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Buda Area Chamber hosts candidate forum

By Amira Van Leeuwen

Correction: Karen Marshall served under Greg Abbott (current Governor) when he was Texas Attorney General, not Ken Paxton, as previously written. 

HAYS COUNTY — Several candidates on the November ballot gathered with residents at a public forum hosted by the Buda Area Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 6 p.m. to discuss issues important to the community. 

Greeted by a full house, Hays County Commissioner candidates for Precinct 2, Dr. Michelle Cohen and former Kyle Mayor Mike Gonzalez, and Precinct 4 candidates Susan Cook and Walt Smith answered three questions related to water and transportation in the county. 

Water

Cook, who initially decided to get in the race due to her concerns about water resources, emphasized the need for a long-term water conservation plan and building homes to meet environmental challenges. 

“Year after year, we try to imbed good, sound rainwater harvesting, it gets knocked down by the developer class,” Cook said. “We can’t listen to ‘Oh no, we can’t afford that.’”

Smith, who is up for re-election, said he had fought hard to get additional authority for the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) in the last two sessions. Still, counties are statutorily weak when it comes to water. He advocated for incentivizing developers on the front end to recoup initial county funding to incentivize homeowners in their development to do rainwater capture and wells through photoionization detectors (PIDS).

Cohen mentioned neighbors who complained about their water shutting off without notice. She would seek solutions and depend on the experts. 

Gonzalez said there are two aspects to consider: affordability and availability. He advocated for a diverse portfolio of water sources.

Transportation

As for transportation, Cohen was concerned about the Kyle Road Bond plan because it consists of several roundabouts – which is something that many residents have been anxious about.  

Cook said the county needs “real” traffic solutions that are easy and inexpensive. 

“We don’t need to be choosing roads on who gave a certain commissioner money [or]who built that road,” Cook said. 

Smith said he was proud of the county’s master transportation plan.

JP Candidates

Precinct 5 Justice of the Peace candidates Sandra Bryant and Karen Marshall shared their thoughts about individuals thinking that judicial races, like the Texas Supreme Court and Justice of the Peace, should be made non-partisan positions. 

Bryant believes the justice of the peace office should be nonpartisan and not reflect any party affiliation. 

“As a judge, you’re going to serve each and every one,” Bryant said. 

Marshall said this had been an ongoing issue since the 1800s.

“I believe the reason that Texas chose partisan positions for Justice of the Peace and other judges is because they wanted the people to elect versus having others in power, just putting someone in there that would benefit themselves,” Marshall said. 

Marshall added that Judge Doyle was leaving the office in “very good shape,” but this was a “new era” for Precinct 5. She has served under former Texas Attorney Generals Greg Abbott (current Governor) and Dan Morales, and she will collaborate with law enforcement. 

Bryant, who is passionate about her community, said she would work to move the docket effectively.

District 45 Rep.

State House of Representative candidates for District 45, Erin Zwiener and Michelle Lopez, answered questions related to school funding. 

“We have to, as a state, keep our commitment to our kids, and we’re not,” Zwiener said. She supports passing a constitutional amendment to require the state to fund at least 50% of the cost of public schools. “That is fundamentally the only way to keep our property taxes from going through the roof year after year after year.” 

Lopez, who works in higher education, said the education system needs to consider how the state uses allocated funds. If elected, Lopez will focus on job growth, the economy and safety.

“We all have to learn to live within our means, and the Texas government, our state government, should do the same,” Lopez said. “We’ve heard earlier about the issues of fentanyl coming across our borders. Also, the issues of trafficking — all of the things that create safe neighborhoods for us are the areas that I would put my efforts toward as your state representative.” 

Zwiener said she would restore reproductive freedom and advocate for common sense gun safety if re-elected.

“We need to get back on track focusing on Texas lives instead of picking partisan fights,” Zwiener said. 

County Clerk Candidates

County clerk candidates Linda Duran and Elaine Cardenas responded to questions related to safety issues and voting issues. 

Duran said she would focus on reopening satellite offices and changing business hours. 

Cardenas, who is running for re-election, said she would advocate for better wages and prepare for financial difficulties. 

Regarding safety measures, Cardenas said she would engage with the Department of Homeland Security for security assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities. 

Duran said she would remove access from employees’ personal computers and ensure new hires have taken a state-mandated security awareness program. 

Early voting begins on Oct. 24. Election day will be Nov. 8. For more information, visit www.hayscountytx.com/departments/elections. 

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