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Buckingham, Leeder vie for open Hill Country state Senate seat

The race to replace retiring 20-year state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, will pit Republican Dawn Buckingham against Democrat Virginia “Jennie Lou” Leeder to represent a district that has traditionally been a GOP stronghold.

Early voting for the Nov. 8 election begins Oct. 24.

Leeder, chairwoman of Llano County’s Democratic Party from 2007-15, is the first Democrat since 1996 to seek election to Senate District 24, which encompasses 17 counties that stretch from the Hill Country to Abilene, including a slice of western Travis County.

A seventh-generation Texan and a Llano resident, Leeder emphasizes her rural roots with a focus on better funding for education, particularly for higher teacher salaries, as well as improving hospital access and the roads and bridges in the district.

“I’m from rural Texas, and I feel like I can relate to the voters. I think it’s important to understand their pain and what they are going through,” she said. “They want a senator who understands life in rural Texas.”

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Buckingham, a Lakeway eye surgeon who served on the Lake Travis school board for a year before resigning to run for the Senate, describes herself as a Christian, liberty-minded candidate prepared for tough choices when the Legislature crafts a two-year budget with the state’s oil and gas industry hurting.

“I think in a tight budget year, you’re going to have to look for opportunities” to cut taxes, spending and unnecessary regulations, Buckingham said. “We talk about decreasing the footprint of government. It needs to be smaller and less intrusive into our daily lives — and it will cost us less.”

She supports beefing up security along the border with Mexico and wants to fight “sanctuary city” policies that discourage police and jail personnel from enforcing immigration laws.

“Border security, both for our economic viability and the safety of our communities, truly is our No. 1 issue,” said Buckingham, 48.

The Republican also favors reducing the power of state bureaucrats and unions in local schools and said she would vote for “school choice,” which would let students attend private schools with public education money.

“All of our kids need to have the opportunity to go to a good school, not just the wealthy kids,” Buckingham said.

Leeder, who taught agriculture and physical education for 11 years and is now a swim coach, wants to improve education by overhauling the school finance system to ensure that the state better meets its financial obligations to students. Llano, like many other school districts, is having trouble making ends meet under the current “Robin Hood” system that siphons money from property-rich districts for distribution to property-poorer ones, she said.

“We spend more per day to house an inmate than we do on a student,” said Leeder, 50.

Leeder wants to champion policies that would bring more hospitals and trauma treatment centers to the district. “There are places in the 17 counties where people are driving over 50 miles to get good health care, and that is just not acceptable,” she said.

The Democrat also is concerned by dangerous roads — some without a shoulder, others with unrepaired potholes — in the district, and she wants to put bridges on a tighter inspection schedule.

Leeder, however, is far behind in fundraising. In a campaign finance report filed 30 days before the election, the Democrat had $9,377 in the bank after raising $11,620 over the previous three months. Buckingham, in contrast, had $154,037 on hand after raising $195,484 in the same period.

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