Tense discussion over a wide range of topics highlighted Thursday’s debate involving candidates running for Hays County Judge and Texas House District 45.
The event, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Hays County, drew over 100 residents to the San Marcos Activity Center.
Hays County Judge
In the race for Hays County Judge, Democrat Ruben Becerra and Republican Will Conley sparred over experience, the county’s debt and economic development.
Throughout the night, Conley cited his 14 years of experience as a public official and felt he is someone who can lead Hays County, based on his track record.
Conley spoke on his efforts as a commissioner and chairman of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) to ensure property infrastructure needs for the county as it continues to rank as one of the fastest growing regions in the country.
“I have led those efforts and worked with the state to bring half a billion dollars in highway improvements,” Conley said. “I am passionate about transportation and how we can solve those issues. I bring every bit of knowledge to ensure we are part of that regional conversation with our transportation needs.”
Becerra focused on the county’s “crippling” debt, which is the second highest in the state of Texas per capita at around $2,000 per person.
Becerra said property taxes continue to rise, which he believes only burdens the citizenry even more.
When asked about incentives for businesses coming into Hays County, Becerra said officials should not give them to everyone.
“As the darling we are in Central Texas, I find it very hard to find reason to incentivize dollars to build something over environmentally sensitive areas,” Becerra said. “It’s important for us to be good stewards with our money.”
Conley said the county has continued to bring high paying jobs to the area, calling Amazon’s move to build a fulfillment center a victory.
Additionally, Conley said he wants to balance growth with environmental consciousness and continue his efforts with economic development organizations, such as the Greater San Marcos Partnership (GSMP), to bring more high paying jobs to the area.
“I am prepared to be the County Judge of this community. I have the experience, knowledge and skill set to take our county into the future,” Conley said. “I have worked with all sides and all interest and all parties, not only in Hays County but at a regional level as well, and put our county on the map in a way it’s never been in our history.”
Conley urged Hays County residents to put him and his opponent side by side to evaluate their experience and ability to do the job.
Becerra said he wants to focus on the county’s growth intelligently, including plans to develop roads and infrastructure on the east side of Interstate 35, an area Democratic candidates believe has been neglected.
“I believe in people over politics. Our property taxes are out of control and they need to be brought down. I believe ruining young adult lives over nonviolent offenses is criminal,” Becerra said. “I believe Hays County citizens should have the opportunity to work, live and play here. I believe Hays County needs a hard working Judge, and I will be that Judge for you.”
Texas House District 45
Senate Bill 4 and healthcare were primary topics brought up in the first public debate between Democrat Erin Zweiner and Republican Ken Strange, who are vying for the Texas House District 45 seat.
Zwiener, a progressive Democrat, said SB4, which was signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2017, is one of the worst and most disgraceful laws in her lifetime.
According to the Texas Tribune, SB4 outlaws sanctuary cities in Texas. It also requires local authorities to cooperate with federal immigration officials to allow enforcement to ask about the immigration status of a person they lawfully detain.
“Another provision of the law is the ‘show me your papers’ provision,” Zwiener said. “Any individual law enforcement officer is empowered, if they suspect someone is not in the country with documentation, to demand proof. That’s just opening the door to racial profiling. My Texas is better than that.”
Strange said he is a proponent of SB4, as added border security and identification measures can help save the lives of immigrants who are crossing deserts and dangerous conditions to come to the U.S.
“I am for SB4. By having sanctuary cities, we are encouraging people to come across on the border,” Strange said. “People are being abused trying to get to these sanctuary cities we are supporting. We need better laws for people to come here, and not protect them from breaking the law.”
Zwiener told Strange not to “dress this up” as a law that protects immigrants.
The candidates also discussed their plans to give citizens access to healthcare, despite having opposite ideas on how to do that.
Strange said the state officials should look at any federal dollars left on the table to build a sustainable program that provides good healthcare for all, without burdening the state.
Although Strange was not specific on how to build these programs to fund healthcare, he was not a proponent of expanding government programs such as Medicaid.
Zwiener said Texas left $6 billion on the table last year when the state refused to expand Medicare, which could have insured over one million people.
After the debate in a statement, Zwiener said she was disappointed her opponent could not present solutions to the problems addressed at the debate.
“I’m not in this to represent the folks who share my party label, I’m in this to represent everyone,” Zwiener said. “And I will fight for each and every Texan. What choice you have this election is between the status quo and someone who is ready to get in there and get to work. Someone who is not afraid to tell the specifics.”
In his closing statement, Strange said he has been in public service his entire adult life through the Air Force, as a volunteer fireman and current director of Wimberley EMS.
Strange said he has received the endorsement of the two previous HD45 representatives, including a Democrat.
“They know (I’m the best for the job) because we’ve worked together. This is going to be a tough job and I’m here to do it,” Strange said. “I’ve proven over the years that I can do this and I will continue in my years of public service at your capital.”