Candidates in a contentious runoff for a North Texas state Senate seat faced off on Wednesday in a final debate before the Saturday special election.
Republicans Shelley Luther and State Rep. Drew Springer (Muenster) are competing to represent Texas Senate District 30 in the upcoming legislative session, filling the unexpired term of State Sen. Pat Fallon (R–Prosper), who resigned to run for Congress.
Political newcomer Luther is the Dallas-area salon owner jailed for safely reopening her business in defiance of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s coronavirus shutdown orders. Since then, the Denton County resident has become an outspoken advocate for limited government, making her a favorite among conservative grassroots. Luther’s endorsements include State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood), Collin County Judge Chris Hill, Parker County Conservatives, Texans for Toll-Free Highways, and Texas Gun Rights PAC.
Springer, an Austin insider, is a four-term state representative from Cooke County. He was re-elected in November to a fifth term representing House District 68. If he wins the Senate runoff, another special election will be required to fill his House seat. Springer is endorsed by Abbott, Fallon, a long list of state lawmakers, the NRA, and a number of government employee and trade associations.
The two squared off Wednesday morning on The Chris Salcedo Show to share their views on four key issues: election integrity, school choice, taxpayer-funded lobbying—all Republican Party of Texas legislative priorities—as well as property taxes.
Luther said election integrity would be a top priority, along with limiting the government’s ability to take away liberties. She recommended strengthening state election laws to require a valid ID (currently only required of in-person voters), ensure all voters are eligible U.S. citizens who live where they are registered, and eliminate mail-in ballots “unless they are absolutely necessary.”
She also said Texans should be able to easily verify votes after each election. “Everything should be crystal clear where if we wanted to check it, it’s absolutely easy to do.”
Springer agreed Texas must make sure every voter is a citizen and maintain accurate voter rolls.
“One of the components of voter integrity is making sure voter lists are clean,” he said, adding he has filed a bill to help identify voters who have moved.
He also said he supports Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in his lawsuit to toss out four states’ presidential election results, which the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear, and endorsed federal election standards.
Asked how he would give Texas taxpayers, not government bureaucrats, more control over how much money is coming out of their wallets, Springer said he was proud of the property tax reforms in last session’s Senate Bill 2, which put restraints on how much government can grow without input from citizens. But he added “loopholes” remain, including local governments’ ability to use certificates of obligation to incur property tax-backed debt without voter approval.
“Voters have the right to hold their elected officials accountable,” he said.
Luther said property tax bills continue to rise, despite reforms, because Texans don’t have any control over values set by appraisal districts—something she wants to change. “We have people that are getting taxed out of their homes,” she said. “You don’t even have life, liberty, and property in Texas because you are renting your property.”
“I think we can eliminate property taxes in 10 years’ time by cutting all of this ridiculous government spending,” she added, saying a small consumption tax on non-essential items could replace property tax revenue if the government cuts spending.
Springer agreed the state should move to consumption taxes, as called for in the Republican Party of Texas platform, and advocated for increasing homestead exemptions.
Luther, a former teacher, said parents are responsible for their children’s education and should have control over dollars allocated to their students by the state to choose public, private, charter, or homeschool options. She added her concern with vouchers is that government rules and regulations follow the money, disrupting what parents are trying to do: get the government out of their kids’ education.
“I’m all for school choice,” she said. “I just don’t want the government money to come with strings when it comes to education.”
Springer said the legislature has already expanded school choice, allowing parents to choose charter, private, and homeschool options without government interference, as well as offering technical schools and training for students who aren’t college-bound.
“We have our schools teaching things we don’t agree with, and we need to be reining those in,” he added.
Springer said he would “continue the fight with Freedom Caucus Chairman Mayes Middleton” (R–Wallisville)—who authored last session’s ill-fated bill to ban taxpayer-funded lobbying and is trying again this year—and help educate colleagues and citizens about why the practice is bad.
“I voted more to ban taxpayer-funded lobbying than any single legislator,” he said.
Luther noted that Springer had voted to keep most of his district out of the ban, and said taxpayer-funded lobbying “needs to go away completely” with no amendments that exclude certain people.
“If legislators would actually put their foot down and say, ‘I don’t need to accept lobbyist money because I talk to my people. … I don’t need to be bought and paid for by lobbyists,” then that would stop,” she said. “Follow the money.”
As a sitting legislator and Fallon’s chosen successor, Springer appeared to have the edge going into the race and immediately secured support from the Republican establishment. But Springer’s team soon made Luther the target of negative attacks.
Stumping for Springer at a candidate forum in September, Fallon took a swipe at Luther, telling a group of Republican voters, “We don’t want somebody who’s going to be at odds with our Republican governor.”
Luther and Springer each earned 32 percent of the vote in the six-way September 29 special election, sending them to a runoff. Since then, the contentious campaign has become more heated, with each side accusing the other of false and misleading ads.
SD 30 includes Archer, Clay, Cooke, Erath, Grayson, Jack, Montague, Palo Pinto, Parker, Wichita, Wise, Young, and parts of Collin and Denton counties. Any eligible voter in the district may participate in the runoff election.
Early voting ended Tuesday. Election Day is Saturday, December 19.