The Republican candidates for the House District 54 and Senate District 24 seats have been making a lot of noise in the week leading up to Tuesday’s election.
Unfortunately, the cacophony has largely drowned out the discussion of the issues surrounding the two races.
In the District 54 runoff, Dr. Austin Ruiz, a Killeen optometrist who lives in Harker Heights, is vying for the GOP nomination with Scott Cosper, whose term as Killeen mayor ended last week.
The current firestorm began when Ruiz made a post on his campaign Facebook account referencing the 2011 recall election, in which then-Councilman Cosper and four other Killeen council members were removed from office by voters in response to a $750,000 buyout of City Manager Connie Green’s contract.
Cosper took offense to Ruiz’s campaign tactic, though Ruiz maintained the recall was part of Cosper’s public record.
Soon thereafter, a mailer from Cosper titled “An Open Letter to Austin Ruiz” circulated in the district, charging that Ruiz had engaged in dirty campaign tactics. Though not mentioning Ruiz by name, the mailer stated that a private investigator had been hired to look into his daughter’s EMS records.
Ruiz responded that he had neither hired an investigator nor did he know anyone who did.
A subsequent open records request by the Herald found that an investigator had requested information on Cosper in late March, but the request pertained to Cosper himself and not his family. Who hired the investigator remained unknown Friday. Also unknown is whether any documents were provided by the city in response to the investigator’s request.
Complicating matters further was a misleading mailer by TEXPAC, the Texas Medical Association’s political action committee, that stated Ruiz — a degreed doctor of optometry for 34 years — is not a medical doctor. The mailer, with a large image of a duck on the reverse, maintains “special-interest optometrists” are pushing for legislation that would allow professionals without medical degrees to perform certain medical procedures.
The mailer warns voters “not to be misled by Austin Ruiz’s use of the title “Doctor” and says “Don’t be fooled by candidate quackery.”
Cosper said he had nothing to do the TEXPAC mailer. Yet, a few days later, another Cosper mailer repeated TEXPAC allegations that 70 percent of Ruiz’s campaign contributions came from “special-interest optometrists” — a charge Ruiz denied, though many of his campaign’s individual donors are optometrists.
A similar scenario has developed in the District 24 race, with the Dawn Buckingham and Susan King campaigns sending out dueling mailers and airing incendiary TV ads, with each candidate claiming the other has misled voters on issues ranging from abortion to border control.
While some of these mailers and ads may shed light on the candidates’ integrity and character, the fact is, most of them are based on half-truths and cherry-picked statistics — and that only serves to confuse voters, rather than inform them.
The end result of all the back-and-forth sniping has been that very few voters are likely focusing on the issues important to Central Texas as election day draws near.
What can be done to protect the area’s vital water rights and resources? Why should Bell County residents be concerned with border security? Where do the candidates stand on property tax rates? What can they do to strengthen state agencies that help the military?
The candidates’ answers to these questions can be found in the May 15 Herald, as well as online at kdhnews.com/centerforpolitics. Also online, voters can find links to previous campaign stories, candidate profiles and video interviews.
By the end of early voting Friday, 5,833 Bell County residents had cast their ballots in the runoffs.
For those who haven’t yet voted, Tuesday’s election affords one last chance to make your voices heard.
Choosing our representatives in Austin is one of the greatest responsibilities we face as voters.
Let’s not waste the opportunity.