several labor unions.

While he may be new to the Texas political arena, Williams is no stranger to the halls of Congress.

Williams was a health policy adviser to Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut — who endorsed him — to help pass the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in 2022, the furthest reaching gun safety legislation in decades. The legislation, crafted in the aftermath of shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo New York, allocated millions of dollars to expand mental health resources, strengthens background checks and tightens the boyfriend loophole. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn was a lead negotiator on the bill with Murphy, and Williams worked closely with Cornyn’s office.

Williams said his experience as a trauma surgeon — operating on victims of gun violence and women experiencing reproductive health emergencies — has fueled his priorities to fight for gun restrictions and increase access to abortions and other womens’ health care. Williams, who is Black, said his desire to limit racial disparities in health care will resonate with the district’s diverse constituency. The district has a 37% Hispanic or Latino population, 22% Black population and 8% Asian population.

Allred did not endorse in the Democratic primary race to succeed him.

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