Five Republican candidates vying for Senate District 30 addressed the top issues facing Texas during a forum Thursday night at North Side Baptist Church.
“When we first put this together we quite honestly didn’t realize we were going to have an election in September and when that happened we knew we wanted to make sure the folks in Parker County and the greater SD 30 were able to meet, talk to, ask questions of and learn more about the candidates who want to be your next senator for Senate District 30,” Parker County Republican Party Chair J Scott Utley said. “Here in the heart of Parker County, we are super proud to be one of the most conservative counties in the great state of Texas.”
Republicans Andy Hopper, Denton Mayor Chris Watts, State Rep. Drew Springer, Shelley Luther and Craig Carter, as well as Democrat Jacob Minter, have all thrown their hats in the ring for SD 30 after Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, won the GOP nomination to replace U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, on the November ballot. Ratcliffe is moving on to be the U.S. director of national intelligence. Gov. Greg Abbott set a Sept. 29 special election to fill the SD 30 seat.
Hosted by the State Republican Executive Committee, moderated by SD 30 Chairman Britton Brooks and Chairwoman Deon Starnes, several questions were set for the candidates — the first round allowed for 1.5-minute answers and the second round, the lightning round, allowed for 30-second answers.
The candidates were asked if the Texas legislature should address police reform and/or cities who are defunding the police and how they should be addressed.
“My dad was a 26-year Marine veteran so I see police officers and first responders as similar, like brothers, and when I see people defacing the flag or disrespecting the police or anything that has to do with putting down America in any way, I think it’s disgraceful and those people do not deserve to be here. I also think that cities cannot be run without police,” Luther said. “Defunding the police is the worst idea anyone could ever have and I went to Austin recently to turn in my paperwork, it’s a slum. It looks horrible and we do not want that to happen here in our rural areas. It’s important that we protect our police, we fund our police and those cities that want to take money away from police, they need to get funds taken away from them.”
Carter said he recently had a discussion with a police officer in Nacona where he was told the officer made $16 an hour.
“We don’t need to defund anything, we need to find more funds for them to have the right tools to do their job well, period. There are ways to find that funding without cutting off the thing that protects us,” Carter said. “I want our police officers keeping the oath of protecting and serving us and recently through COVID, there have been some crazy things with protests around different locations and police officers come in and say, ‘We’re taking the day off, you’re on your own.’ That is a serious problem because I don’t want people taking the day off when something actually happens. At that moment I realized how important it is that we are putting our money into our police officers.”
Hopper said he agreed with the “thrust” of Gov. Abbott’s solution to cities that defund the police, but not the implementation.
“First of all, I have folks in my family who are police officers and these folks are great and I absolutely think that these people stand in the gap and they actually deal with all the horrible parts of society so we don’t have to. So we absolutely need to stand behind these guys because they are brave souls,” Hopper said. “The thrust was good, [Abbott] wanted to do something about it, but the end result is we’re going to freeze property taxes, for the ability for Austin to raise property taxes, if they defund the police. Isn’t that what we all want? Should we defund the police because then our property taxes would be frozen? That’s not what we want, it doesn’t really encourage the right behavior. What should happen is utilize a system that already exists where cities that leverage other municipalities’ law enforcement, you bill them and then you bill them more and you basically create a situation where the citizens of Austin are paying so much in property taxes that they’re like ‘We have to elect somebody else because our elected officials are crazy.’”
Watts said people that believe in the rule of law and protecting people need to start running for local elections.
“I’m the only one on this stage that’s had to deal with this question at the local level. We had people ask us to discuss defunding the police and not only was it no, but it was heck no. We’re raising our police budget by $2 million to add five new officers and a mental health unit that will have professional mental health workers go out on calls for people in a mental health crisis,” Watts said. “I have a niece who’s a police officer and had the privilege of going on a ride-along with a police officer one night from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on a Friday night and it was quite remarkable. The thing that I realized the most is when this gentleman opened the door there was someone who had had a drug overdose in front. I see what these police officers do for our community every day, we had 5,000 people in our city protesting on that Monday. The police officers handled themselves with great respect and integrity, we had no vandalism except one. We cannot defund the police, that’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard in my life. I can’t believe anybody with any sanity would even say it.”
Springer said defunding the police cannot happen and that elected officials have to stand up and support law enforcement.
“Texas is the right place, we do not need to overreact to what happened in Minnesota to George Floyd to change and take the tools away from our law enforcement so that they can go home at night. We cannot let that happen and defund, as I said earlier, can absolutely not happen. But not only is it defund, but we have to stand up to the responsibilities that we have to our law enforcement, especially when our law enforcement is hurt,” Springer said. “Here in SD 30, we had a law enforcement officer that was shot, disabled, and the city’s fighting him where he can’t get a van, where he can’t get an apartment for his family, where he needs a wheelchair for an accessible apartment, so not only is it not just don’t defund but step up to your obligations and recognize that.
“Be there for those people who are on that thin blue line because without them we turn into chaos. We can’t always rely on law enforcement, we’ve got to protect ourselves and that’s why we need permit-less carry in the state of Texas.”
In the lightning round, the candidates were asked if they thought the best way to fund state and/or local governments is through property taxes, income taxes or consumption taxes.
“I don’t want your property taxes to raise ever — at all — and I do want to, at one point years down the road, say that Texas does not even have a property tax because people should not be taxed out of their home that they’ve already paid for,” Luther said. “I think as far as the state income tax, we don’t have that and I think we should definitely stay away from that.”
Carter said there are ways to not raise taxes and find solutions without cutting things.
“Being focused on property tax, being limited in control is very important, but on the backside of that we need to look at new ways to look at it collectively as a whole,” Carter said. “There’s plenty of ways we can find some ways to not cut things, not raise taxes and find solutions, but we need to come at it from an outside-the-box thinking and find those solutions.”
Hopper said income tax is a terrible idea.
“I can’t understand anyone that decided having an income tax, having a personal relationship with Washington, D.C. was a good idea. So that they get to know exactly what you’re spending and what you’re spending it on, that’s a terrible idea and we should never have that with Austin, so no income tax,” Hopper said. “I also will say that the idea that a woman goes and buys 100 acres and decides they’re going to hunt on it and go and live on it without having to answer to no man, that’s freedom guys, and the thing is if you have to rent your property and you have to go be forced into commerce so you can collect enough dollars to pay the taxman, that’s not freedom. We need to move away from property taxes.”
Watts said for him, it’s about reviewing data and facts.
“You make good decisions, good policy decisions on data and facts. This is very complicated. If you just have sales tax only, then you hurt those that can least afford it,” Watts said. “If you have property tax only, then people are paying more than their fair share of subsidizing the state government. We have to find a way to cut the budget before we try to figure out that whole question. You have to have the facts and the data to see how can we live with less government?”
Springer said the state needs more consumption tax and less property tax.
“We passed this last legislative session to make sure that we make it tougher and tougher to never have an income tax. Y’all passed it in November when you showed up to the polls and thank you for that,” Springer said. “I’ve already said that we need more consumption tax and less property tax. I filed the bill last time that would have eliminated half of the property taxes and going to more of a consumption tax. We can do it, it’s the Republican priority and platform that we need to uphold.”
The candidates were then asked what their thoughts are about the removal of historical monuments and statues.
“I have a minor in history and it hurts me. I’ve boycotted more cities than I can count simply because they removed something in the cloak of darkness and it bothers me,” Hopper said. “We’re applying our standards in 2020 to people who lived 150 years ago, and then erasing history — such that we think now it’s gone and we don’t have to worry about it — but now our kids aren’t going to learn anything. So I’m absolutely against it and we need to protect the Alamo.”
Watts said the removal of monuments should be up to whoever owns it.
“I think the removal of monuments is strictly the decision of the people who own that monument. If the state of Texas owns a monument, it’s the state of Texas that decides,” Watts said. “If Weatherford owns a monument, it’s the community that decides, not necessarily the elected officials because they represent the community. It has to be a public decision, it cannot be a unilateral decision. I stand for history. In Denton County, the county did remove the monument but they had a plan beforehand. You cannot be reactive to this time in history.”
Springer said the monuments are memorials for those who served.
“We have to protect our monuments. They fought for Texas, they fought for what they believed in. There was only 6% that owned slaves, those were for those farmers that left the farm and went and defended,” Springer said. “The same statues are in the north for the same reasons that they did. They went to defend their areas, their state, their region where they believed in and we have to keep them.”
Luther said she backs President Donald Trump about touching property that doesn’t belong to you.
“I’m going to back President Trump on this one and say there should be criminal charges for touching property that is not yours,” Luther said. “You should also be thrown in jail for that, for defacing any monument and what’s crazy is [they] don’t even know what most of the monuments are, they’re just tearing it down to tear you down and we need to fight back against that.”
Carter said he will make sure no monuments are torn down on his watch.
“I spent my career restoring historic properties and letting the stories live on and protecting those, and I will continue to protect those monuments and make sure that none are torn down on our watch,” Carter said.
Moving closer to wrapping up the forum, each candidate was asked what their top three goals would be if they are elected to SD 30.
“My top goals are property tax, behind that is being very creative on focused on job creation and moving our district forward,” Carter said. “We have tremendous growth happening right now in Texas and we need to use this opportunity with the changes in COVID to reevaluate how we do things and how to move Texas forward.”
Hopper said overreach, property taxes and supporting young farmers will be his top priorities.
“My first priority would be to aggressively stand against overreach by federal courts,” Hopper said. “My second priority would be to take immediate action to help folks with this ever-rising property tax and put some reasonable caps in place and my third priority would be to absolutely support the idea that young farmers can get into farming and become big farmers.”
Watts said his top priorities would be focusing on emergency declaration laws, saving money to address property taxes and protecting infrastructure.
“My first priority would be to try reform the emergency declaration laws of the state of Texas. Second priority is to dig into the budget, find creative ways that you can save money and then you can address the property tax situation and you can address the sales tax information, and to make sure our infrastructure is protected,” Watts said. “We cannot dip into the Proposition 1 and 7 money that was voted on by the voters for transportation. We have to make sure our infrastructure stays strong because that is the lifeblood of the economic miracle that we’ve enjoyed in the state of Texas.”
Springer said property taxes, pro-life and law enforcement support are his top three goals.
“We’ve got to reduce property taxes,” Springer said. “Second, we’ve got to have stronger pro-life measures like a trigger bill that we don’t have to wait until we get back into session to do it and we’ve got to support our law enforcement and secure the border.”
Luther said her biggest priority is getting the government off the backs of the people as well as taxes and abolishing abortion.
“I want to get the government off our backs and that’s like a wide range of things we can add that to. I don’t want the government involved in almost anything that we do because you guys are responsible and can take care of yourselves,” Luther said. “I also will talk about property taxes of course and I also want to abolish abortion in Texas, thank you.”
Other questions the candidates were asked related to local control, marijuana, water and transportation infrastructure and addressing the budget deficit.
Senate District 30 serves Archer, Clay, Cooke, Erath, Grayson, Jack, Montague, Palo Pinto, Parker, Wichita, Wise and Young counties, as well as portions of Denton County and Collin County.
Early voting for the Sept. 29 special election will take place from Sept. 14-18, Sept. 20 and Sept. 21-25.
The full video from Thursday night’s candidate forum can be found on the Parker County Republican Party Facebook page.