A new year means new elections in Texas, and voters will soon take to the polls to decide on Democratic and Republican party nominees for county, state and federal races.
Some races are unopposed entirely. Others, such as with State House District 54 in Bell County, appears to be set with neither party’s candidate facing opposition.
Incumbent Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Salado, a two-term representative for the district, appears to be in line to square off against political newcomer Jonathan Hildner, D-Killeen.
Both were at the Herald Thursday afternoon to speak about how the campaign has gone so far and to discuss their campaign priorities as well as how to get voters to the polling place despite the race being uncontested for each.
Both explained that they have already been out speaking with constituents in eastern Bell County, a new demographic added to the district when the Legislature met in special session in September.
During the last two sessions, Buckley has represented all of Lampasas County and the southwestern part of Bell County, as far east as his hometown of Salado.
Beginning in January 2023, the district will be contained entirely within Bell County, encompassing a large portion of Killeen, all of Fort Hood that falls in Bell County and small communities in the eastern part of the county that had previously been part of District 55, such as Little River Academy, Rogers and Troy.
Buckley said that by being raised in the Killeen area and having graduated from Killeen ISD and returning to practice veterinary medicine in Killeen, he has deep roots and knows a lot of the folks.
“But it’s important to get out to make sure that people know what I stand for, they know my record, they know the types of accomplishments I’ve had in the Legislature, and I want to know what’s on their mind. I’m asking for their advice,” Buckley said. “It’s a tenuous time in our country and our state and our communities, and I want to know what people are thinking.”
Buckley said he has been out in parts of the new district for the past several weeks.
Hildner acknowledged that while Killeen represents around 80% of the population of the new district, the smaller communities are just as important.
“We’ve spent a lot of time knocking doors in these communities. A lot of these communities are not used to anybody from any party knocking on these doors, and I think that is important,” Hildner said.
Hildner said he thinks that regardless of the office, some people get comfortable with the districts they’re drawn into and that the party-affiliation letter behind their names will be enough to entice people to get out and vote.
“That’s not the mindset that my campaign is taking,” Hildner said. “We’re going to knock every single door and speak to every single voter, regardless of affiliation and hope to come to a compromise to where they’re comfortable with voting for me.”
What constituents are saying
Buckley and Hildner explained what they have been hearing from the constituents they have been speaking to.
“People are concerned about the cost of everything — about inflation — and you know, they see a stark difference,” Buckley said adding that the price of fuel is over a dollar per gallon higher than last year. “And we know that once fuel costs go up, that everything costs more.”
Buckley is a managing partner at Killeen Veterinary Clinic on Pershing Drive, and even he has felt the increase.
“You know, as a small-business owner in Killeen, I’ve seen a 15-18% increase in just my cost of doing business when we talk about the cost of supplies. That tends to drive prices and fees up, and it creates real challenges,” he said.
Buckley said people he has spoken to are also concerned about the southern border of the state. He remarked that he had toured the border area several weeks ago and saw the “chaos” for himself.
Hildner said conversations he has had with constituents has brought out concerns about infrastructure, the economy and criminal justice reform.
“In terms of infrastructure, a lot of folks here in Killeen want to see the completion of a revitalization of our downtown area, increasing economic opportunities here in the city — not losing sight of the image of Killeen,” Hildner said.
From an economic standpoint, Hildner said people have expressed concern over the lack of high-paying jobs.
“In terms of economy, bringing jobs here to this community. Again, focusing on our north side (of Killeen) that has the lowest median income in our entire city, making sure we’re bringing jobs here that are paying a $15 an hour minimum wage — a liveable wage in these days,” Hildner said.
Where Hildner and Buckley agree is with decriminalization and legalization of the medicinal use of marijuana. Where they differ is that Hildner is in favor of legalization of recreational use, while Buckley is opposed to it.
“I think we can easily show through our veterans that it’s tried and true and it works, and hopefully then, for the rest of our citizens throughout the district,” Hildner said. “... it will not only boost our economy because then you can tax the sale of it, but it will, again, create spaces and reform our criminal justice system that has convicted so many.”
Buckley, who voted in favor of a decriminalization bill in the last Legislative Session, said the economic impact is a common argument for advocating for recreational use. He added that he has done his homework in regard to the topic.
“I spoke with a pharmaceutical company, to a scientist who’s a cannabinoid scientist, and he was talking about the impact of marijuana on young people’s brains. And he said to a group that was listening to a presentation, ‘Moms and dads out there, tell your kids it’s OK to smoke marijuana, but just wait until you’re 25,’” Buckley said. “And this is a guy that understands the chemistry very well. And so I feel like that pure recreational legalization can have a real negative impact on young people.”
Hildner’s personal campaign priorities mainly match up with the concerns he has heard from the constituents, but he also focused on taking care of veterans and those in the military.
“Any good soldiers will say that veterans don’t stop at the soldier. Families serve as well. The military has crafted who I am today without myself even serving,” Hildner said. “I grew up around it — I spent, again, a majority of my life here in Killeen.”
Hildner is the son of a brigadier general who passed away while on active duty. He was born at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center.
Buckley said he is focused on veteran issues as well, but he also targeted Texas A&M University-Central Texas as a priority of his campaign.
“We know there’s a research park on the future. We have to do all we can. We think about our connection with Killeen, Fort Hood, and we think about what we have with Army Futures Command, our university’s going to be right in the center of that — it’s going to be the hub of that.”
During the 87th Legislative Session, Buckley said the Legislature approved $45 million in tuition revenue bonds to build a Centralized Operational Reliability and Efficiency facility on its campus. Read more about that at: https://bit.ly/3pGXNMY.
The primary will be held on March 1. Republicans will vote only for Republican candidates, and Democrats will only vote for Democratic candidates.
Early voting begins Feb. 14.
The general election will be held Nov. 8.
To view the full interviews with the Buckley and Hildner, go to the Killeen Daily Herald YouTube page.