By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
In late February, House District 55 Democratic nominee Sam Murphey took a seat next to four Republican candidates vying for their party's nomination.
Murphey didn't have to bother with a primary campaign – his was the only name on the Democratic ballot. It was the only candidate forum in which Murphey spoke alongside the Republicans.
"These folks up here like to tease me about being a liberal," Murphey said during the forum. "But I'll just have to take these things up with whichever one of you survives."
Now he has. And after witnessing the Republican infighting during the month before the primary, Murphey is expecting a fight from Republican nominee Ralph Sheffield, but said he's ready for one.
Murphey said the infighting in the Republican Party could help him, as could the presidential race, which drew a record number of voters to the Democratic primary in March.
"I'm competitive like anybody else. I'm going to be called everything under the sun by my opponent," Murphey said. "I know it's coming. I'm going to be called a liberal ... part of the Obama juggernaut. He even (compared me) to Howard Dean. Wow, I'm just Sam Murphey. I'm a little old cotton seed from Central Texas. I've been around the world a little bit, served in the Army, worked for Congress for 16 years, but I didn't know I had all that working for me."
Murphey said despite whatever the Sheffield camp throws at him, his campaign will not get personal. There's no gain in that, he said.
"I think enough people know about him that I don't have to worry about pointing it out," Murphey said. "If you want to be a leader, you have to exhibit qualities of leadership."
Murphey said the word "Democrat" conjures up exaggerations, painting the picture of a liberal in some eyes, he said.
But the Democratic Party is surging across the country, and he said he is a perfect fit for Central Texas.
Murphey said he's got a very conservative record, often referencing his 16 years on the staff of U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, a Waco Democrat.
Murphey hopes to push past differences between the parties in Austin to get things done. That's the only way to achieve his top priorities of fixing public education, keeping utility rates down and fixing transportation problems, starting with Interstate 35.
Murphey said he wants to tackle public education by getting people involved in the decision process who are affected by the outcome.
"We're not asking the right people how to solve a problem," Murphey said. "The fact is that school superintendents in every town know how to run their school districts. For the most part principals know how to run their schools, and teachers know how to run their classrooms. If the state would ever get out of their way and let them do that, operate on a budget, we might get something done.
"The Legislature sits down and says, 'We know more about how to run a school than professional educators,' and I find that offensive."
Murphey said the Legislature needs to worry about funding public schools rather than implementing the policy of public schools. He believes the state needs to adopt a broad spectrum of consistency standards for schools across the state so that the districts can determine priorities.
"One-size-fits-all doesn't work, but the legislature tends to pass laws like that," Murphey said. "If we could get the partisanship out of it and get some professional educators involved in it, we would probably come up with a pretty good answer."
Murphey said the state's attentions are too thinly spread and in need of a working priority system. TxDOT doesn't have a clear list of priorities for its budget, he said.
"As we sit around our kitchen table at night wondering what to do, one of the things we always talk about is our budget and how we can get through on what we got," he said. "I have not heard a good discussion by the Legislature about their priorities for the state of Texas."
Meanwhile, the campaigns are just warming up.
"I'm not going to attack Ralph and say Ralph is a bad guy," Murphey said. "But I think it's fair to say that I don't agree with Ralph in the way he does business. If Ralph gets checked out, they'll find that his temperament is not collegial, and that is a problem when you're trying to work with people from different backgrounds."
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568.