Vying for the Senate District 30 seat, state Rep. Drew Springer and Shelley Luther took to the stage for a forum during Wednesday’s East Parker County Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Questions were submitted by EPCCC members and reviewed before moderators Patrick Lawler and Kelli Stumbo asked the candidates the four that were chosen.
Springer and Luther were asked if they support maintaining current public school funding levels established by House Bill 3, and if they would even consider cutting school funding.
“I was proud to be a co-author of HB 3 last session. It put $9 billion into the classroom and to our teachers, so it’s something I felt very near and dear about, that that’s where the focus needed to be. So no, would I be moving to reduce and cut funding on that obligation? Absolutely not. Any funding that has to be cut cannot be coming from the classroom,” said Springer, who serves as the state rep for HD 68. “It needs to be cut — if there are those to be made — from regulations that don’t allow our kids to learn at their highest levels, that don’t make our classrooms safe, that don’t give the support to our teachers that we need.”
Springer added that his commitment was not only to HB 3 funding, but career and technology education funding and making schools stronger and safer.
As a former teacher of 13 years, Luther said they never had enough money and as a teacher she was never given money to set up her classroom, and instead was often buying supplies for less fortunate children.
“So I would never cut school funding. The only thing that I want to make sure is that the funds are allocated to the right places. Right now we’re very heavy-funded on the administration side and we have schools that are building stadiums and elaborate administration buildings, but their students are failing, so what we need to do is make sure we’re not awarding schools that are failing,” said Luther, a Dallas salon owner. “We need to make sure that we concentrate on our students, student-centered learning. Students are the priority and as long as all of us know that, then the money will go to the right place.”
The next question asked the candidates if they were elected, how they would balance representing their constituents versus the special interest groups contributing to their campaigns.
“So because I’m not a politician, I don’t really have any ties to any special interest groups. I don’t have any funding from any PACs (political action committees) or lobbyists in my campaign. As far as lobbyists are concerned, they come after my constituents and even if they come at all, you don’t need a lobbyist if you are listening to your people that you’re representing,” Luther said. “As far as money or anything that’s coming into the office, I don’t have time to party, I don’t have time to go out to dinner with these people that I don’t know because they want me to vote against a bill, against you. I’m listening to you so I don’t have time for them.”
Springer said he’s shown how to balance the two over the eight years he’s served as a member of the Texas House of Representatives.
“I travel 60,000 miles a year holding over 50 town halls every single year, working with constituents. It was why I filed many of the bills I filed,” Springer said. “My first session, Valley View ISD brought me a bill and said, ‘Our booster clubs are getting charged sales tax to buy a coke and you’re asking us to get in the middle of government and we don’t want to be there,’ and so I filed that on their behalf. There was no special interest that pushed me to do that and there are some that I absolutely support.”
Springer added that he’s endorsed by the National Rifle Association and the Farmers Bureau because they are resources for him and represent many of his constituents.
“It’s balancing that conversation of working with these groups along with the fact that you have to always be visiting with your constituents,” he said.
The two were asked what their positions are on limiting and prohibiting the authority of city, county or school district officials to use public funds to communicate with legislators, state agencies and to pay membership dues to organizations that may hire lobbyists.
“We absolutely under no circumstance can bar local officials from coming to Austin to be able to represent the folks that they represent in Austin,” Springer said. “The challenge we face though is sometimes the fact that these associations are hiring a lobbyist that 75%-80% of their pay comes from Austin, Dallas and Houston. So when I ask them something, they don’t tell me ‘How does this benefit Weatherford,’ they tell me how it benefits Austin, and that’s not what I want to hear. I want to hear directly from my elected officials in that regard.”
Luther said they can find other sources rather than using taxpayer funds.
“I believe that if they want to come to Austin, we have to find other ways to pay for that besides people’s property taxes because my goal is to limit property taxes and I don’t think that should come from those funds,” she said. “We could find funds in other ways, even if the state has to pay for it because the schools and all of the communities are extremely important and we need their feedback, but it should not come from the property taxes.”
The final question was related to House Bill 2439, which strips governmental entities’ ability to set exterior building standards, and the candidates’ positions on local control and the reversal of the bill.
“I think right now I’m the hugest fan of maintaining local control and it starts with a teacher, it starts as a business owner. As a community I think President Trump did it perfectly when he allowed the states to control the COVID-19 crisis. He as a president of the United States cannot make a blanket decision for all these communities,” Luther said. “I think Gov. Abbott did it wrong, I don’t agree with a full mask mandate or any kind of mandates across an entire state. I don’t know how someone sitting in Austin can tell someone sitting in Parker County what to do, they do not have their thumb on the pulse of this.”
Luther added that less government is better, but if local control is not protecting the voters’ life, liberty or property, that’s when the state needs to step in.
Springer said it’s important to have the conversation of if what the state is doing is a problem.
“That is one of the biggest challenges that we continue to face — and probably will face for the next decade or so to come — is where are those lines between state, federal and local officials on what is right,” Springer said. “We allowed development so that when cities are platting new subdivisions, they’re able to specify what building materials are going to be used on there, so I think it’s finding that balance there and it’s not as cut-dry as a yes or no answer on those, but it’s that open dialogue with your constituents you represent.”
Lawler asked Springer to clarify his answer and if he believes House Bill 2439 went too far and is actually going to negatively affect property values.
“We always have unintended consequences of legislation. We may have gone too far on the regulations that we’re putting on local county jails, local police departments, because they’re not giving us the benefit that we thought we were going to get,” he said. “If it’s just creating bureaucracy and raising taxes for no benefit of the citizenry, we need to undo them and I’m happy to continue to look at those.”
Additionally, Lawler asked Luther for clarification purposes if she believes local city councils should be able to control the facades of exterior businesses and residential properties.
“I feel like that is different in each county and so I think that should be voted on and be a county or even city decision — it has to be left up to the voters,” she said.
Early voting for the Senate District 30 special elections begins on Dec. 9 and election day is Dec. 19.