By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
TEMPLE – Republican candidates seeking the District 55 State Representative seat fielded questions ranging from education to immigration to the Trans-Texas Corridor on Monday night. More than 200 residents attended the candidate forum at the Frank W. Mayborn Civic & Conference Center.
The four Republican candidates Ralph Sheffield, Michael Pearce, Martha Tyroch and John Alaniz, along with lone Democratic candidate Sam Murphey gave brief introductions of their platforms and their vision for representing Bell County in Austin.
The Republican candidates answered questions from panelists from the Killeen Daily Herald and the Temple Daily Telegram. The event concluded with questions submitted by audience members on topics including the Trans-Texas Corridor and efficient use of state funds. Each candidate expressed opposition to the proposed highway and stressed their fiscal responsibility.
The question and answer portion of the program was exclusively held for the Republican candidates, who will face off in the March 4 Republican primary. Early voting begins Feb. 19 for the seat that serves Harker Heights, Belton, Temple and much of rural Bell County.
Each candidate attempted to distinguish themselves by elaborating on their strategies to fix problem areas and how they believed their individual experience, employment and life history will help them do it best.
Education was a hot topic throughout the night.
Alaniz said the state needs to change the perspective and analyze how the curriculum is expected to be distributed.
"We need to have a rigorous and relevant curriculum," Alaniz said. "We need to raise the bar of expectations. We need to open it up to a free market."
Alaniz, a small business owner in Temple, often quoted his credo of faith, family and free enterprise and how he would apply those values to the office.
Michael Pearce, a teacher at KISD for 10 years, said he is in favor of a merit-based pay system for teachers, and noted the importance of keeping teachers' futures a priority for the government.
A disconnect between east and west Bell County was discussed by the candidates as well, as the candidates noted the importance of making the county a unified force.
Martha Tyroch, a member of the Temple City Council for the past seven years, stated she's proud to be a part of the growth seen in Bell County.
"We need someone in Austin who will stand up for Bell County," Tyroch said. "We need to look at what money is in the surplus to aid teacher pensions ? We are one county, we are the third fastest growing county. When Toyota came here, it was because of the entire county."
"I've had people tell me it's a concern of theirs," Pearce said. "We have to separate each other in terms of business ? there is a disconnect."
Sheffield spoke about his roots as a longtime small business owner in Temple, referencing his 32 years in the community. He equated meeting his customers' 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 said he knows how to provide. In combating 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."
On the issue of drug-related crimes, he said border security would go a long way in aiding that problem plaguing Bell County.
"We need to have harsher penalties than we do for drug trafficking," he said. "We need to have a lot stronger laws to put on the book."
Sheffield has also talked in the past about using the iVerify online system to aid employers in resisting the influx of illegal aliens.
Tyroch said her experience in maneuvering the issues on the local, state and national level is what distinguishes her candidacy. She pointed to water, transportation, education and health care as some of her top priorities, and said the community, the region of Bell County, needs to be the focus, pointing to the characteristics which have attracted large businesses to the area.
Alaniz said use of funds is all about efficiency.
"We need to pay people adequately for the work that they do," he said. "We need to be efficient and effective with the money that we send to Austin. There's a lot of money that I've seen thrown out the window."
Contact Justin Cox at email@example.com or call (254) 501-7568