The four candidates for the Texas House District 54 election squared off at the Herald’s political forum Monday at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.

In front of a crowd of approximately 250 potential voters, the candidates addressed a range of issues including property tax reform, special education, water rights and more.

The four candidates are incumbent Rep. Scott Cosper, R-Killeen, Republican Dr. Brad Buckley, Republican Larry Smith and Democrat Kathy Richerson.

The Herald asked the candidates for not only their platforms but also the specific measures to accomplish them.

Here’s a breakdown from the forum and what the candidates had to say.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Property tax reform

During the 85th Legislature in 2017, the House and Senate were largely split on meaningful property tax reform.

In Bell and Lampasas counties, residents have called for expansive changes to the system, including limiting local control over property tax rate increases and reining in the practices of county appraisal districts.

The Herald asked the candidates for their plans on a range of property tax reform items, including their general platforms, providing greater oversight on county appraisal districts, and securing state aid for cities impacted by the disabled veteran property tax exemption and other unfunded mandates.

Cosper, a former mayor and City Councilman in Killeen in his first term in Austin, touted his support of a bill that would have capped property tax rate increases by local jurisdictions at 6 percent while allowing more “local control” of tax levies. The bill did not pass through the Senate.

“We have priorities which must be funded — our first responders must be one of them,” Cosper said.

Buckley, a former board member of the Killeen school district, blasted the House for not following through on meaningful reform and promised a new day in Austin when the 86th Legislature meets in 2019.

“The House chose to go home,” Buckley said. “A courageous move forward to bring relief to homeowners and property owners is important,”

Smith, a retired Army captain, said he favored redirecting sales tax away from the state to help fund local districts — a move that could ease the burden on local landowners.

“I would like to see less go to the state of Texas,” he said.

Richerson, a retired Realtor who lives on land on the Bell County line, said local jurisdictions should be allowed to decide their own property tax rates and did not favor more oversight from the state.

“I don’t think the government’s jobs is to tell elected officials how to levy their taxes,” she said.

The candidates also discussed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s controversial plan for property tax reform, with the three Republicans largely applauding the governor for seeking to reform unfunded mandates and school finances. The candidates also addressed the practices of county appraisal districts, who some residents have accused of overreach, and the disabled property tax exemptions.

Public education

As a Legislature-appointed interim commission to study school finance prepares its report for legislators in late 2018 or early 2019, area lawmakers are venturing their own plans for school finance reform.

Reform could help ease the burden on local landowners as more money is redirected from the state, possibly lowering school district tax rates and easing reliance on local debt.

The candidates were asked about reforming school finance and fixing a deeply flawed special education system.

Cosper touted the move by the House in 2017 to provide $1.8 billion in extra funding to school districts that was killed by the Senate, saying more funding for schools would ease the burden of property taxes.

“If you want tax relief, the best way to get it is to fund public schools,” he said.

Buckley said he favored greater aid from the state and said he trusted school districts and boards of trustees to use that money wisely but wanted higher pay for district teachers.

“Everything we do for public education needs to involve the state,” he said. “I envision the day when the highest paid person in a school district is a teacher.”

Smith said providing more funding for school districts didn’t improve their spending habits, highlighting the recent purchase of a $1 million scoreboard by the Killeen school district.

“How does fully funding anything from the state of Texas control spending more efficiently?” he said. “The answer is you’ve got to stop feeding ‘the bear.’”

Richerson highlighted fully funding education, saying the state consistently lagged behind.

“We’re 49th in the country in education,” she said. “There’s absolutely no excuse for that.”

Water rights

With Texas entering moderate drought conditions in the last few months of 2017, the candidates were asked what measures they favored for the state to prepare for a possible catastrophic drought.

Cosper touted the water planning the city of Killeen accomplished during his tenure as councilman and mayor, saying the city’s use of reuse water to irrigate city facilities was a sign of forward thinking by local officials.

Buckley said the state couldn’t rely on the specter of drought to make water a top issue with the state population growing and water rights becoming more competitive.

“I used to think 2050 was a long way off — but it’s right down the road,” he said.

Smith favored streamlining the regulation of water rights to be more equitable for local customers.

“One of the biggest issues we have with water is the laws are too complex,” he said.

Smith went on to blast the Texas Public Utility Commission’s decision to allow the takeover of the Chisholm Trail Special Utility District by the city of Georgetown, forcing some Bell County residents to pay for water from a city in Williamson County.

Richerson said the state’s current drought conditions were inevitable and advocated for foresight and planning to avoid a catastrophic drought.

“This is a problem that’s going to come back on us,” she said.

Other topics

The Herald also asked the candidates for their platforms on the state’s road quality, bringing higher-paying jobs to the district and support for Senate Bill 4, also known as the “sanctuary cities” bill.

For video from the forum and continuing coverage of the District 54 race and more, please visit kdhnews.com/centerforpolitics.

The GOP primary for the district race is March 6. The general election is set for Nov. 6.

Early voting opens Feb. 20 and ends March 2.

Deadline to register to vote in the election is Feb. 5.

kyleb@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7567

(9) comments

eyewatchingu

As a dog trainer, the hardest part is to tell someone its time to let that dog go peacefully. I think the democrats truly need to give that woman a bowl of doggie doo with a cherry, let her have the cherry and put her out to pasture.

I so wanted to get up and run up on stage and give her a hug and tell her it will be alright.

I found the statement offensive when she said that the Latinos only wanted to pick fruit. Just like the million dollar score board, it seems that the democrat party is so out of touched. I am sure many of the Latino community would like to excel beyond picking fruit, just like saying a child has no way out accept though football.

First the dems come for your pick-up truck ( as she did) then they come for Dog breed of choice by passing laws against pit-bulls and other large breeds then they come for your guns, then your pick-up trucks. What is next our cows. Soon we will all be eating tofu on stick here in Texas.

As like many others here, found Cosper and Buckley to be one in the same. I guess they figure if one lost they could get the other Rino in.

Smith, was the most honest and actually brought the bacon to the table.

I live in dist 55 so, I bet you can guess who I am voting for. Its time to get the shine out and put Grisham in. He has a great mind and also brings the bacon to the table!

Time to run the dems out of Texas just like they ran the British out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50_iRIcxsz0

Alvin

This is the personal opinion of this writer.

@TexaSolder: I'm sorry, but in the original '54 in Lampasas, I did pose questions that I felt could have responded to which are:
Copy: 'I understand that the District 54 candidates will next meet at the Herald’s candidate forum at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center, 3601 S. W.S. Young Drive. I would suggest a question be directed toward all 3 Republican candidates regarding 'what, if any affiliations that each of them has regarding the WB LLC, Mr. Whitis, organizations.' End of copy.

These questions were not in evidence in any fashion.

Copy: 'I do not like the answer provided by incumbent Rep. Scott Cosper, who said he planned to propose appraisal reform that would cap all appraisals at a 15 percent annual increase. Doesn't sound good for the homeowner or small business owner?' End of copy.

Now, last night, Cosper was saying 6 percent.

Copy: 'Another question that should be given to each of the Republican would be what is their thinking on the city bond of $36 million and the school bond of $426 million? And lastly what does each of them think about the run around of this city council in the approach to the Chemical plant that did not go before all members of this council for an 'in session' vote so as to get the vote recorded? Would be curious to see how these questions affects them.' End of copy.

But those questions were given limited exposure as the PIC 'Politician in Charge, for this newspaper quickly removed and substituted this article.

And in closing, Cosper said:
Copy: “We have priorities which must be funded — our first responders must be one of them,” Cosper said.' end of copy.

True, but in any case, I am of the opinion that if we give money from the State to the school districts, they will still be asking for more, there is never enough and that is what I alluded to in a separate article, 'The school board is provided money in which they should be able to operate the schools of all areas, but not the $426 million that this school board is asking for, and not the predetermined roadways to the tune of $30 million to set up the $171 million dollar high school in the Southern region. That was 'planned for over 3 years ago and now they want to bring it to fruition.

And what of the Chemical plant that wasn't even addressed by all members of the city council, but by the KEDC Board. Why is it not addressed to this city council which is has not been as of today.

I trust that this answers your question.

@Texasolder: You have valid points, sorry for not making my comment valid.

This has been the personal opinion of this writer and nothing shall be used, in context or without or changed in any way without first notifying, and receiving explicit approval from this writer.
One of the 4.58 % who voted.

TexaSoldier

@Alvin, I dont disagree but that is kind of the point. If I were advising Mr Buckley, I could have easily prepared three dozen questions for him in preparation for this event because the issues are obvious and have been rehashed over and over again the last few election cycles (with current details this time). At this event, Mr Buckley was the one I wanted to pay attention to the most since he is the unknown and, man, he was a disappointment. His responses seemed to be empty rhetoric meant to appease special interest (chamber of commerce repubs, education special interest, etc) and he seemed to have no depth of principle behind his replies.
.
If the questions were the same rehash, then why were they so hard for Mr Buckley and why were most of his answers simplistic rhetoric or nonsensical? With a question about sanctuary cities, his response was: a country without borders is not a country and he agrees with governor Abbott. ok... but that is different than sanctuary cities. Special education? he fears litigation, he trusts the school board, it's like asking him to perform brain surgery... Water resources? demand will exceed the supply (hence, the question) and water is a property right. Water is a property right IF it is on your property such as a well (with registration and restrictions of course) but that's not the issue at large; only for those individuals. I did not sense a single original thought from Mr Buckley.

Alvin

This is the personal opinion of this writer.

Well I must say that the 2nd installment of the KDH went off, and that's about all I can say about that.

@texasoldier:, @don76550: and @centexdave: So what did they have interesting to talk about....... Nothing except the same old 6's and 8's. So what's new????


This has been the personal opinion of this writer and nothing shall be used, in context or without or changed in any way without first notifying, and receiving explicit approval from this writer.
One of the 4.58 % who voted.

TexaSoldier

I went to forum as well. Mrs Richerson was all over the place and did not even make sense most of the time. Scott Cosper was Scott Cosper in that he took credit for a lot of things that happened on his watch that he really didn't have much to do with or things that did not end up happening anyway. He demonstrated, again, that he is a big government Republican that leans moderately left at best.
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Brad Buckley made some really strange comments for an outsider such as "we need to send the state more money so we can make the schools more efficient" (What? ) or another whopper: that "teachers should be the highest paid employees in the district." really? With all the six digit figure salaries in the district and teachers should make more than those people? Or should we get rid of all the overpaid salaries in the district so teachers can make more? Or is his jibber-jabber just pandering to the teachers and education union to get votes the way Aycock use to?
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Buckley consistently used conservative jargon but obviously does not what it means or what conservative principles are such as when he tied property tax appraisal increases to free "markets." LOL Forced government appraisals are anti-free markets. Tax appraisals are simply an arbitrary way to take more money out or your pocket. And, he also said you SHOULD WANT your appraisals to go up because it makes your property value go up. wow! The market value of your home has NOTHING to do with the TAX appraisal of your property; two completely separate things. Larry Smith was more correct in implying that the value of your home is what someone is willing to pay for it and that is known when the property is sold, not someone sitting behind a desk looking at google map and questionable comps who then comes up with a TAXABLE value.
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Talking about economic development, Buckley said that private investments such as his and Cosper's pay for infrastructure costs. Really? So what are these bond issues all about? Hint: getting the tax payers to fund infrastructure costs, that's what. And, his other grand economic idea was to "leverage" Texas A&M Central Texas. hahaha Is TAMU going to just create thousands of jobs out of thin air... just because it's someone's good idea? LOL Research and development does not create high quantities of jobs at one institution and their degree programs are designed to meet the needs of OTHER professions in the area or graduates will LEAVE the area.
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And, I could go on and on about Buckley and Cosper based on last night's forum but both just solidified that they are typical big government, big education (apparently there is never enough money for education), chamber of commerce moderate Republicans - no thank you.

don76550

I attended that forum. Richerson is absolutely clueless. She could not coherently present her views on an issue. She spoke in vague generalities, going off on tangents and had no clue if her ideas were practical or too costly . The only clear thought she had was to express her support for homosexuals in a passing remark. I have never seen anyone more clueless and unqualified to hold any office.

centexdave

Guess you never met Claudia Brown.

don76550

Indeed I have met Claudia Brown. She is Richerson's clone when it comes to lunacy and being clueless.

eyewatchingu

Hit the nail on the head. I am really thinking all the dems in the area have been eating tide pods.

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