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Annie Scroggs

Lauren Ashley Simmons: Running for her community

Updated: Apr 24, 2024

Lauren Ashley Simmons headshot

Lauren Ashley Simmons is running for State Representative in District 146. She started gaining supporters from her strong defense of public education back in August, and her campaign has quickly grown to include a broad range of issues. She’s received endorsements from local and state-wide political leaders. She is challenging incumbent Rep. Shawn Thierry in the Primary Election this March.

Lauren Ashley was born in Houston and grew up in the Third Ward area. The Third Ward is a diverse, primarily black neighborhood in downtown Houston where marginalized people came together for safety reasons. Her family was solidly middle class in a community that saw a lot of poverty. She clearly remembers being eight years old and seeing her classmates struggling with lunch money. It was her first experience with inequality, and from this early age, she was hyper-aware that she was privileged.

Although many people in her neighborhood didn’t go to college, Lauren Ashley always knew she would be a college graduate and had dreams of going to law school. During her Freshman year at the University of Texas at Austin, however, she got pregnant and her family cut her off. All of a sudden she lost her safety net. She remembers crying and telling her partner she was going to have to drop out of school. He asked her, “How do you think most people are going to school?” And the next day, she went to the financial aid office, declared herself financially independent from her parents, and got financial aid to help her continue her education. Lauren Ashley moved into government-subsidized housing and had new neighbors who gave her food and support.

She eventually earned her bachelor’s degree, but immediately after graduation, her partner lost his job and they got evicted. She broke down and called her parents crying–she asked if they would take care of her son for a few weeks until they got back on their feet. Her parents told them to come home as a family. This ended up being the biggest blessing as Lauren Ashley got to spend three years with her mom before she passed away.

After relying on her community during college, Lauren Ashley knew she wanted to give back and help the community that helped her. Back in Houston, she found her calling working with unions. She said, “We all have jobs. Everything is tied to our jobs. By being a representative and an organizer, I can make it suck less.” In these union roles, she saw first-hand the discrimination many women and minority workers face. She remembers being interviewed for a position with the union and they asked how she expected to do the job as a parent. She wondered, “Is that question legal? Do they ask male candidates the same thing?” Even in a job where she was helping others navigate workers’ rights, she faced questions and discrimination based on her identity. She also saw the struggles the labor movement has faced as a whole, and it makes her that much more passionate about changing the minimum wage and making union organizing more accessible for all employees.

During the 2023 Legislative Session, Lauren Ashley was angry with many decisions her State Representative, Shawn Thierry, had made. Her daughter has sickle cell anemia, and she believed Rep. Thierry’s votes to prevent parents from making medical decisions as a family without government intervention were immoral and wrong. “If the Legislature could take away legitimate medical care for transgender youth, who says they wouldn’t consider banning experimental medications for sickle cell and other diseases next,” said Lauren Ashley. Although political engagement has always been important, Lauren Ashley had never considered running for office.

In June 2023, the Texas Education Agency seized control of Houston ISD and installed a new Superintendent. Under his leadership, her daughter’s librarian was fired, a Principal who she had worked closely with was fired, and her son’s high school Principal was fired. Lauren Ashley had enough and attended a community meeting with Superintendent Mike Miles. She confronted him, criticizing the lack of accountability to parents, voter representation, and educational leadership his appointment had brought to Houston ISD. A video of this interaction went viral, and everyone started telling her she should run for office. At first, she wasn’t convinced–she was planning on just going back to her normal life and supporting whoever challenged Rep. Theirry. But with more reflection, she realized she would feel responsible if she didn’t take the chance to represent and protect the people she cares about most at the local and state level.

Being a political candidate is one of the hardest things Lauren Ashley has ever done. She had seen campaigns up close before when she was a political director for Chris Hollins’ campaign for Houston City Controller, but being a candidate was completely new to her. Being a first-time candidate and challenging an incumbent made it extra hard before she started getting some endorsements. She still has a full-time job–at one point she even had three jobs–in addition to being a parent and organizing with Houston Community Voices in Public Education to oppose the state’s takeover of HISD. Public education is one of the core issues she’s campaigning on–as a parent and organizer, she knows the value public schools add to the community. She is also passionate about improving healthcare, solving food insecurity, ensuring good jobs, and protecting disability rights. Being a candidate is tough, but she knows it’s worth it for her community. She said, “As much as I am serious about being a candidate and running to win, I wish I didn’t have to. I wish I could rely on the people in office to do what’s right and represent the district well.”

Her advice for anyone considering running for office is, “Just do it. Just make the decision. You’re the person you’ve been waiting for.” She had heard it takes women being asked to run six or seven times before they say yes, and that was definitely true for her. After being asked a few times if would run, she finally took it seriously when three people in the span of a week asked her to run. There were many things that seemed difficult, and she needed to hear, “You’re the person we’ve been waiting for–just get out there and do it.”

Now that Lauren Ashley is running for office, she’s so thankful for all of the support she has received. The first time she attended a Democratic Club meeting, there were people who recognized her and were excited to meet her and vote for her. She said, “That was everything to hear that affirmation of why I’m here.” She’s grateful that she has people supporting her every step of the way, and she’s excited to take all of these people who believe in her to Austin.

If elected, Lauren Ashley hopes to be a representative who is not holding onto her seat for dear life. She wants to help train other women to be capable and prepared to run for her seat and other offices. She says, “We need women who are excited to change the world.”

Lauren Ashley Simmons with her supporters

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