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District 54 candidates Dr. Brad Buckley, from left, incumbent Rep. Scott Cosper, Larry Smith and Kathy Richerson participate in the Killeen Daily Herald District 54 political forum at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center Monday, Jan. 22, 2018.

Republican Brad Buckley is the man of the moment, but Democrat Kathy Richerson is hoping to steal the spotlight in the race for Texas House District 54.

The candidates are hoping to replace departing state Rep. Scott Cosper — who Buckley handily defeated in the GOP primary in the spring.

Buckley, a Salado veterinarian, is coming off a week in which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott threw his support behind the former Killeen school board member.

This race is Buckley’s to lose as he ran circles around Richerson, a first-time candidate, when it comes to attracting endorsements and, more importantly, cash. Beyond that, this district that spans Lampasas County and West Bell County has sent a Republican to represent residents in Austin since 1996.

Still, Buckley’s not taking any chances as Election Day looms on Tuesday.

“The citizens of 54 have been very good to me. And now it is up to me to sprint to the finish,” Buckley told the Telegram after Abbott’s rally in Belton. “Handshake to handshake and hug to hug — that’s how we did it, and we will continue to do that.”

Buckley acknowledges there is a lot of enthusiasm from Democrats. But, he added, the same is true of Republicans.

“We are running this race with a positive message, a message of prosperity for all Texans and that’s what we’re going to continue to do,” he said.

Richerson is betting on a political environment favorable to her political party to carry her to a win.

Last election, Cosper won with 54.8 percent of the vote to Democrat Sandra Blankenship’s 45.2 percent. While the Republican carried both counties, Cosper eked a win in Bell County by 264 votes. Lampasas County handed Cosper a runaway win when he scored 6,460 votes to the Democrat’s 1,643.

In all likelihood, that situation may repeat itself Tuesday.

“If I stumble in November then you all can never speak to me again,” Buckley, said, joking, during a Central Texas Tea Party meeting. “We’re going to be successful. I expect you to engage me, and it doesn’t bother me.”

But, as Richerson pointed out, this race comes to the issues.

Property appraisal reform

Property tax reform — the elusive white whale that lawmakers failed to catch in 2017 — is a top concern in District 54. Harker Heights property owners experienced a dramatic increase in their appraisals in 2017.

Buckley, a proponent of limited government, wants to make the property appraisal process more transparent. That, he said, would allow Texans — whether they are homeowners or business owners — to better predict their tax bill and see how they are affected by property taxes.

“I look forward to supporting appraisal reform that provides for the predictability and transparency our citizens deserve, and improves the business climate for economic development, job growth and prosperity for all citizens,” Buckley said.

Richerson, though, wants to ditch a statewide reformation of property taxes and let the tax appraisal districts in Lampasas and Bell counties be more transparent.

“If they believe they need to rework their plans, I would support them,” Richerson said. “Austin hasn’t even done an effective job of managing the state budget. They certainly have no business interfering in local government.”

School finance

School finance plays a role in property reform as well. The state’s share of public education funding has dwindled over the years. As a result, taxpayers have had to pick up the buck through their property taxes.

“The only way to see significant decreases in our property tax bills is to address the declining share of funding provided by the state to our school finance system,” Buckley said. “The state of Texas must prioritize our public schools and increase the state’s share of funding so that local property owners can realize real tax relief.”

Again, Richerson differs from the former school board member.

“The state needs to put back the money they took out of the budget for funding public schools,” she said, criticizing Abbott’s support of vouchers that allow students to attend a private or charter school instead of a public school. “The problem with this is that if you lose your public schools, you lose your community. … Squeezing money out of public education is not the way to balance a budget.”

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