By Justin Cox

Killeen Daily Herald

The House District 55 race is heating up, but unlike the Republican primary in the spring, it's clear the candidates are keeping their hits on each other limited to one another's positions on the issues, not their character.

After Democrat Sam Murphey charged out of the gates in last Thursday's debate and hit Republican Ralph Sheffield on his positions on school vouchers and appraisal caps, it was Sheffield who went after Murphey in Tuesday's debate. He criticized the Democrat's support from teacher's unions and his backing of less voter identification at the polls.

The second forum featuring the District 55 candidates was conducted in front of a packed house with standing-room-only in the main conference room at the Central Texas Council of Governments building.

Sheffield, however, still swayed in his stance on school vouchers. After a panel member asked Sheffield for a definitive answer on the subject, he did not provide one, saying only that although a contributor supports vouchers, it does not mean that person's money will influence him in Austin.

"I have never said I was in favor of school vouchers," Sheffield said. "I'm going to be my own person when I go to Austin.

I think that's an unfair question. ? We've got kids in failing classrooms. The kids dropping out is not going to do anything for the schools. We need to see what we can do to fix that.

"If that's a concern, then we need to talk about my opponent, who is getting money from (teachers' unions)."

Murphey responded by embracing the support he's gotten from the teachers' unions, naming three. Murphey also refused to drop the school vouchers topic even in his closing statement, saying that Sheffield is a strong proponent of school vouchers.

Education and transportation took up a large segment of the forum, but there were a number of topics the two differed on slightly throughout the night. Many times, while their positions were similar, the reasoning behind their stances were different.

One such topic was the discussion of high-speed rail through Central Texas.

Murphey responded first, arguing that it's a good concept and probably needed in the area, but it brings significant problems as well.

"When you start taking people's land and you don't stop there, you create some ill will," Murphey said. "If there's not a stop in Bell County, how do you tell people (that)? We're taking land away for public use. I'd like to hear a lot of debate on it before I'd support it."

Sheffield said it's a while off, but stood on similar ground, arguing for the personal property rights of individuals.

The word "communist" even came up in this debate, bringing a few quiet murmurs from the audience, when the candidates discussed the idea of sobriety checkpoints being brought before the state Legislature by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Sheffield spoke first, arguing that he's against the concept, which has been opposed by the National Restaurant Association.

"I think it's important to be very responsible as a small business owner (with a place that serves alcohol)," Sheffield said. "I require all my servers to pass the test. But I think it's wrong to scare patrons. I think that's becoming a little more communist to allow that. We're very high on being responsible servers. ... People leaving their house don't need to be scared, we need to be fair about that."

Murphey said he's not in favor of it either, arguing that it violates a person's basic constitutional rights.

"I'm not in favor of sobriety checkpoints," Murphey said. "Police have to have a reason to stop you. They can't go into your place of business and say, 'Well, they're doing something illegal, let's go check it out. You've forfeited those (constitutional) freedoms, if you (approve that). I'm for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but we have to find another way."

Border security also is a key issue for both candidates.

"We need to deal harshly with coyotes (people who get paid to deliver people). There should be no air in their jail cell," Murphey said. "We should crack down on our employers who don't check paperwork. We don't need a special pathway for citizenship. I think we need to do something. ? I'm not in favor of active-duty soldiers going down there."

Sheffield responded by complimenting his opponent on the plan he laid out. Although he didn't mention it Tuesday night following Murphey, Sheffield has been on record saying that he does not support the idea of employers being used to police illegal aliens.

"We need more surveillance of the (Department of Public Safety)," Sheffield said. "I don't think a fence is the right answer, but we need to put a lot more resources to protect our border."

Contact Justin Cox at or (254) 501-7568.

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