In Austin-area House race, candidates’ party loyalties at question


State Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, faces two GOP opponents who say he’s not conservative enough.

Five Democrats are running to represent the Texas House district.

State Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, has more than $143,000 in his campaign coffers and the endorsement of major conservative organizations from Texas Alliance for Life to the National Rifle Association.

And in yet another leg-up for the District 47 lawmaker, Gov. Greg Abbott cast his early voting ballot on Tuesday alongside Workman, praising him as someone who would help keep “Texas on the right track.”

But his opponents in the March 6 primary say all the hype doesn’t jibe with his voting record, one they say is too liberal. Early voting runs until Friday. District 47 encompasses western Travis County, including parts of West Austin, Bee Cave, Lakeway and Lago Vista.

“Paul Workman voted against property tax relief last session. I would not have. Taxes are the No. 1 problem for homeowners, for everyone in Travis County. We don’t need a pale imitation of what the Democrats are doing in Travis,” said Jay Wiley, a Republican small-business owner.

Wiley, who had $73,000 in cash on hand as of Jan. 25, added that if elected, he would join the House’s Freedom Caucus, tea party-aligned members who sometimes defy the Republican majority. He said he wants to change the way the Legislature develops the state’s budget every two years by first zeroing out all agency budgets and adding what agencies need.

Wiley said that Workman has supported an increase on local hotel occupancy tax and increasing taxes on nursing home patients. He also pointed to Workman’s initial vote against an amendment that bans third-trimester abortions during the last regular legislative session. Workman later changed his vote.

Workman defends his record, saying the hotel industry in Austin supported the occupancy tax increase because it would create more visitors to the city. He also said he supported a tax on nursing homes, not on their clients. He said he’s upheld conservative values by signing onto the House’s version of Senate Bill 4, the so-called sanctuary cities law that penalizes local governmental entities that decline to help enforce federal immigration laws. He also proposed a bill during the summer special legislative session that would have prohibited cities from restricting homeowners from removing trees on their property — one of Abbott’s priorities. It failed, but a watered-down version passed.

Workman said he plans on continuing to curb cities like Austin from exerting too much control over their residents and businesses. He said he’ll work on overturning the Austin City Council’s recent decision to require all nongovernmental employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees.

“We have unfinished business at the Capitol, and the primary thing that we’re focusing on is the city’s war on private business and private property,” he said.

Wiley lost to Workman by 22 percentage points in the 2016 primary. This time, Workman, a construction consultant, faces a third Republican — retired nurse Patty Vredevelt — who also questions Workman’s conservatism.

“Paul Workman runs on special interests,” Vredevelt said.

In the Democratic primary for District 47, concerns about real estate broker Vikki Goodwin’s loyalty to her party has also bubbled up. Goodwin has been accused of campaigning for Republican Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty in 2012 while she was a Democratic Party precinct chairwoman.

Goodwin said voters haven’t asked her about Daugherty. She said she’s running on things they care about, including fixing the school finance system. She’d like to ensure that commercial properties are fairly appraised, which could generate more revenue for schools. She opposes using state money to pay for private school tuition and supports curbing the growth of charter schools, which are privately run public schools.

“Voters want change. They are tired of the divisiveness in the Legislature, and I am ready to step up and provide that change,” said Goodwin, who has raised the most money in the Democratic primary — $41,000 as of Jan. 25.

Fellow Democrat Sheri Soltes, who runs a service dog nonprofit, is second behind Goodwin in campaign fundraising — $17,000 through Jan. 25.

In addition to supporting Medicaid expansion and stopping “reckless developments” that hurt the environment, Soltes said she wants to increase the state’s share of school funding from about 40 percent to 60 percent and divert some of the money spent on fortifying the Texas-Mexico border to public schools.

“Texas children deserve better. Everybody wants basically the same things which is to have a fair shot to make the most of their lives,” she said.

Also running in the Democratic primary are Elaina Fowler, head of a public employee retiree group; Candace Aylor, a nurse; and Will Simpson, a tech company executive.

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