Scott Cosper, former mayor of Killeen, will be the area’s new representative to the Texas House starting Jan. 10.
With a new role in the District 54 seat being vacated by retiring state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock comes growing pains, but just three days after Cosper defeated Democratic nominee Sandra Blankenship by 55 percent of the vote, he spoke about what he expects in his new role.
Cosper will enter Austin the same time as the new representative for Senate District 24, Dawn Buckingham. She’s a Republican as well, and the two met on the campaign trail. He’s looking forward to working with the senator-to-be, who supported him online via social media during election night.
“She’s a brilliant, capable young lady who has a tremendous amount of energy,” he said. Buckingham is an ophthalmologist. Cosper is a homebuilder.
Cosper spent some of Thursday rounding up campaign signs. In the weeks leading up to his first day, he’ll have to find housing arrangements, set up his office and appoint a staff. He’ll also need to meet with community leaders throughout the district to educate himself on what to pay attention to.
LEARNING FROM THE MASTER
Aycock is retiring from state politics, but he is not one for sitting around.
“I’ve got plenty of things to keep me busy, I’ve got a low threshold for boredom,” he said Tuesday night.
Though he will leave the Texas House of Representatives when his successor, Cosper, comes into office Jan. 10, he won’t get to fully immerse himself in retirement just yet. He’s got a laundry list of things to do that will keep him busy — hunting, fishing, collecting old vehicles — and he can add one more to that: serving as an unofficial consultant to Cosper. He kept his advice on election night to a minimum — just study the issues, work hard and listen to the people — but the newcomer to the House knows that he’ll seek advice from the veteran more than once in his early months.
“Representative Aycock has been a godsend, not only to District 54 but to the entire state of Texas,” Cosper said on election night. “He has been named a top 10 legislator multiple times, so for a guy like that, there’s very large shoes to try and follow, and I would never say that I can fill his shoes but I’m surely excited about following in his footsteps.”
“We’re so blessed that him and Marie can be used as a sounding board,” Cosper said.
The most significant area in which Aycock will be able to offer his services is education. Whether it be in the form of public, special or higher education, it’s a subject that was brought up many times by both Cosper and his opponent, Blankenship, along the campaign trail. That area was one of the few the two agreed upon in debates. That also happens to be Aycock’s specialty.
During Aycock’s 10 years in Austin, he championed progressive thinking in education. Appointed in 2009 to the Public Education Committee, he was named chairman of the committee in 2013. According to a 2013 Texas Monthly story, his efforts resulted in a House bill that lowered the number of required exams at year’s end from 15 to five and rewrote graduation requirements, allowing students to follow a career or technology track. That was designed to prevent students disinterested in college from dropping out.
Aycock thinks Cosper will serve as an advocate for public education, and he’s certainly heard the new state representative talk about his fondness for Texas A&M University-Central Texas. But he doesn’t expect him to take his place in that regard.
“I’ll be surprised if he ends up on the education committee, he’s more qualified for some other places besides that,” Aycock said. “He’ll be a big supporter of public education, which is the main thing.”
Cosper has big expectations for the newest college campus in the city. He’s constantly referenced the relatively low prices of Central Texas College and TAMU-CT, and says that since you can’t get a four-year degree for that low a price anywhere else in the country, it makes the pipeline an invaluable asset to the district.
“Next to Fort Hood, A&M is the biggest priority in our district, to make sure they can grow and keep up,” he said. “We need to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to provide degree plans and support for them, and I’m excited about that opportunity.”
He didn’t, however, specify just what direction the school was headed next. That, he said, is for the university officials to decide.
Though Aycock said the education committee might not suit his successor, Cosper has his sights set on certain areas in the House. But being new, there’s no guarantee he’ll get to be a part of any of them.
“As a freshman, I’m kind of at the back of that line for that,” he said.
His strengths, he says, lie in specific areas. He’d like to serve on the Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee, and there will be a vacancy for that seven-person group, as Aycock currently holds one of the seats.
Cosper was a member of the Texas Department of Transportation Policy Board for 16 years, and stepped down in October. He helped work for Interstate 14 designation for U.S. 190. The highway is part of a long-term plan to link with other major highways and connect Texas’ key U.S. Army installations to major Gulf Coast ports. That’s something that Cosper thinks qualifies him for one of the three transportation committees.
“I’m proud of the support we provided; that interstate will allow us to compete,” he said. “Those two decades of work will finally pay off; now we’ll be able to compete statewide, where we couldn’t before.”
Cosper did list one of his strengths as education, though, and said he wouldn’t mind getting involved in either public or higher education. His wife is a teacher, and he has two daughters who are currently in a public school system. That won’t be easy for anyone who’s a part of those committees, as there’s currently concern over where the revenue will come from in the education budget.
With President-elect Donald Trump set to be sworn into office just 10 days after Cosper’s first day of his new job, the next District 54 seat-holder wants to be prepared for any moves made by the next commander-in-chief that might affect Central Texas.
“Our national economy has struggled for several years, but as it improves going forward, Trump’s intent is to expand the Army, make significant investments in the Army,” Cosper said. “Fort Hood needs to make sure that we are prepared should they choose to put some of those expansions and investments here in Central Texas. We need to support those.”
However, his campaign lacked concrete plans for bringing industries to the district that could provide high-quality career choices for those soldiers who are finishing up their time in the military.
Blankenship consistently advocated for renewable energy opportunities in Central Texas, and the job opportunities tech companies could provide to veterans in the area. Cosper didn’t explicitly discuss either of those items on the campaign trail, but did acknowledge in an interview that there are certain industries, including energy and medical research, that “we might not have even thought of yet.”