By Anita Miller
During their League of Women Voters candidate forum on Oct. 6, District 45 State Rep. Erin Zwiener, a Democrat, pointed to her record during her first legislative term and what she would do if re-elected.
Republican Carrie Isaac, challenging Zwiener for the seat, relied on themes of fighting property taxes, border security and cutting regulations on businesses.
In way of introduction, Isaac said she is a “wife and mother to two teenage boys” who has been “active in the community for over 15 years.”
Public education was mentioned by both. Isaac vowed to “direct more money” to teachers and classrooms.” Zwiener said she helped work to pass a massive education funding bill that included pay raises for educators and state funding for all-day pre-K instruction.
Zwiener noted that Texas Monthly magazine called her the “most savvy” of freshman legislators during her initial term and said she is “committed to common sense government” including fully funding public schools and fighting to expand Medicaid within the state “so we can all afford to see a doctor.”
When moderator Dorothy Marchand asked about how they would expand Texans’ access to healthcare, given that the state ranks high in the number of both uninsured residents and maternal mortality, Isaac suggested increasing competition. She called the state’s current healthcare system “shadowy,” limiting patients “little access” to information.
“We need more transparency. You need to know what something costs before you buy it, she said. “People should be able to shop around. I support policies that provide more competition and choice.”
“Yes, I will answer the question,” Zwiener responded. “I will support Medicaid expansion in Texas.”
She continued, “Too many Texans are one diagnosis away from bankruptcy. The biggest thing we can do is expand Medicaid to 1.5 million more Texans and bring more of the federal income tax dollars we pay back to our state,” something she said would keep rural hospitals open and create a community where “everyone” has access.” From the pandemic, Zwiener said we learned that “we are only as healthy as our sickest relative. Medicaid expansion is the way forward.”
When the topic turned to Kinder Morgan’s controversial Permian Highway Pipeline and the company’s use of eminent domain to acquire right-of way, Zwiener said the company “unfortunately” chose to run it though the middle of the Texas Hill Country. “It didn’t make sense, and nothing illustrated that better than their decision to try to cross under the Blanco River not once but twice. They lost thousands of gallons of fluid when they hit a karst feature, and muddied wells . ..I will fight to, no, I will introduce legislation to create a public routing process just like with a road or electric transmission line or railroad. Eminent domain should not exist without transparency.”
Isaac said that Zwiener and others who have fought Kinder Morgan’s route “accomplished nothing” and said that U.S. Rep. Chip Roy “worked with Kinder Morgan to get them to go around” and not under the river a second time. “I know how to work with people,” she said.
Zwiener rebutted. “The coalition of folks I worked with delayed the operation by a year,” she said. “I’m confident we dissuaded other companies from coming to the Hill Country.”
When asked what steps they would take to ensure all Texans can fairly exercise their voting rights, Isaac defended the way things are now done.
“The process we have in Texas regarding absentee voting works well. You ask for a ballot and you get one.” She talked about how other states have different processes that they have developed and work well there. “I don’t believe states should change their processes right before an election.”
On voting, Zwiener said the right to do so is sacred, despite efforts by the state to suppress. She said she supports online voter registration something already in use by most other states. “It’s secure and it works,”she said. She would also allow all Texans access to mail-in balloting.
When asked about legislation that was already introduced into the Texas House that failed to become law, Zwiener mentioned decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana ,arrests for other low-level offenses and implicit bias training and “strong use of force standards” for law enforcement. Based on a civilian who was shot in the face (with “non-lethal” ammunition) during a protest in Austin, Zwiener said she will work on legislation “to ban the use of these munitions for crowd control.”
Isaac said she is for bail reform, that bail should “be set at risk, not riches.”
She also used the occasion to say we must “make sure to fund the police” and noted that her “opponent never talked about police officers that were actually injured during protests” and that her opponent “wants to defund” law enforcement and “voted against a bill to protect boys and girls from sex trafficking. “People are worried about their safety.”
Zwiener clarified that her vote was against a “power grab by indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton” that would strip local district attorneys of some power, which would transfer to the AG’s office and that would allow “unlimited numbers of armed teachers on our campuses.”
On the subject of government assistance for small businesses and people who have lost jobs during the COVID-19 recession, Isaac reiterated that the “number one issue I’m hearing about is property taxes. They are out of control. ”She said she would implement a statewide spending cap of “population plus inflation” and used the revenue to buy down maintenance operation debt as well as eliminate Robin Hood, which “takes from every school district.”
“The social safety net is broken, we learned during the pandemic,”Zwiener said, noting that the Texas Workforce Commission was operating under outdated procedures and with outdated equipment when an unanticipated number of unemployment claims came in suddenly.
“we haven’t invested in our social safety net and I will work to rebuild the system. She mentioned rental and mortgage assistance as good investments because “it’s not good for the economy to have Texans homeless — that’s how you turn a recession into a depression. Property taxes are the best way to fund our schools.” She said the state backing off public school funding has put the burden on taxpayers.
Each candidate also answered questions about their views on women’ healthcare and the role of government in creating a safe environment for LBGTQ students.
In closing, Isaac reminded viewers she has been active in the community and that, “We are blessed to live in the greatest state in the greatest nation” and that “churches and nonprofits do a much better job of taking care of neighbors than the government.”
Zwiener said, “I am your state representative and I spent my first term fighting for every Texan and that’s something I will continue to do when re-elected” and that she wants her young daughter to grow up as she did.
“Times are tough but Texans are tougher. We had lost over 16,000 Texans due to poor leadership, driven more by dogma than facts. I will put the interests of Texans first.”