BELTON — “I’m not just the gun guy. Everybody knows me as the gun guy.”
That’s how CJ Grisham, the founder of Open Carry Texas, describes his biggest challenge as he seeks to unseat state Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, from the Texas House District 55 seat.
Grisham, 43, is one of two candidates challenging Shine in the March 6 Republican primary. The Rev. Brandon Hall of Calvary Chapel in Temple also is running. Neither Grisham nor Hall have held elected office.
After praying about the potential run with his wife, Emily, Grisham jumped in the race.
“But really it was born out of frustration,” the retired Army first sergeant said. “We were promised a conservative legislator two years and we didn’t get it.”
Grisham said Shine compromised on the conservative principles of District 55, which encompasses most of Bell County.
Shine previously said he has no concerns about his record. He is proud of it and is ready to defend it during the primary.
“I represented the district,” said Shine, who is seeking his fourth term. “I took care of lots of issues that were important to the state and to Central Texas so I have no concerns at all about my conservative, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, conservative Christian record.”
Shine returned to the House after more than 20 years in January 2017.
While Shine may have voted for conservative bills, Grisham said, the process of how those measures came to be should be the focus of voters.
“I think I’m able to bring in, not only my conservative principles, but someone who is willing to stand up for them,” Grisham said. “I’ve pretty much proven that when I believe in something I fight for it.”
Grisham made headlines in 2013 when, during a walk with his son, he was arrested by the Temple Police Department. During the hike, Grisham was lawfully carrying an AR-15 and a concealed handgun, both of which were seized when he was arrested. The guns were returned in July 2017. The arrest spurred Grisham to found Open Carry Texas.
Grisham was convicted of interfering with police duties. He was fined $2,000. He paid it all in nickels — a slight to Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols.
“I’m not willing to give up my principles,” Grisham said.
While protecting the Second Amendment is what Grisham is known for around the nation, there’s another issue that is key to this man.
“Protecting life — believe it or not — is even more important to me,” Grisham said.
Grisham is a believer in small government.
“I want the government out of our lives to the greatest extent possible. Period,” he said.
And should he become the next legislator for District 55, Grisham already has a way for voters to measure his success.
“My success in the Legislature is not how many laws I’ve passed,” he explained. “It’s going to be how many laws I repeal, how many regulations I get rid of so people can live their lives and be free.”
Immigration will be a top campaign issue for Grisham, who was a Spanish linguist and a counterintelligence officer in the Army.
“We have to find a way to make Texas as hostile to illegal immigrants as possible,” he said. “What I mean by hostile is no public assistance, no in-state tuition, no taxpayer money will go to anyone in this state illegally.”
This, he said, would accomplish two goals: curb the immigration problem and provide a fix to the state’s budget problems.
Grisham wants to see all property taxes abolished in Texas.
“I think what we need to do is go to a consumption tax or a sales tax. That is probably the best way,” he explained. “I think it will raise even more money because now you have literally everyone going into the tax system.”
All levels of government in Texas would be fully funded by simply bumping up the sales tax 2 or 3 percentage points, Grisham said. Hall, the other Republican challenger in this race, is touting a similar proposal.
School districts would also be funded through the sales tax increase.
“What we do is we allocate funds from the sales tax,” Grisham said. “Obviously, if you’re in a higher end neighborhood or district you’re going to be bringing in higher money for sales tax. That money can be distributed out on a need basis.”
The change in school finance must go in line with overall education reform, the candidate said. The main problem with public education, Grisham said, is that too much is spent on the administration rather than on students.
“If we can cut that down we can pay our teachers more and the money is more wisely spent,” he said.
At first glance, Grisham’s tax proposal seems to run counter to his belief in small government. But he says it would bring Texans a smaller government.
After listing off some of the property taxes residents have to pay for, Grisham said, “You get rid of all that. That’s getting rid of big government. Now some people might say big government means the state, but the state has legislative functions.”
One of those functions is that Texas will provide free public education.
“This is a constitutionally mandated state program so why not run it at the state level?” Grisham said. “That saves money at the local districts.”
The winner of the GOP primary will be the next state representative for District 55 since no Democrat filed to run.
Grisham says he has several qualities that will make him the next lawmaker from Bell County. He points to his built-in name recognition and Shine’s voting record as two reasons why this race is his to win.
“I also have a strong grassroots system in place,” he said. “Gosh, I was able to grow a huge grassroots movement through the gun rights thing. I’m able to use that network to my advantage here as well.”
Grisham expects the race to go to a runoff.
“When I’m in the runoff with him … I’m going to be out there talking to people and letting them know who I am,” he said. “Historically, it’s the grassroots that wins the runoff. I’m the grassroots guy.”