Two Republicans who fall on different ends of the conservative spectrum are leading the cash race in the five-way GOP primary contest for an open seat in Texas House District 45, which encompasses Hays and Blanco counties.
Meanwhile, concerns have been raised about whether a candidate in the district’s Democratic primary meets residency requirements to run for the Texas House.
State Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, isn’t running for re-election so that he can run for the 21st Congressional District.
Amber Pearce had $131,000 in campaign contributions as of Feb. 24, the most out of the five Republicans running in Tuesday’s primary. Most of her war chest is made up of her own money. Pearce, who has the endorsement of multiple tea party-aligned state lawmakers in the Freedom Caucus, said she’s self-funding her campaign so that she doesn’t have to answer to donors.
“I may have been endorsed by conservative agencies, but I have received no money from them,” Pearce said.
Pearce said she is the most conservative of the GOP candidates. She said she doesn’t support abortions of any kind, adding that in cases of rape and incest, babies can be adopted. Pearce said she also supports freedom for parents to choose to vaccinate their children and what kinds of schools they should attend.
Pearce said she supports traditional public schools, but that she would back using state money to help parents pay for private school, an idea that traditional public school supporters have opposed.
“I was a single mom and I couldn’t afford private school. I didn’t have a choice except to (vaccinate) my children because my kids had to go to public school and the public school forces that,” she said.
Wimberley school board member Ken Strange, who has raised the most after Pearce — $65,000 — said he opposes private school vouchers.
“I think it would exacerbate where we are in the public school system and more than that … it would grow government,” said Strange, who is director of Wimberley Emergency Medical Services.
Strange said there needs to be more transparency within the recapture system under which school districts with higher property wealth must send money back to the state to help support property-poor school districts.
Unlike Pearce, Strange spoke positively of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, who has been criticized for not being conservative enough.
Democrats in the district believe they have a chance to take the seat. In Hays County, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by less than a percentage point — 600 votes — but in much smaller Blanco County, Trump won by 3,000 votes.
The possibility of a Democrat winning the seat is one of the major reasons why Les Carnes said voters shouldn’t vote for Erin Zwiener. With the primary just days away, Carnes has filed an application with the Texas Democratic Party to have her removed from the ballot.
Carnes said Zwiener, who has raised $26,000, doesn’t meet the two-year Texas residency requirement to run for the Texas House, pointing to the fact that she voted in Arizona in the Nov. 8, 2016, election. Carnes said if Zwiener wins the primary, Republicans will work to throw her off the November ballot, eliminating the chance for a Democrat to win.
According to Zwiener’s attorney, she had been back to Texas to care for a relative in the first half of 2016 and had signed a contract to buy a house in the district in September 2016.
“The timing of (the allegation) resurfacing was designed to distract me from critical efforts to get out the vote and to sow doubt in voters right before the election,” Zwiener said in a statement on Facebook.
If elected, Zwiener said she would work to repeal Senate Bill 4, signed into law last year penalizing local governmental entities who do not comply with federal immigration enforcement. She said she also will work on a bill to give unauthorized immigrants the ability to obtain a Texas driver’s license
Zwiener adds that she opposes the Texas voter identification law. She wants to introduce online voter registration and would support a nonpartisan redistricting commission to examine how to draw political districts more fairly.
Carnes, a criminal analyst for Travis County constable Precinct 3, has raised $8,000. Carnes’ biggest priority is to ensure that groundwater is protected from corporations that want to buy it — an issue that has affected the district — and to increase funding to water districts.
He also supports eliminating tax breaks for big oil and gas industries and finding a way to lower health care costs for retired teachers.
Texas State University professor Rebecca Bell-Metereau, who lost to Republican Ken Mercer in 2016 for a spot on the State Board of Education, has raised $3,000 more than Zwiener. She said she wants to expand Medicaid, enact protocols like those in California to reduce maternal deaths, look at eliminating no-bid contracts in state agencies, eliminate penalties for students and teachers who don’t perform well on state standardized tests, and eliminate solitary confinement, especially of young people.
“I want to save Texas and it needs a lot of saving — our environment, our education, our health care — those three things are in trouble and they don’t have to be,” she said.
About the Republican candidates
• Amy Akers did not respond to a request for comment.
• Naomi Narvaiz, 50, is a former apartment manager and a citizen activist. She is a high school graduate.
Civic participation: Among the organizations Narvaiz said she has been involved with are the San Marcos Lions Club, San Marcos Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association, Heritage Association of San Marcos, Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Council of Neighborhood Associations and Hays County Food Bank. She won a seat on the San Marcos School Board in 2014 but resigned within months because of an illness.
• Amber Pearce, 43, is co-owner of an oil and gas business. She is a high school graduate.
Civic participation: None given.
• Ken Strange, 58, is director of Wimberley Emergency Medical Services.
Civic participation: Strange has been on the Wimberley Christian Church Board, Hays County Transportation Planning Committee, Katherine Anne Porter Charter School Board, Capital Area Trauma Regional Advisory Council executive board and the Wimberley school board. During the Memorial Day floods in 2015, Strange was the logistics coordinator in the Emergency Operations Center in Wimberley.
• Austin Talley, 39, is the co-founder of Veritam Corp., which offers national defense services, and is a partner in an oil and gas brokerage firm. He has a bachelor’s degree in international business and management from the University of Tampa.
Civic participation: Talley volunteered in security efforts in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. He also volunteered on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Harvey, in Florida after Hurricane Irma and in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. He serves on the board of Our Digital Heroes Foundation, an organization that serves disabled and underemployed veterans.
About the Democratic candidates
• Rebecca Bell-Metereau, 68, is an English and film professor at Texas State University. She has bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Indiana University.
Civic participation: Bell-Metereau has won the Democratic nomination three times to run for State Board of Education. She has served on the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission, League of Women Voters and Texas State Faculty Senate. She helped form the Solid Waste Commission to initiate recycling in San Marcos.
• Les Carnes, 61, is a criminal analyst for Travis County constable Precinct 3 with the clean air task force. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Texas.
Civic participation: Carnes was the treasurer for the Hays Democratic Party for six years. He has served on the Hays County Water Planning Partnership, and has been involved with the Pease Park Conservancy and Friends of the Forest Foundation.
• Erin Zwiener, 32, is a children’s book author and educator. She has a bachelor’s degree in natural resource conservation from the University of Montana and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Arizona.
Civic participation: Zwiener was one of the lead organizers of the 2016 Electoral College demonstration at the Texas Capitol and was the lead organizer for the Indivisible Roger Williams Town Hall in Dripping Springs.