BELTON — It was supposed to be one of the highlights of this year’s primary season: incumbent Ralph Sheffield was going to debate challenger Molly White in the race for representative of Texas House District 55.
The debate was on the Central Texas Tea Party calendar for 7 p.m. Tuesday. The tea party group was hosting the event and sent out emails. White’s campaign posted it to the group’s Facebook page.
The only problem was that Sheffield said he never agreed to a debate and had no plans to attend.
“This is the first I’ve heard about a debate,” Sheffield said last week.
John Alaniz, president of the Central Texas Tea Party, said the group sent out certified letters inviting White and Sheffield to the forum. White said she received and returned hers while Sheffield said his invitation was sent to his Capitol office. “My Capitol office forwarded it to my campaign guy,” he said.
Alaniz, who ran against Sheffield in 2008 and 2012 and has individually endorsed White, said his organization was willing to sponsor the debate solely because there hasn’t been a debate in the race for state representative in more than five years.
“We tried to schedule a debate in 2012 and Sheffield didn’t want to do it,” Alaniz said.
While candidates for statewide offices such as lieutenant governor and attorney general have spent the better part of the last two months laying out their ideas and beliefs to voters throughout the state, debates in more local Texas races are rare.
“All Molly wants to do is get her name in the paper,” Sheffield said, “and this is a free way to do it.”
Both Alaniz and White said they plan to go through with Tuesday’s forum whether or not Sheffield attends. Alaniz said “a chair and nametag” will be awaiting Sheffield’s arrival.
“I have no problem debating an empty chair,” White said.
District 55 includes Temple, Belton, Holland, Troy, Morgan’s Point, Little River-Academy, Rogers and parts of Killeen.