Three candidates are facing off in the race for District 45 representative. Jason Isaac is a Republican and is seeking re-election to his second term in office. Isaac said he wants to make government spending more efficient and increase teachers' salaries. John Adams is a Democrat and has spent six years on the Dripping Springs ISD school board. Adams says the state is failing to meet its obligation to the public in areas such as education and infrastructure. Jim Duke is a Libertarian and an Air Force veteran. Duke said he will focus on representing the interests of his constituents while reducing government spending.
Why are you running for Texas House District 45 representative?
Isaac: It really started a couple of years ago when I ran for the first time and my frustrations started to mount over the years that our government wasn't doing a good job of spending my money, me being the taxpayer. So now, it's our money. I still don't feel like the government does a great job spending our tax dollars. That was the initial reason of why I decided to run. I was just fed up with the way that government was continuing to grow and spend money, and that spending was outpacing inflation and the rate of population. I didn't believe that it was necessary. The couple of word answer is "fiscal responsibility."
Adams: There's three reasons. Probably the first reason derives from the fact that I was on the school board in Dripping Springs for six years, and in that six-year period I saw what the state was doing to the public education budget and it was very distressing, and it culminated in, last year, the state cutting $5.4 billion out of public education. That sort of put me over the edge. But that was not the only thing that the state was busy cutting last year. The Legislature also cut funding for women's health care. There was a report from the New England Journal of Medicine sometime in the last month and as a result of those health care cuts, something like 53 clinics in Texas had closed, and they said there was somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000-300,000 women who were losing access to basic health care services like cancer screenings and contraception. The third reason, they also cut, in looking at Medicare and Medicaid, they cut reimbursement rates, and 80 percent of the seniors who live in Texas in nursing homes depend on Medicare or Medicaid to cover their nursing care, so when we cut those reimbursement rates, we put those seniors in jeopardy of being able to continue with the nursing care they're already involved in. It was the education cuts, the women's health care cuts and the reimbursement payment cuts.Those are the three biggest reasons I got involved. Of course [in] Hays and Blanco County, you have to worry about development and growth, and the burden that places on infrastructure, particularly water, so it's not any one reason. It's a combination of all those things.
Duke: The Libertarian party asked me to run. I felt it was my duty as a citizen of this neighborhood to put my name in the hat. I feel that we have a broken system with the two-party politics that are going on, not only in the state but in the country as well. A lot of times they don't represent the interests of the people as much as they represent the interests of themselves and their parties, so that's why I'm in the race. I'm here to represent the voters for the district. My primary concern is the taxpayers.
What is the biggest issue facing District 45?
Adams: I think the biggest issue facing the district is its rapid growth. With rapid growth and the addition of all the people, they stress everything. They stress the education system and of course the state has already done us a disservice by cutting that budget, putting further stress on the education infrastructure. The growth stresses our transportation infrastructure, it stresses our water and wastewater infrastructure, so really growth is the biggest issue facing the district and how it stresses the infrastructure.
Duke: I think we're all concerned about the growth. We've had huge growth in this area. Probably in the last 10 years, some estimates put it at 100,000 people have moved into the area in the last decade. Maybe more than that depending on the area that you're talking about. We know there's traffic problems, we know there's almost a sprawl from a lot of the rural areas coming into big suburbia areas. With that, the biggest issue obviously from that growth is all the infrastructure including the school systems, the road systems, obviously traffic goes along with that. And of course water is always on our mind in this area because [of] the low lake levels and the aquifers that we are always trying to manage here. I think it kind of all works together. I don't think this area was conditioned to have this huge number of people. We're squeezing a pretty small area here, too. There are definitely some challenges there.
Isaac: I think the biggest challenge that's facing House District 45 is water. We have specific examples of companies that I've heard from chambers of commerce, from economic development groups here within the district, that tell me, 'We've had companies come to this area, and there wasn't an adequate water supply for them.' They didn't feel like there was going to be an adequate water supply for their business, so they left and took potential new jobs for Hays County with them. Water is going to be critical to our economic development here in House District 45. In both Blanco and Hays County we're already, I believe, the fastest-growing county in the state with Hays CISD the sixth fastest-growing school district in the state. We've got to be able to meet the needs of the people and the constituents that I serve and make sure that we have a sustainable, clean, fresh supply of water. Conservation is going to be a huge part of that. You see some great success stories coming out of El Paso and San Antonio where they have significantly increased their conservation and reduced their supplier demand for water. That's why I joined the Texas Water Smart Coalition so we can get out there across the state and educate people on how to conserve water. We really need to do a better job of that across the state.
House District 45 has experienced unprecedented growth in the last decade, and it appears that growth will continue. What will you do to ensure residents are able to maintain a good quality of life while the area's population continues to grow?
Duke: I think the important thing is to have a long-term plan instead of going at it haphazardly and as an afterthought. I've lived in several areas of the country, and, of course, I've been in Texas off and on for probably, I guess, 18 years. I've lived in a lot of small communities that started experiencing growth, and when the people start coming in and the property value goes up and the money starts coming in to the city council from the local government, they tend to look at the money, past the importance of keeping the growth under control and plan so that you don't strain the services you can provide to the people. It's a balancing act, and that's where my concern would be. To make sure that first of all, we don't spend more than we take in and that we take into account the property owners who tend to foot the bill for a lot of the growth and especially the school system, so we've got to keep that under control. I look at the taxpayers' dollars, if I were in office, I would look at that as if it was my own money and treat it accordingly, and I think that's the problem with a lot of the politicians who get in and they stay in as a career. They start forgetting that that money that comes into the coffers is not theirs. It's actually the property of the taxpayers, and it's their job to manage it properly and wisely, and don't spend any more than they need to spend.
Isaac: The good quality of life, you make sure and do that by not increasing burdens on families. We see today that 70 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. They can't afford to pay anymore money in taxes. Our government does an inefficient job of spending the taxes that we're already paying. We need more family involvement in education and we do that by creating economic opportunities where people can have more prosperity so they can concentrate on their families. I've heard education referred to as a three-legged stool, where you have teachers, parents and students. And you have to have involvement from all three of them. I hear it from teachers time and time again that the parents just aren't as involved. We can truly create economic opportunities for them where they're not living paycheck to paycheck. They'll be able to focus on what's important to them—not just providing for their families but truly being able to spend time and educate their children, and you do that when you have economic opportunities and you create job prosperity, so we've got to educate our workforce in our schools. We spend too much time preparing our students to take a test when we should be preparing them for the future. There's so much emphasis on standardized testing right now. The teachers are the last part of that stool that I'll talk about, and I've seen studies from teachers in South Korea where it's one of the highest paid professions, and their students perform [as] some of the best in the world, and we need to mimic that here in the United States. My boys have the best teachers, and I would love to see them make a lot more money, and that's what we need to do. We need to create a free-market situation where teachers are compensated based on how they perform.
Adams: The first thing you have to do is get the state to live up to its obligation and its promises. Particularly in education, the Legislature specifically is obligated by the Texas Constitution to provide for public education. You don't do that, you don't meet that obligation when you cut $5.4 billion out of education. Additionally when they cut health care, that impacts us at the county level because counties are required by the state to provide indigent health care. So when the state eliminates health care funding, that places a bigger burden on the county, requiring it to provide indigent health care and taking money from other things. So I think the biggest thing we can do to ensure the residents of District 45 continue enjoying the life and environment in this district is to get the state and the counties and the municipalities working together and cooperating together. Texas developed a water plan many years ago, a comprehensive statewide strategic water plan that would address things like water and wastewater, but they never funded the plan. Now the plan is probably out of date, and the current cost of implementing that plan is somewhere north of $50 billion. So that's an example of a failure on the part of the state to follow through with counties and municipalities on strategic planning, in this case for water. The state and the counties and the municipalities have got to figure out a way to collaborate better than they have been, or we're all going to be in a world of hurt in a few more years.