Herald/SARAH MOORE KUSCHELL - Nolanville City Councilman Wayne “Chief” Hamilton listens closely as candidates respond to questions about veterans who are homeless during Saturday’s forum at American Legion Post 223 in Killeen.

By Desiree Johnson

Killeen Daily Herald

Veterans and other Central Texas residents sat at banquet tables Saturday and heard candidates' views on veterans issues and what they can do to help veterans at both the national and state levels.

The Area Veterans Advisory Committee hosted a candidate forum Saturday at American Legion Post 223 in Killeen. Incumbents running unopposed in the upcoming March primary elections each took a few minutes to discuss their views on veterans benefits.

"Veterans are an important part of my life ... our veterans need to feel that people care," said U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, who also touched on the importance of smoothly transitioning veterans who leave active duty into Veterans Affairs programs and into veterans groups and of recent increases in veterans benefits.

"I think I have stood firmly in representing veterans ... when I cast that vote, I'm thinking of the best decision for my district, and I have been honored to represent you," Carter said.

State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, spoke on the importance of reducing property taxes for disabled veterans, as well as extending college tuition help to military spouses.

"Sometimes, spouses need better education for better jobs to take care of our disabled veterans, and they should have the help they need to achieve that goal," Aycock said. "I ask for all your support and thank you for your support in the past."

Republican incumbent state Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville focused on the importance of properly administered mental health care for veterans and the responsibility of state and federal governments for taking care of veterans. His Democratic opponent for the District 59 seat, Ernie Casbeer, expressed his concern about Texas' growing homeowner insurance costs and the deregulation of college tuition in the state.

All Republican candidates for the District 55 state representative seat currently held by Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple, attended the forum. Also attending was Democrat Sam Murphey, who is unopposed in the March 4 primary.

The audience had submitted questions for the candidates before the forum. The candidates fielded questions about what military veterans they admire the most, fair taxes and help for homeless veterans.

Ralph Sheffield stressed his experience as a small-business owner and explained how listening to his customers has provided him with the ability to listen to district residents and cater to their needs.

When asked about what Texas can do about the school dropout rate, Sheffield said a higher concentration on vocational courses would be a good idea.

"Not every student is made for college," Sheffield said. "An emphasis on vocational courses will definitely help lower our dropout rate."

Mike Pearce spoke on the importance of veterans benefits on a general level.

"Our veterans worked to preserve life, liberty and property, and those who preserve it deserve all the benefits that can come with that as well as their spouses," Pearce said.

Martha Tyrock emphasized her open-door policy, experience as a nurse at a veterans' hospital and how that experience has taught her about the needs of today's veterans, including more jobs for military families.

"Our veterans need a chance to get back in the work force," Tyrock said. "I have a complete open-door policy ... I want to hear what our veterans have to say."

John Alaniz said that former candidates have been "worried about the next election more than the next generation" and stressed that faith, family and free enterprise are three values we should stand on.

"We should honor our soldiers' sacrifices by preserving their journey," Alaniz said. "I will build on rock, not sand."

All four candidates said positive things when asked about their views on the Second Amendment, which deals with the right of Americans to keep and bear arms.

"It is our right to protect our family and our homes," Pearce said.

Alaniz agreed, saying that the right to bear arms keeps the government in its place.

"It's a check on our federal government," Alaniz said. "Modifications to the Second Amendment are unacceptable."

When asked about the importance of expediting the establishment of Texas A&M-Central Texas, all of the candidates agreed that the creation of the four-year university needed to happen, and they said they would do their best to see higher education in the Central Texas area.

Contact Desiree Johnson at djohnson@kdhnews.com or call (254) 501-7559

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