Largely aligned on policy, candidates in Democratic runoff for lieutenant governor push their experience

State Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton, left, and Mike Collier are facing off for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. (The Texas Tribune, The Texas Tribune)

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

With the nominees for governor already decided, the top of the ballot for this month’s Democratic primary runoff election will be a choice between Mike Collier and state Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton for lieutenant governor.

The winner of the May 24 race will then mount an uphill challenge in the November midterms against Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who already won the Republican primary in March. Patrick is well-funded, and a Democrat hasn’t won a statewide office in Texas since 1994. Early voting runs from May 16-20.

Collier and Beckley bested Carla Brailey, the former vice chair of the Texas Democratic Party, in the March 1 primary, finishing as the first- and second-place candidates, respectively. Collier finished with about 41% of the vote, while Beckley received about 30%.

Only about 18% of registered voters cast a ballot in the March primary this year.

What does the lieutenant governor do? 

The lieutenant governor oversees the state’s 31-member Senate, making it the most powerful elected position in the Texas Legislature. The officeholder can dictate much of the state’s policy by influencing which bills move forward and which ones are halted.

The lieutenant governorship can also help launch officeholders into higher office. Rick Perry, one of the most well-known Texas politicians in modern history, held the office before becoming governor of Texas, launching a presidential campaign and serving as the U.S. Secretary of Energy under former President Donald Trump.

If a Democrat were to win the seat, they could champion the party’s legislative priorities, which often fail to materialize in the Republican-controlled Senate, and block GOP legislation.

Who is Mike Collier? 

Collier, an accountant and auditor, has never held elected office. However, he is highlighting his experience with statewide campaigns, notably his 2018 campaign for lieutenant governor in which he came within 5 percentage points of unseating Patrick. The lieutenant governor won his seat in 2014 by 20 percentage points. Collier is the closest a Democrat has come to defeating Patrick, who first ran for the Texas Senate in 2006.

Collier previously identified as a Republican before running for office and twice voted against former President Barack Obama. But his campaign has emphasized more recent efforts supporting Democratic candidates, including fundraising as a finance chair for the Texas Democratic Party. He also was named senior adviser for President Joe Biden in Texas in 2020.

Supporting public education is what first motivated Collier to run for public office, according to his campaign, and he has experience in the Texas energy industry as a financial consultant and former chief financial officer of Layline Petroleum. That energy industry experience will be handy, said Ali S. Zaidi, Collier’s campaign manager, given the state’s recent power grid issues.

“He has spent his entire life working in the energy industry, particularly in renewables over the past couple of years,” Zaidi said, “... but also to ensure that Texas remains the energy capital of the world, while also addressing climate change and ensuring that the future of energy is forged right here in the state.”

Who is Michelle Beckley?  

Beckley is a small business owner of the Kookaburra Bird Shop in Carrollton and has served two terms as a state representative from Denton County. She narrowly flipped a Republican seat in 2018 and has been critical of GOP leaders and her Republican colleagues while in office.

Beckley gained national attention last summer for joining a group of Democratic state lawmakers who fled to Washington, D.C., in an attempt to block Republican voting legislation. About a month after the legislation was signed into law last fall, Beckley announced she was running for lieutenant governor to stop Republican efforts such as those limiting voting rights and access to abortion.

“I’m running for Lieutenant Governor because politicians are putting ideology ahead of results that matter to Texans,” Beckley said last November, touting her legislative experience.

During the 2021 regular legislative session, Beckley filed bills attempting to address health insurance coverage, to improve communication about power grid issues and voting and to repeal language in the Texas Constitution limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman. Many of Beckley’s legislative efforts have been stalled in the GOP-dominated Legislature. Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, ranked her the second-most liberal Democrat in the Texas House in 2021 based on her voting record.

Beckley’s campaign declined comment for this story.

How do they differ? 

There’s little daylight between the two candidates from a policy perspective.

Both candidates have said they support legalizing marijuana, expanding Medicaid in Texas, addressing climate change, stabilizing the state’s power grid, increasing funding for public schools and protecting abortion rights.

Collier has specified he would increase public school funding by nearly $5 billion without raising taxes for “ordinary Texans” by closing a corporate tax loophole.

The two Democrats are differentiating themselves through their experience.

Collier is running on his ability to beat Patrick. Zaidi said Collier’s campaign has raised more this election cycle than in the “entirety of 2018,” during his last campaign against Patrick, and sees his endorsements as a sign of electability.

“The people that are involved with the business of winning elections and the operations of state government all think that Mike is the best person to not only take on Dan Patrick, but to serve as lieutenant governor,” Zaidi said.

Beckley told SpectrumNews1 that she thinks she’s the best candidate because she knows the “viper’s nest” the Legislature can be.

“I think Democrats have to go with what’s winning, and what’s different from the same old same old,” she said. “Getting close is just not good enough.”

Regardless of who wins in May, either candidate will have their hands full in November with Patrick, who has never lost a statewide election and is seeking his third term as lieutenant governor. Now a household name in Texas politics, Patrick has established himself as a lightning rod by taking up issues like ending university tenure and developing a Texas version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Patrick’s reputation may also provide some positives in the general election for Collier and Beckley, though.“They have some opportunity there because he has a likability issue of his own,” said Kirby Goidel, a professor of political science at Texas A&M University. “He may be easier to run against than a Greg Abbott, but you need the money and you need the exposure to be able to make that case.”

According to the Texas Politics Project, Patrick’s favorability poll is at 35% somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable and 35% somewhat favorable or very favorable.

Goidel said becoming well-known and having positive name recognition are two hurdles Beckley and Collier will have to overcome in the primary.

“I think the key is that voters are going to pick who is most electable,” Goidel said. “If you don’t have large policy issue differences, the real question is ‘Which candidate is more likable?’ and ‘Which candidate do you think could win?’ That drives a lot of primary voting.”

Who is endorsing them?

With few policy differences between them, Goidel said endorsements can help distinguish the candidates from each other. Beckley was recognized by Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, a local political arm of Planned Parenthood, as a 2021 Legislative Champion. But Collier notably won the organization’s endorsement — one Goidel said has the potential to help Collier beyond the runoff given recent news about the likely overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court later this summer.

“If you think about public opinion, even in Texas a lot of people are uneasy about the idea of outlawing abortion and making it completely illegal in all circumstances,” Goidel said. Collier has also been endorsed by various unions, Democratic groups and elected officials in this year’s primary:

Beckley, meanwhile, says on her website that she has previously received the endorsement of Texas AFL-CIO, Texas AFT and other groups during previous elections. She does not have any endorsements listed for after 2020 for the lieutenant governor race.

A number of editorial boards at Texas newspapers have endorsed in this race as well. Collier has the endorsements of several of the state’s largest publications, including The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle, the Austin American-Statesman and the Austin Chronicle.

The Texas Tribune does not have an editorial board and does not make political endorsements.

Disclosure: Mexico Center - James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, Planned Parenthood, Rice University, Texas A&M University and Texas AFT have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Tickets are on sale now for the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, happening in downtown Austin on Sept. 22-24. Get your TribFest tickets by May 31 and save big!