State Representative Hopefuls Debate Tuesday

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Six candidates are competing to replace retiring State Representative John Otto for the District 18 seat in the Texas House of Representatives. Tuesday night voters had the chance to hear what the six candidates, who are all running as Republicans, stand for during a debate held at the Walker Education Center hosted by the Sam Houston Tea Party.

Following opening statements, candidates were asked questions regarding a variety of topics relating to House District 18, which comprises of parts of San Jacinto, Liberty and Walker County, such as residents’ discontent with their property tax rates, school choice, border security and child vaccinations.

Given that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is Huntsville’s largest employer, questions regarding criminal justice reform received particular interest from the residents in attendance. Specifically, the decriminalization of marijuana and the TDCJ’s hiring of foreign nationals to serve as correctional officers were topics of discussion.

Concluding the evening, candidates were asked what their thoughts were on tax-exempt entities, such as the TDCJ and Sam Houston State University, receiving land grants and the effect those entities have on the local economy. The general consensus among the candidates was that the large entities such as SHSU provided a large economic impact on the area but stressed the importance of not allowing the state government to cause undue burdens on local private businesses.

When weighing the economic costs of the tax-exempt land, candidate Ernest Bailes of San Jacinto County highlighted the benefits that entities like SHSU bring to Walker County and the City of Huntsville.

“We need to look at the benefit that this campus brings to the entire town of Huntsville, look at the developments, look at the food structures that are there because of the student population,” Bailes said. “We have to be mindful of everything that factors into [declaring land grants]. But every land grant must be justifiable, for the greater good of the people and those [original owners] must be adequately compensated for that.”

The six candidates are Wesley Hinch and Keith Strahan of Liberty County, Ernest Bailes and Van Brookshire of San Jacinto County and James Turner and James Morrison of Walker County. None of the candidates have ever been a member of the Texas House.