There’s not a lot that separates the two Democrats running to replace Rep. Jonathan Stickland in Texas House District 92 in northeast Tarrant County.
Both businessman Steve Riddell and lawyer Jeff Whitfield are focused on boosting education spending and expanding Medicaid to reduce overall health care costs. Both have had limited campaign experience. Neither has held elected office before.
With a nod to experience, we recommend primary voters choose Whitfield, 46, as the better option to hit the ground running as a legislator.
Whitfield has a more extensive resume of public service. A graduate of the Air Force Academy and a veteran, he also worked at The Hague, prosecuting war crimes committed in Bosnia.
But more to the point, he worked as an aide to state Sen. John Whitmire, managing legislation for the Houston veteran.
That’s a critical edge for a potential freshman in the Legislature. The process and variety of issues and demands on a legislator’s time can be daunting, and Whitfield would arrive in Austin with a sense of what it takes to get bills passed and have influence on issues.
Whitfield also brings a smart overall sense to the job. He frames his mission as helping the most vulnerable Texans on a host of issues, tying together school funding, health-care costs and even the failures of the state’s foster care system. In what could be a wide-open race, it could help him frame his candidacy in a way that resonates with voters.
His willingness to listen to both constituents and experts to formulate the best approach on issues such as taxes and health care is a sign of a potentially effective lawmaker.
Riddell, 49, deserves credit from Democratic voters for running a strong campaign in 2018, though he narrowly lost to Stickland. He offers smart, specific ideas on health care costs, such as hospital reforms, and an emphasis on the need for campaign finance reform to ensure legislators are focusing on their constituents, not their donors.
But before that 2018 race, his political and public service involvement was limited, a decided edge for Whitfield.
In a joint interview, the pair even struggled to identify where they differed, focusing more on personal or stylistic issues, including who had closer ties to the district. (Whitfield grew up in the area but recently moved back, while Riddell has lived in Bedford for about a decade.)
Both are confident they’d be part of a Democratic majority in the House. But for Democrats to get there, they need the right candidate to win one of the districts that’s seen as an important toss-up in the overall fight for control.
Given his experience, we believe that’s Whitfield.