By Jacqueline Brown
Killeen Daily Herald
With early voting for the Republican primary runoff less than a week away, the political waters in District 54 are starting to boil.
Marble Falls candidate Dale Hopkins released a string of campaign advertisements this week suggesting that Killeen candidate Jimmie Don Aycock believes higher taxes and more government will solve the problems looming over the Texas Legislature.
"Despite the enormous surplus of $4 billion, he wants to raise your taxes," Hopkins said in a direct-mail piece. He also criticized Aycock for refusing to sign the Taxpayer's Protection Pledge, a promise to oppose and vote against all efforts to increase taxes for the duration of his term in office.
Aycock said his whole campaign has been about getting property taxes down.
"Virtually everything I have spoken, written or published over the last seven months has been about lowering property taxes and locally controlled government," he said in a portion of his Web site updated Wednesday to rebut Hopkins' advertisements.
At a Conservative Club forum last week in Lampasas, Aycock said he supported giving taxpayers a refund by using the $4.3 billion surplus to buy down property taxes.
Aycock said that despite the recent attack by Hopkins, he will continue to focus on his two campaign issues: getting property taxes down and improving public schools.
"If someone has questions about the negative ads, they can get the answers on my Web page without diverting my campaign attention from real issues," he said.
Aycock added that when the race began, he made a covenant with Hopkins to stick to the issues and not engage in negative advertising. When he found out about the advertisements released by Hopkins' campaign, Aycock said he huddled with his family and decided to keep that covenant.
"We're not going to buy the first dollar of negative ads not now, not next week," Aycock said. "This is about my grandchildren being proud of their granddaddy, and if I can't go that way, I don't want to go."
Hopkins said there have been false accusations coming from Aycock's campaign, but declined to offer any examples.
When former District 54 candidate Dan Corbin was attacked by the political action committee Texans for Lawsuit Reform last month, Hopkins said he did not support negative advertisement campaigns.
"I am going to take the high road," he said in a March interview with the Herald. "I won't do smear campaigns and negative ad campaigns."
Hopkins at that time said half-truths or lies can change elections.
"You can sue them, but you don't get the election back," he said. "In the old days it seemed like there was more honor, more respect for others than that."
This week, Hopkins said his recent advertisements are an issue comparison and defended each accusation.
"These ads are completely truthful with as much detail as the time for a radio ad allows," he said. "I am happy to elaborate on the rest of the details."
However, Aycock disputed several of Hopkins' bullet points including the statement that Aycock tried to solve problems by raising taxes and spending more while serving on a government board.
"I am proud to say that our Central Texas College Board has reduced the tax rate eight out of the last 10 years and has had no increase in rate for the entire 10 years," he said. "It requires innovation, but I have a proven record that shows it can be done."
Aycock suggested the recent transition in Hopkins' campaign comes from the support he's received from the Future of Texas Alliance, a political action committee supported by San Antonio millionaire Dr. James Leininger.
"We're hoping for a fair hearing on the advantages of the school-choice program," said Future of Texas spokesman Ken Hoagland. "As such, we're hoping for someone who is a little more independent of the teachers' unions and the public school system."
Although Aycock and Hopkins have expressed similar opinions about the issue of school choice, Aycock is endorsed by several teacher organizations.
Leininger has spent more than $2.5 million in this election cycle to support pro-voucher candidates and is known for producing slick advertisements attacking candidates who support public schools.
Hopkins reported more than $25,000 in contributions from Future of Texas in the last days before the March 7 election, and his campaign has mirrored other Leininger-supported candidates in the runoff.
District 73 state Rep. Carter Casteel, who lost her seat north of San Antonio to challenger Nathan Macias by a margin of fewer than 50 votes, said Leininger spent almost $1 million to get rid of her.
"The negative campaign was so incredible and such misrepresentation of my record," she said. "They took issues supported by the Republican leadership and painted me as a person who was increasing taxes and voting against property tax relief."
Casteel said her opponent ran on what she considers to be extreme far-right values and then turned around and forgot about the 9th Commandment do not lie.
"Every day you got a tacky, slick piece of advertisement," she said. "They would follow me around and take pictures of me, then they would run them in odd colors or in black and white."
The direct-mail piece issued by Hopkins' campaign shows a color photograph of Hopkins in front of the state Capitol contrasting a black-and-white photograph of Aycock in front of a thunderstorm.
Casteel said she has to take responsibility for losing, but she is very proud of the way it was done.
"I never go negative, and I talk about issues that I believe are the true issues," she said.
Macias said his campaign was not negative and declined further comment.
"I have a recount tomorrow, and I don't have time to talk to you about this particular issue," he said.
Casteel said people who are in the Republican Party should be careful not to allow extremists to take over the party.
"It's a very scary thing to think that one rich man can destroy the way we politic in this country."
Contact Jacqueline Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org