It’s never too early to begin campaigning.
The 2018 state election is nearly 13 months away, but the race for the District 54 seat in the Texas House of Representatives has already begun.
Less than a week after incumbent first-term Rep. Scott Cosper announced his intention to seek re-election to the seat, Killeen veterinarian Dr. Brad Buckley formally announced his intention to run as well.
Both are getting an early jump on the campaign, since the official candidate filing period doesn’t open until Nov. 11. But if you’re running for state office, it’s important to get your name out there early — and both Cosper and Buckley are doing just that.
Cosper and Buckley will need that name recognition, because they will be courting the same voters, as both candidates are Republicans. That means they will square off in the March 6 primary election, with the winner advancing to the general election next November.
It’s unusual for a sitting state representative to face a primary challenge in his or her own party, so that makes this race interesting from the start.
Jimmie Don Aycock held the District 54 seat for five terms, but he never faced a primary opponent after winning his first election.
But unlike Aycock, who endorsed Cosper in last year’s House race, Cosper is facing a primary challenger right off the bat — and that’s certainly fodder for speculation.
No doubt, Cosper wants to return to Austin to take care of what he sees as unfinished business. Several key issues — including property tax appraisals and compensation for cities disproportionately affected by the disabled veterans property tax exemption — were left unresolved when the Legislature adjourned from its special session in July. Cosper was involved in crafting legislation on both of those issues.
For Buckley’s part, he must believe Cosper is vulnerable to a primary challenge.
That’s not unreasonable, since Cosper’s path to the District 54 seat last year was anything but a cakewalk.
Despite Cosper’s considerable public service background — 11 years as a Killeen city councilman and two years as mayor — he narrowly defeated political newcomer Austin Ruiz in a three-way Republican primary. The race went to a runoff, where Cosper prevailed by just 40 votes. Notably, Ruiz, a Killeen optometrist, took Bell County by 135 votes, though falling short in Lampasas County.
In the fall campaign, Cosper defeated another political newcomer, Killeen Democrat Sandra Blankenship, but by less than a 1 percent margin in Bell County. Lampasas County proved to be the difference, where he took 79 percent of the vote.
Cosper prevailed despite several obstacles. He overcame a 2011 recall election to claim the Killeen mayor’s post in 2014. He went on to win the District 54 House seat, though questions about Killeen’s financial health swirled in the months leading up to the election. He subsequently earned an appointment to the prestigious House Appropriations Committee.
Obviously, both Buckley and Cosper need to win Killeen, where the bulk of the district’s votes are found. As the House incumbent, a former mayor and longtime council member, Cosper would seem to have the advantage among the city’s voters.
But as Ruiz showed last year, sometimes a political outsider can be successful, if the right issues are stressed.
On paper, the candidates are remarkably similar. Both men consider themselves conservatives and don’t differ markedly on basic political philosophy.
Additionally, both candidates have solid Killeen ties, with Cosper tracing his family’s roots in the area back to 1869.
Both Cosper and Buckley attended Ellison High School and graduated two years apart in the mid-80s.
Buckley has been a prominent Killeen veterinarian for more than 20 years, but his family’s name is also associated with education. His grandfather, Leo Buckley, was a Killeen coach and athletic director. Buckley’s grandmother and mother were teachers, and Buckley’s wife, Susan, is the principal at Killeen High School.
Buckley himself served on the Killeen ISD school board from 2000 to 2005, before moving to Salado.
Cosper, who owns a construction company and is president of a real estate development business. He was a member of the Texas Department of Transportation Policy Board for 16 years, and helped work for the Interstate 14 designation for U.S. Highway 190.
Like Buckley, Cosper also has connections to education. His wife, Christy, is a teacher, as was his mother.
In order to win next year’s primary, the candidates will have to draw distinctions between themselves that will resonate with voters.
The issues that challenged the last legislative session are not going away. In fact, they may become more urgent.
Water resources, property rights, public education and highway funding must be addressed by the next Texas Legislature — and residents will want to hear what solutions the candidates have in mind.
With Hurricane Harvey putting a major dent in the state’s economy, legislators may have less tax money to work with when it comes time to divvy up the pie. Lawmakers will have to make some difficult choices.
That’s where the Herald comes in.
In the coming months, the Herald will closely follow the District 54 campaign, giving both the candidates and the voters a forum to weigh in on the issues important to the district and the state.
Our coverage starts this week with a Q and A discussion with Buckley and Cosper, the two announced candidates for the seat. That article can be found on the front page of today’s edition.
In late January, the Herald will sponsor a political forum for candidates in the District 54 race.
Since the candidate filing period doesn’t close until Dec. 11, it’s not known how many people will be running for the seat, but all candidates of both parties will be invited to take part.
Ultimately, the election will be shaped by voter engagement. Issues and solutions are important, but turning out the vote is what carries the day.
Getting voters involved starts with exchanging views and sharing information.
The campaign has started. Let the dialog begin.