I haven’t seen any newspaper endorsements in the special elections that will conclude on Tuesday. I can tell you that the Texas Parent PAC has endorsed Diego Bernal in HD123 and John Cyrier in HD17. In the absence of further endorsements to report on, here’s a news roundup based on Google searches of the various candidates.
In SD26, it’s all about the money.
A powerful special interest group that has contributed millions of dollars mostly to state Republicans over the years is targeting Democrat Trey Martinez Fischer’s bid to fill a vacant Senate seat.
And now Martinez Fischer is attempting to draw connections between the group, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and his main opponent in the race, Democratic state Rep. José Menéndez.
TLR is the richest and most influential tort reform group in the state, and its political action committee has already spent close to $180,000 to influence Tuesday’s special election in District 26, state records show. That includes research and polling, along with TV ads and mailers blasting Martinez Fischer.
In a campaign memo released Wednesday, Martinez Fischer leveled his strongest public accusations to date about links to the group and Menéndez, claiming the head of TLR has personally made calls to help Menéndez and to “thwart” Martinez Fischer’s own fundraising efforts.
Martinez Fischer, in the memo, goes on to note that TLR contract lobbyist Ed Lopez was named earlier this month as part of the Menéndez finance team and then claims another unnamed lobbyist working for the group recently held a fundraiser for Menéndez.
“In my estimation, José’s relationship with TLR is obvious,” Martinez Fischer says in the memo.
On Wednesday, Menéndez remained steadfast that he’s not in cahoots with the group.
“It is obvious to me that Trey is desperate to try to create a connection between TLR and myself that doesn’t’ exist,” he said. “We’re running our campaign, and we’re not in a position that we feel like we need any help from outside sources.”
Menéndez also said that Lopez, the TLR lobbyist Martinez Fischer cited in his memo, is a personal friend dating back to his days on San Antonio City Council, and that “he’s a supporter of mine because he believes in me as a person.”
TMF has greatly outraised Menendez, though a lot of his donations have been non-local. Both candidates are spending heavily on TV ads. When the first order of business is to make sure people are aware that there is an election going on in the first place, you do what you have to do.
Meanwhile, the candidates in HD123 are trying to be heard over that volume.
The ballot includes three Democrats: businesswoman Melissa Aguillon, former San Antonio City Councilman Diego Bernal, and Walter Martinez, also a former city councilman, who served in the Texas House in the ’80s.
The lone Republican is insurance agent Nunzio Previtera. Clinical psychologist Paul Ingmundson is the Green Party candidate, while Libertarian Roger Gary rounds out the ballot.
Gary, like the others, has education reform high on his list. He wants to get back to the basics, like, he says, teaching basic math. ”I’ve asked some other people who say they’re doing it all on computers; people’s grammar and spelling and math, let’s get back to those basics. That’s what we need. The rest of the stuff they’re squabbling about, what’s in a high school history book? Well, who cares if they can’t read and write.”
Republican Nunzio Previtera wants schools to put as much emphasis on vocational training as they do on college preparation. “The primary goal of our school system needs to be to provide our students with opportunities to prosper as working adults, get them ready to be adults. Our magnet schools have done a pretty good job, but they need to be expanded, and our primary schools need to put a lot more emphasis on vocational skills and training people for their adult life.”
Paul Ingmundson went to UT Austin, where he paid $50 a semester. He says college tuition today is outrageous. He wants the first two years of college to be free. He’d pay for that by taxing oil and gas producers. “We can address the fossil fuel problem and the education problem with one policy change. I think even Republicans are going to start to get used to this. They are going to look around for money, and if you’re going to look around for money, the deepest pockets are in the oil and gas fields.”
More affordable higher education and technical training are also high on the agendas of Democrats Melissa Aguillon and Walter Martinez.
“It was challenging for my parents to put me through college,” says Aguillon. “I actually had to pretty much fund my own college tuition, and so, I want to make sure that higher education is accessible for all students that want to go to college.” But she adds, there are far more career paths available to those students now, and far more jobs being created, “21st century jobs that don’t necessarily require a four-year education.”
“I think it’s important that the necessary skills for trades are also accessible to them,” says Aguillon. Fellow Democrat Martinez agrees, and adds, “The delivery and implementation of workforce training, also providing technical training, to be able to provide the workforce that modern technology requires, those are all part of the agenda as far as supporting public education.”
Democrat Diego Bernal says the first bill he’d file would overhaul the way the state decides how much money each school district will receive. “The very first one I would file would have to do with public education and the formula that we use to pay for students who are either economically disadvantaged or English language learners. There’s a formula they use to give districts extra money and that formula hasn’t been updated since the mid-’80s. So if you want to know what my very first attempt at a bill would be, that would be it.”
Here’s an Express News overview of this race. The SA Current did Q&As with four of the candidates in the HD123 race – with Diego Bernal, Melissa Aguillon, Walter Martinez, and Roger Gary. They also profiled Bernal and noted that Aguillon had received financial support from a Georgia-based auto title loan business owner.
As for HD17, news is a lot harder to find. What little I have is from the Gonzalez Inquirer. Here’s their overview of the race:
Republican candidate John Cyrier, 41, of Lockhart, was in town Monday morning for a brief rally at the Roger M. Dreyer Memorial Airport to kick off early voting. He arrived by air in his Cessna Skylane II— which appropriately sported the colors red, white and blue.
The other Republican in the race, Brent Golemon, 46, of Bastrop, got a taste of politics early in life. Golemon worked as a legislative aide and chief-of-staff at the capitol after graduating Hampden-Sydney College while his father was a 35-year lobbyist in Austin.
Golemon co-founded GalleryWatch, the nation’s first online legislative tracking service in 1996, which was sold eight years later. His current occupation is listed as “entrepreneur.”
The closest Golemon gets to an elected office credential is a stint on the Tahitian Village Property Owners Association and a board appointment to the Bastrop County Water District. In his spare time, he enjoys coaching six-man football at a Christian-based athletics program for home-schooled and private school families.
The first of two Democrats on the ballot is Ty McDonald, 43, also of Bastrop. She is a 1993 graduate of Texas A&M University and is married to former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald.
McDonald’s early education into elected public service was as legislative director for State Rep. Yvonne Davis in the early 90s. She also served as campaign coordinator for John Sharp during his failed bid for comptroller.
After serving as a public school teacher for seven years, she was elected to a single term to the board of the Bastrop Independent School District. Her last year was served as president of that body.
After flirting with a run for state rep earlier this year, McDonald switched races to challenge incumbent Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape. She lost that contest in November.
The other Democrat is Shelley Cartier, 51, yet another candidate from the Bastrop area. Her business card describes her as a non-politician and small business owner.
On the issues, she supports local control and small growth. Public education is also in her platform and she says she is a “defender of property and water rights for all.”
In her spare time she advocates for the humane treatment of animals and hosts several rescue horses on her property.
Rounding out the list is the lone Independent candidate, Linda Curtis, 63, the final Bastrop resident. Her tagline is “If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em!”
They also have a profile of Cyrier.
Cyrier hails from Caldwell County where he and his wife Rachelle live on a ranch south of Lockhart. His political fact sheet touts many accomplishments for the 42 year-old—successful businessman, past county commissioner and former commander of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band. He now wishes to be State Representative for District 17, which includes Gonzales County.
His business career began after he received a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology from Texas A&M University. A couple of stops in the general contracting business and branch office management led him to launch Sabre Commercial, Inc. in 2008, a commercial construction services company specializing in general contracting. It employs 51 people and has won numerous distinctions from the Austin Business Journal including a nomination for Best CEO Award in September.
“I surround myself with good people and I take care of them,” said Cyrier. The good working morale has led Sabre to three top-10 “Best Places to Work in Central Texas” designations from the Journal.
Cyrier’s political career began in 2010. There was a vacancy on the commissioner’s court in Caldwell County and longtime County Judge H.T. Wright, Jr., a Democrat, picked Cyrier based on his community accomplishments. The judge knew that he would take heat for the appointment since Cyrier was a Republican, but he saw a need to balance the court and invite all ideas to the table.
Turns out that Cyrier was only the second Republican to ever hold a seat on the court. Party designation didn’t matter to most voters, for he was elected outright later that year by 60 percent of the ballots and was named Judge Pro-Tem in 2012.
“I loved being a county commissioner,” he said.
Cyrier decided to serve out his term but opted not to run in the general election in 2012. He figured that he could do just as much good for the community away from the commissioner’s court than he could on it. The list of boards on which he currently serves include: Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), Caritas of Austin, Lockhart ISD Education Foundation, Caldwell County Republican precinct chair—and the list goes on — prove just that.
During the Thanksgiving holiday he received a call from Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape. Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt had resigned and the county’s leadership was looking for a candidate to promote. One GOP candidate had already popped up in Bastrop, but they were looking for something more. They believed that Cyrier had the vision to be the district’s next leader.
With the added urging of longtime Bastrop County Commissioner Clara Beckett, Cyrier decided to run and continue his community service at the elected level. Soon he had a list of supporters that any candidate would envy.
There are three things that Cyrier lists as top priorities in the upcoming legislative session: education, water and infrastructure. Luckily for District 17, all three topics resonate throughout the five rural counties he would represent.
On education, Cyrier already counts superintendents from Bastrop, Smithville, Karnes, Lockhart, Gonzales and a host of other education professionals as supporting his candidacy.
He shows a strong command of the issues facing public schools in the state. His concerns are on elected officials that look to defund public education to send dollars elsewhere. Oftentimes school is the only place a child can eat a regular meal for breakfast, lunch— and more often now— even dinner.
Diverting public dollars would have an adverse affect on education, especially in communities like this one where the school system is the major employer. Cyrier looks to be a strong advocate for these independent school districts.
He also draws a parallel between the growth the district has seen based on underground resources—water to the north and oil to the south. Where Bastrop County has seen sprawl eat on its western flank, water developers look to siphon off the precious resource to far-flung housing developments throughout the I-35 corridor and down to San Antonio. Similar concerns can be seen here.
The other boom is down south with the shale explosion in the Eagle Ford. Gonzales County is experiencing growth and road degradation associated with this as is its neighbor to the south, Karnes County. Cyrier understands this and how public infrastructure funding is so important to the area.
Since all five counties in the district are still largely rural, he feels that the area shares the same challenges.
So there you have it. If you live in one of these districts, please make sure you vote.