An expectant mother goat bleats at Lisa Seger from a wooden stall perched on the 10-acre Blue Heron Farm. In a few hours, labor will turn to delivery, and Seger will help the Nubian birth two kids. Seger’s fuchsia bangs brush her cat-eye glasses as she meets the goat’s gaze, smiling and cooing words of encouragement.
Though the pose seems natural, it’s one she had to learn. In 2006, the farmer and her husband, Christian, were urbanites who took a goat raising class in Houston on a whim. At the time, Christian was a travelling sound tech curious about what it would be like to live the life of a goatherd. Seger was skeptical. “I bought the class to disabuse him of the notion that this is something doable,” she remembers with a laugh.
A few months later, the Segers bought their farm in Waller County.
Before Blue Heron, Seger was a marketing writer for a credit card processing company. She had never made the chèvre she sells by the cooler at farmers markets. She used YouTube to learn how to turn her goats’ milk into cheese and the sea salt cajeta that lines the shelves of cafes and restaurants around Houston.
Now she’s teaching herself how to run for office.
In November, Seger will become the first Democratic candidate to challenge Republican Cecil Bell of Magnolia for his seat as the District 3 Representative in the Texas Legislature since the boundaries were redrawn in 2010. The only other challenger the three-term incumbent has faced was B. Larry Parr, a Libertarian who lost 91 percent of the vote to Bell in 2014.
Seger knows her run is a long shot, but she felt she didn’t have a choice.
Women like Seger have never known equal representation, at the state or national level. Texas has sent just seven women to the House of Representatives, where 19.3 percent of lawmakers are women. Only one woman in Texas’ history has represented the state in the Senate, where 23 percent of lawmakers are women. As a state, Texas is reflective of these trends. Women currently hold 37 seats, or 20.4 percent, in the state Legislature.
Seger joins the fray amid a wave of female candidates running for office across the country. Of the 344 women running nationwide for a seat as a Democrat or Republican in Congress, 20 are from Texas. Meanwhile, 79 women, including Seger, are running as a Democrat or Republican for a seat in the Texas State Legislature.
Even if all of those women are elected, there are still not enough female candidates to correct the gender imbalance in Congress. Still, this election cycle could result in an unprecedented number of women in office.
For Seger, the decision to run was simple. “I didn’t have anyone to vote for. There were no people running that stood for the things I stood for,” she explains.
Running on what she describes as a civil rights campaign, the farmer is driven by the same sense of duty that motivated her to make organic dairy products.“I’m one of those people that if nobody is doing it and I think it needs to be done, I’m just going to do it. That was about sustainably and ethically raising protein” says Seger, but also about running for office.
Anyone who follows the Blue Heron Farm on Twitter can take a guess at Seger’s politics. The account has gained fame on the platform for its blend of satire and no-holds-barred commentary.
But Seger makes a distinction between the politics of the farm and the policies of her campaign.
“The farm says things on Twitter that might ruffle feathers,”says Seger. “The farm is a living, breathing entity that has opinions,” she adds. “The farm is not Lisa Seger. The farm is the farm.”
But there is some overlap. Both Seger and the farm are vocal proponents for civil rights, she explains, and that means big changes are necessary — starting with the way officials are elected. She points to the history of gerrymandering and voter suppression in Texas.
“The most important right we have is to be able to select our representation. The way they do it now, our representation selects us,” she argues.
Rather than have legislators draw districts, Seger wants the work to be done by a non-partisan research group equipped with math and data over politics and agendas.
“It's time to stop treating district drawing as the spoils of war to entrench a party's power,” wrote Seger on her campaign Facebook page in June after the Supreme Court upheld congressional and state districts that had been ruled as racially gerrymandered.
House District 3 looks something like a sideways “E” that encompasses a majority conservative voter base in parts of Waller and Montgomery County. Incumbent Cecil Bell has spent three legislative sessions advocating for policies that would please the staunchest of Republicans. “I’m a very strong conservative with very strong traditional values,” says Bell.
Personal beliefs aside, Bell contends that his politics reflect voters’ wants. “I move about our community and I hear the concerns that they have,” says Bell. “I make every effort to shape my platform to align with the constituents.”
Though both Waller and Montgomery counties stand in contrast to the more diverse Harris and Fort Bend counties that comprise the two largest in the Houston metropolitan area, the two rural counties are also experiencing their own demographic shifts.
While both counties are home to a majority white population, each has experienced a notable increase in Asian, black and Hispanic populations. Between 2012 and 2017, Asian, black and Hispanic populations in Waller County increased by 242 percent, 22 percent and 19 percent, respectively. And in just one year, between 2016 and 2017, Montgomery County has seen a 9 percent, 8 percent and 6 percent increase in Asian, black and Hispanic populations, respectively. Also included in the district's population is a portion of students at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university in Waller County.
Both counties are Republican strongholds, though Democrats have historically fared better in Waller County. Barack Obama won more of the vote in Waller County than he did across the state in 2008, securing 46 percent and 43 percent of the vote, respectively. In Montgomery County, however, he took only 23 percent of the vote, but that’s more than what his former Secretary of State got when she ran in 2016. Hillary Clinton lost nearly three-quarters of the vote to Donald Trump in Montgomery County, 62 percent of the vote in Waller County and 52 percent of the vote statewide. Neither county has elected a Democrat in the past decade.
In HD-3, Representative Bell’s record is reflective of voters’ staunch Conservatism. Throughout his tenure Bell has railed against same-sex marriage; he’s passed laws that restrict access to abortions; he’s pushed for the passage of the “Bathroom Bill,” which would have required transgender people to use public bathrooms that align with their biological sex rather than their gender identity.
Seger describes those efforts as discriminatory and a waste of time, and she’s particularly confounded by Bell’s stance against same-sex marriage. “I can’t understand why he cares so much about what’s happening in other people’s bedrooms.” If elected, Seger says she will advocate for a non-discrimination law as a means to ensure rights for LGBTQ folks.
Though writing bills in office would be new for Seger, she’s no stranger to public advocacy. In 2017, she co-founded I’ll Have What She’s Having, a group of chefs, activists and doctors who raise money to help women afford health care services not available through the Texas Healthy Women’s program.
It’s not easy being blue
Seger’s policy priorities make her a blue needle in a red haystack. The likelihood that the right-leaning constituency of HD-3 share Seger’s liberal views is slim, and her chances of winning the election reflect that.
“It’s impossible for a Democrat to win HD-3,” says Mark Jones, leader of the Texas Politics Program at the Baker Institute and a Kinder Fellow. “It’s like playing football where the other team starts with five touchdowns.”
But the run isn’t for nothing. “This is exactly what the Democratic Party needs if it’s going to return to the majority status,”says Jones. A Democratic candidate gives voters an alternative and political analysts say that’s better than leaving a race uncontested.
Of the 150 state House races in Texas, 18 are without a Democratic challenger, according to filing reports from the Secretary of State’s Office. Seger’s name may be a drop in the well, but it’s more advantageous for the party than leaving voters to write in their favorite liberal cartoon. “You have to start somewhere,” says Jones.
Most Democrats will struggle in Texas, but their name on the ballot can shore up votes in the closely watched race for U.S. Senate. Jones explains: “If [Seger] is able to convince 5 percent more of HD-3 residents to vote Democratic, that’s not going to lead her to defeat Cecil Bell but that’s going to help Beto O’Rourke close the gap with Ted Cruz.”
Though well aware of her underdog status, Seger says this race isn’t a lark; it’s as real an endeavor as the business she’s spent over a decade growing.
No matter the outcome, says Seger, “I’m going into shake it up. I’m not going to be silent.”