With less than two weeks before the March 6 primary, Texas House District 54 candidates laid out their platforms Thursday before a group of Harker Heights business leaders at a forum sponsored by the Heights Chamber of Commerce.
In front of group of about 90 at the Central Texas Homebuilders Assocation, the three Republicans and one Democrat in the race outlined their professional and political experience, the top issue facing the district and their plan to most effectively represent the area.
The forum was also an opportunity for the three Republicans to throw slight barbs at one another, particularly from the two challengers toward the first-term incumbent.
Dr. Brad Buckley, a Killeen veterinarian and former Killeen school board member, said the primary issue he has seen is needed property tax reform. Buckley said solving that problem starts with school finance reform, which he said has been “Band-Aided” by Texas Legislatures for years.
“As government often does, we have a system that is unfair and incomplete,” Buckley said. “Any meaningful property tax reform includes school finance reform.”
Incumbent Rep. Scott Cosper, R-Killeen, who has largely agreed with Buckley throughout the campaign on the need for school finance reform, touted his role in the 85th Legislature in appropriating an additional $1.8 billion in public education financing.
“We have to address the tax burden and underfunded school system,” he said.
Republican Larry Smith, a retired Army captain and contractor, said his primary focus as a legislator was to ease local communities’ reliance on Fort Hood and seek to cut frivolous spending in Austin.
“Government needs to be boring,” Smith said, targeting infrastructure beautification projects paid through taxpayer money.
“Beauty is expensive,” he said. “Make it bland and make it cheap.”
Democrat Kathy Richerson, a retired Realtor, said her top priority was demanding the state government help pay its share for public education. Richerson also said she wanted money out of the political process.
“The problem is not your local tax people, it’s your state government’s inability to pay for education,” she said. “If you have a problem and you’re not doing great, it’s because Republicans are in control of everything.”
On effective leadership, Buckley said he would create a group of “consensus committees” if he is elected into office — advisory-type groups who would help keep him appraised of local issues. Buckley said committees of that sort would prevent laws — such as a law providing 100 percent disabled veteran property tax exemptions that Cosper helped author during his time as mayor of Killeen — from disproportionately impacting communities.
Harker Heights, unlike Killeen and Copperas Cove, receives no reimbursement from the state for those exemptions. Cosper, who worked with former District 54 Rep. J.D. Aycock to pull the bill together, called Heights’ exclusion an “unintended consequence” in the language of the bill.
“Meaningful dialogue would have created legislation that included Harker Heights in the first place,” Buckley said.
Smith said representatives should not focus all of their efforts to seek placements in House committees. Cosper has often touted his junior role on the House Appropriations Committee, saying he was integral to passing a balanced budget through the Legislature.
“We need to stop thinking the only we can do anything is to secure a place on committees,” he said.
Bell County Commissioner
The three GOP candidates for the Bell County Commissioner Pct. 2 race were also in attendance at the forum.
The three candidates are incumbent Tim Brown, who has served in the role for more than 20 years; Brit Owen, a Salado insurance producer; and Bobby Whitson, president of the Greater Central Texas Federal Credit Union.
The candidates outlined their backgrounds, plans to most effectively legislate and role in advocating for local constituents in competition with state demands.
Brown touted his long experience in the role and said he was often not visible in his precinct due to long hours in Austin working with the state government.
“The misconception is that serving has to do with what the people want,” he said. “Counties are subdivisions of the state and we don’t get to pick and choose what we want to do.”
Owen said he wanted to focus on providing more opportunity for local business leaders to operate effectively.
“If the local entrepreneur and business owner cannot survive, what are we doing?” he said.
Whitson highlighted his role in the community and as a banker, saying he wanted to add a more public face to the commissioner role if he is elected.
“We have to be available an accessible,” he said. “The key aspect of any public servant is to be a part of the public and have the ability to communicate.”