With just weeks to decide who they will send to the Texas Senate next year, voters in Senate District 30 had their first chance to hear from all five Republicans vying to replace State Sen. Pat Fallon (R–Prosper) in representing their district, which sprawls across 14 mostly rural North Texas counties.

“Gov. Abbott didn’t give us a lot of time, and it’s not really fair to you that he gives you 30 days to make one of the biggest decisions you will make in several years,” candidate Shelley Luther told the crowd gathered Thursday night in Weatherford at a forum hosted by the Parker County Republican Party.

Fallon resigned August 22 in anticipation of winning the 4th Congressional District seat in November. A day later, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called an “emergency” special election for SD 30, which he set for September 29.

At Thursday’s forum, the candidates—who range from political novices to longtime politicians—answered questions on infrastructure, the state’s looming budget shortfall, police reform and defunding, reining in the governor’s emergency powers, local control, and taxes, among other topics.

Here’s a look at each of the candidates and what they had to say to voters at the forum:

Craig Carter

Carter is a business owner and community leader from rural Montague County. He owns an audio/visual company that specializes in customized church installations. In 2016, he and his wife bought and renovated the old Nocona Boot factory, converting it into a food bank and community center that now also houses start-up businesses that employ local residents.

Carter focused on his experience creating jobs and engaging with the local community and said he would apply business principles to government.

“Almost 25 percent of every dollar that we spend anywhere in government is just wasted,” he said. “I’m not into cutting projects, and I’m not into raising taxes. I’m into outside the box, asking questions, and getting to the bottom of how we can be more efficient.”

Carter said he believes in local control, “but on the flip side of that, you have to have accountability.”

“I believe a strong leader is someone who serves,” he added. “I will use all my skills as a business guy to balance the budget, look at things through a different set of eyes, put accountability in place, and look at ways to be more efficient to get things done.”

Carter said his top priorities in the senate would be property taxes, job creation, and re-evaluating how the state does business post-COVID.

This is Carter’s second campaign for SD 30. He also ran in the 2018 GOP primary against Fallon and then-incumbent State Sen. Craig Estes, taking 15 percent of the vote.

As the only other candidate in State Rep. Drew Springer’s House District 68, he’s eligible to run for that seat if Springer wins the senate race.

Andy Hopper

Hopper is a software engineer who runs his own consulting business and also puts those skills to use by serving in the Texas State Guard. He’s a farmer, as well; in 2010, he and his family moved to a small farm in Wise County that they manage.

Hopper is a political newcomer who says he first thought about one day running for office after attending a Convention of States hearing in 2014 and being unimpressed by Estes.

“I’m running because I love Texas, and I believe the best people to decide what’s best for Texas are Texans and not unelected federal bureaucrats,” he said.

As an engineer, Hopper said he sees infrastructure challenges as engineering problems, specifically citing the need for a new Texas Water Plan to support robust agriculture.

He said Abbott should have called a special session of the legislature to address the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“It looks to me like the only thing the governor in Texas has the ability to do in a crisis is to temporarily suspend law, not to create new law,” he added.

Hopper said his top legislative priorities would be property taxes, regulations to help small farmers, and standing against overreach by federal courts.

Shelley Luther

Luther is best known as the Dallas salon owner thrown in jail by a Democrat judge when she refused to apologize for opening her business in defiance of Gov. Abbott’s shutdown orders. Since then, she’s become an outspoken advocate for limited government.

“When you say that you’re hurting, I’m one of those people too. I know exactly what you feel like,” she told voters on Thursday.

Another political newcomer, Luther is a former school teacher who lives in rural Denton County. Luther was the first to publicly announce she was “throwing her hat in the ring,” at a Back the Blue rally in Denton on August 22.

“I’m not a politician, and I’m proud of it,” she said. “I’m tired of backdoor things happening [in Austin] and us not knowing what’s going on. Government should be completely transparent.”

“The government is not better than us,” she added. “They work for us; they are our servants.”

Luther said the state needs more reforms so schools “function on less money, but also give value back to the teachers and the money back in the classrooms.”

She also said the governor shouldn’t give “corporate welfare” to select businesses.

“Texas is amazing enough,” she said. “We do not need to bribe people to come here.”

Luther said her top priorities are “getting the government off our backs,” disaster act limits, property taxes, and abolishing abortion in Texas.

Drew Springer

Springer is currently serving his fourth term as state representative for House District 68, which shares four counties with SD 30, including rural Cooke County, where he lives. He works for his father’s financial services business, specializing in agricultural managed futures.

Springer focused on his experience and record as a lawmaker.

“We should look to do what the Republican Party platform calls for,” he said. “This is a conservative district, and it deserves a conservative, proven leader. I have done that.”

Springer suggested relocating state employees, possibly to SD 30, as a cost-saving measure.

“We have a $4.6 billion shortfall that we’re going to be facing,” he said. “We need to look at where the employees in Texas are. … The state of Texas government doesn’t need to be solely based in Austin.”

He also said Texas needs to strengthen its gun laws: “We can’t always rely on law enforcement. We have to be able to protect ourselves. That’s why we need permitless carry in the state of Texas.”

Springer said his top priorities as a senator would be reducing property taxes, passing stronger pro-life bills, and supporting law enforcement.

As Fallon’s preferred successor, Springer announced his candidacy—along with endorsements from Fallon and several other lawmakers—immediately after Abbott called the election.

He’s still on the November ballot as well, with a Democrat challenger. If he wins in September, he’ll also need to win the House seat (then resign from it) in order to keep HD 68 from falling to Democrat control.

Chris Watts

Watts is a real estate broker and lawyer who has run his own real estate investment company for over 20 years. He’s also spent 12 years in city government: six as a Denton City Council member, then six as mayor. Term-limited out, Watts was set to leave office in May, but the city election was postponed due to the coronavirus. He resigned as mayor to run for the senate seat but will continue to serve until his successor is elected in November.

Watts focused on his experience as a city official in dealing with issues like budgets and taxes, infrastructure, police funding, and emergency orders.

“I’m the only one on this stage that’s had to deal with this question [of defunding police] at the local level,” he said. “And not only was it ‘no,’ it was ‘heck no.’”

Watts also said the legislature needs to change the state’s emergency declaration law.

“As a mayor, you get seven days,” he said. “There’s got to be a timeframe.”

“The two biggest factors in the Texas budget are education and Medicare/Medicaid,” he said of the looming budget shortfall, adding the state should address issues before they become a crisis:

“There’s got to be a way that we can find to administer healthcare at a much more efficient level, and there’s certainly got to be a better way to administer public education at a much lower level without compromising the education that we have committed to all the students in the state of Texas. Look at the facilities they’re building in school systems. Look at the sports facilities.”

Watts also criticized the “adversarial climate that’s been created down in Austin” between local and state governments.

“You’re not going to get the status quo with me,” he added. “I will be truthful and accountable.”

Watts said his top legislative priorities would be reforming the state’s emergency declaration laws, reducing the budget, and making sure infrastructure is secure.

“Lighting Round” Issues

All the candidates largely agreed on the issues of taxes (shifting the burden from property to consumption taxes but no state income tax), protecting historical monuments, and being open to medical but not recreational use of marijuana.

Springer was the most receptive to using the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, which he pegged at $8.8 billion, to balance the budget.

“We’ve used it in the past, we need to use it again,” he said. “There is no reason we should cut beyond where we should cut just because we don’t want to touch our savings account.”

Springer was also the only candidate who opposed term limits for state lawmakers.

Senate District 30 includes Archer, Clay, Cooke, Erath, Grayson, Jack, Montague, Palo Pinto, Parker, Wichita, Wise, and Young counties, as well as parts of Collin and Denton counties.

Democrat Jacob Minter is also running, but a Republican is expected to win the conservative district—though a runoff may be needed for a candidate to receive the required majority of votes.

Early voting in the special election begins on September 14. Election Day is September 29.