By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS – Candidates seeking the District 55 seat in the Texas House continued their introductory tour of Central Texas cities Thursday as they appeared at their third public forum in 10 days during a luncheon sponsored by the city's Chamber of Commerce.
The four Republican candidates – Ralph Sheffield, Michael Pearce, Martha Tyroch and John Alaniz – along with Democratic nominee Sam Murphey briefly discussed their platforms and visions to city, school and community leaders gathered at the Central Texas Homebuilders Association building.
They are running for the seat held by Rep. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple, who is retiring when her term ends.
Only the Republican candidates, who will face off in the March 4 GOP primary, took part in the question-and-answer portion of the program.
The candidates tried to distinguish themselves from their rivals by elaborating on their strategies to fix problems and how they believe their experience, employment and life history would help them best do the job. The questioning period lasted less than 30 minutes, as the candidates briefly took their turns at the podium in discussing immigration, education and balancing the use of state funds.
Murphey is running unopposed in the Democratic primary."I am in this race because I want what's best for Bell County and because we simply need a change from the status quo in Austin," he said. "We need a representative in Austin who will work across party lines to effect those changes."
Pearce spoke of his status as a small business owner, pursuing a career with a private enterprise after spending 10 years as a teacher in Killeen. He emphasized lower taxes and lowering dependency of constituents on the government. No government has ever taxed itself into prosperity, Pearce said.
"That is not a formula for success," he said. "I believe free markets are the solution."
In addressing education issues, he said that teachers are getting frustrated after getting into the profession, noting that most of the people who get education degrees pursue other avenues within a few years of graduating college. He emphasized a merit-based pay system to counteract the continuing teacher discouragement.
Former Temple Mayor Pro Tem Tyroch said her experience in maneuvering the issues on the local, state and national levels is what distinguishes her candidacy the most. She pointed to water, transportation, education and health care as some of her top priorities. She said the community, the region of Bell County, needs to be the focus, pointing to the characteristics that have attracted large businesses, such as Toyota, to the area.
On education, she said the state's focus needs to be on quality and a fully funded commitment.
Sheffield spoke about his roots as a longtime Temple small business owner, referencing his 32 years in the community numerous times. He equated adapting to his customer's needs to adapting to the needs of the people of Bell County. He also emphasized border security.
But he said the difference is leadership, which he knows how to provide. In battling tax increases, he said the state should tap into its $14 billion surplus.
"You've heard a lot of the same things from all of us," Sheffield said. "I've learned how to listen (as a longtime restaurant owner). What it comes down to is leadership – who can make a difference for all of you in Austin."
Alaniz said a more effective and efficient use of state funding is the only way to lower taxes, which is a top priority. He said his primary goal is to address border security.
One way to do so, he said, is to start making illegal immigrants accountable for their impact on the economy, agreeing with other candidates in their proposals for mandatory photo identification.
Alaniz said his campaign is dedicated to the traits that have helped establish this nation's success: faith, family and free enterprise.
"I will go down in a ball of flames sticking to my message," Alaniz said.
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7568