With primary elections less than a month away, Republican candidates for two open Texas House seats in the Brazos Valley area answered a series of questions at a forum hosted by the Bryan-College Station Tea Party.

The questions focused on GOP primary voters’ top-priority issues, including border security, education, election integrity, the power grid, and property taxes.

Candidates for House District 12 speaking at the forum were businessman and former Huntsville Independent School District board member Trey Wharton and Huntsville businessman Ben Bius. Bius previously ran for the HD 12 seat in 2022 against current State Rep. Kyle Kacal (R-College Station), who decided not to run for re-election after voting against the governor’s school choice package.

Brazos County businessman John Slocum is also running for HD 12 but was unable to attend the forum.

Competing to represent House District 14 are local attorney Rick Davis, and former businessman and attorney Paul Dyson.

HD 14’s incumbent State Rep. John Raney (R-Bryan) also chose not to run for re-election after voting to kill the governor’s school choice package. 

View video of each forum by clicking on the name of the House district below.

House District 12

Solving the Border Invasion?

“I believe it’s imperative that we identify these folks that are in our country illegally. We need to know where these potential terrorists and these folks live, reside, what they’re doing here, and make sure that they show up for their hearing,” Bius said.

“Secondly, the bill that just became effective that allowed Texas to arrest, detain, and prosecute for a state jail felony of trespass needs to be enforced, that’s going to be a big deal. I believe that we should go even further in the next legislative session and make sure that we can identify who is living in Texas, what they’re doing in Texas, and if they’re complying with the law,” he concluded.

Wharton said his main solution would be to properly equip law enforcement with supplies for identity documentation.

“The other problem is, we can’t keep putting the people in the county jails and have an unfunded mandate to the counties where we’re paying for that,” he said.

Securing Texas’ Elections 

“In Texas, they’ve been stealing elections for a long time. We need to do something about it,” Bius said. “I personally hope that in the Republican primary, we don’t have that problem. In a general election, we will have but I’m not sure exactly what to do about it.” 

“We have human beings. And if a human being commits a crime, and that’s a horrible crime, I’ll say they get prosecuted. And I believe that we should allow the attorney general to have a say in it as well,” he said.

“I would limit the mail-in ballots, that would make sure that we have at least (brought) that down a little bit,” said Wharton. “Once again, it goes back to the ID and making sure that the people on the rolls are actually still alive, still live where they are, and I’d have to agree we’re going to have to get the attorney general in.” 

Closing Texas Primaries 

“I know people that are Democrats are showing up and voting Republican, and they’re voting for the weakest candidate in order to make it more difficult for the best candidate to win,” said Wharton. “And so I fully agree with that. Something needs to be done and we put something in place so that you can’t cross the party line just to mess up the other election.”

“I’ve experienced it firsthand, I know exactly what you’re speaking of. And, yes, we need to have a closed primary,” said Bius. “We ought to be able to pass that rule in the Republican Party without legislation from the Texas Legislature. However, if that is required, that’s what we’ll do.”

Eliminating Property Taxes

“All property taxes come from the cities, counties, schools, hospital districts, etc.,” siad Bius. “I don’t know of a good plan at this time to do that. I certainly would like to eliminate it.”

“I will help the counties, the schools, the hospitals eliminate property tax, if that’s what they want to do, I will assist them if that’s what they want to do. But they raise the taxes, they set the tax rates, they spend the money, and the legislature needs to enable local control,” Bius added.

“There is a surplus in the state, we need to figure out how to do that,” said Wharton. “That’s gonna be a taskforce that you’re gonna have to put something together in order to bring the property taxes down, which I think we can all agree we would love to see get rid of.” 

“But that’s going to be a long thought out process to see what works and it’s fair to everyone. So it’s not easy, but I think it can be done. And I’m all for that.” he added.

Should House Leadership Appoint Democrat Committee Chairs? 

“I do not support that,” said Wharton. “Because here’s my philosophy on that: if this is a Republican controlled state, we’re in charge, we should have Republicans that are in charge of the committees.” 

“I do not support allowing Democrat chairs to serve,” said Bius.

School Choice

“I’m for school choice,” said Bius. “But I believe the more important question is, let’s take back our classrooms. Let’s support the teachers. Let’s support the parents. After all, it’s our children. And it’s our money.”

“There’s going to be a huge debate in the next Texas legislature, and I’m going to fight for Educational Savings Accounts and school choice,” he added.

“I’m for school choice,” said Wharton. “And we’ve got to be able to work where the families can pick where they want to be.” He also added that he supports Education Savings Accounts.

Texas Energy Independence 

Both candidates were questioned about whether Texas should join the national power grid. 

“No, we shouldn’t be part of the national grid,” said Bius. “When you have a contained and compartmentalized system, it’s less subject to terrorist attacks, or EMP attacks.”

“I would agree, we need to stay independent,” said Wharton. “I mean, we’re Texas. We’re our own country anyway. So we need to keep it that way.” 

Ken Paxton Impeachment 

Candidates were asked whether enough preliminary investigative work was done to impeach the attorney general. 

“No, it was a travesty. It was anarchy,” said Bius.

“No,” said Wharton. “We should follow the Constitution and have a trial and something like that needs to take a little longer than a day and a half.” 

House District 12 includes part of Brazos County and all of Grimes, Madison, Robertson, Walker, and Washington counties.

House District 14

Solving the Border Invasion?

“Article 4, Section 4 of your United States Constitution provides that the federal government shall protect the states from invasion,” said Davis.

“I support continued efforts to make it illegal to do anything like, for example, trespass, they made that now a state jail felony. So now it’s a crime for a person who’s not here legally, to trespass on somebody else’s property. So now we’ve got a legal basis under state law to lock them up,” he continued.

“We have to make sure that we show that there is an enemy that’s coming across and I think Governor Abbott has been doing a great job by showing that it’s a fentanyl crisis that’s happening,” said Dyson.

“One of the things is support Governor Abbott in any way that I can with what he’s been doing, not get in his way and ensure that he has the funding to keep us safe,” he said.

Securing Texas’ Elections 

“The biggest thing is voter ID, making sure that people feel comfortable that we have an auditable trace when it comes to it,” said Dyson. “And so it’s working with counties to see what they’re currently using in place.”

“I favor one citizen, one vote, paper ballots with something like optical character recognition or something that could not be forged and have serial numbers on the ballots,” said Davis. “The government should not know how we vote, but it should know that you voted and you only voted one time and you can’t vote a second time.”

Eliminating Property Taxes

“We are like in a fiefdom and the government, they get the property back if we don’t pay,” said Davis. “We need to move towards consumption taxes.” 

“Buy down to the M&O [Maintenance and Operating property taxes], that’s where we start,” said Dyson. “We start working on that now, that is using budget surpluses, which Texas in many of its governmental entities are blessed to have right now. Get that money back to the taxpayers by buying down your M&O, which is going to effectively lower your tax rate.”

Should House Leadership Appoint Democrat Committee Chairs?

“No, I don’t like it,” said Dyson. “I’m not sure I’ve talked to anyone who does like it. And I’m not sure I quite still understand why they do it. As your representative in Austin, that’s going to be one of those things that I will listen to and try and determine, especially when you have a speaker candidate.”

“I do not think that the speaker should appoint Democrats if the Republicans are in the majority to committee chairmanships,” said Davis. “Now, I want to hasten to add that I’m committed to civil discourse and finding reasonable compromise, honorable compromise when possible.” 

School Choice 

“I like Buckley’s plan,” said Dyson, referencing the plan proposed in the fourth special legislative session by House Public Education Committee Chairman Brad Buckley (R-Saledo). 

“What it did was helped to curb this maybe what I would call fear politics when it comes to public education and what people are doing that we’re trying to dismantle defund public education, and that we make sure that you do have the proper choices there,” said Dyson, 

Buckley proposed Education Savings Accounts for a limited number of Texas students in a school choice package included alongside an education funding proposal. Dyson said he would support such a plan in 2025. 

“The United States Supreme Court in decades past has decided two very prominent opinions, Myers versus Nebraska and Pierce versus Society of Sisters, about the fundamental rights of parents to direct and control the education of their own children,” said Davis. “They got it right. That’s the way it should be. And parents should be able to direct funds to a school that they choose if they know that that school is going to provide a more excellent education for their children.”

Davis said he is open to the concept of Education Savings Accounts but is not a firm yes or no at this point. 

Texas’ Energy Independence 

Candidates were asked whether Texas should tie into the national electric grid or remain independent. 

“We should remain independent,” said Dyson, calling that “the Texas spirit.” 

“We need to work towards reliable energy sources, not following the federal government’s lead, which is taking us down a path on alternative resources.” he said.

“As far as remaining independent, Texas should have an independent grid,” said Davis. “And this ties in with the question and my comments about the national debt, the inflation, the quick money printing that’s going on and so forth.” 

Ken Paxton Impeachment 

Both candidates were asked whether there was enough investigation done by the Texas House before the Paxton impeachment vote was taken.

“No,” said Davis. “I think we’re seeing at the state level what they call lawfare, weaponizing the legal system to oppress people, to harm them or to cripple their abilities to serve. I strongly disagree with that.” 

“I liken the process to a grand jury,” said Dyson. He said he read a lot about it but wasn’t there so doesn’t have enough information to form an opinion on whether there was enough investigation done.  

House District 14 includes part of Brazos County.

Early voting begins February 20 for the March 5 primary election.

Amelia McKenzie

Amelia is a senior at Liberty University in Virginia. She is studying Digital Journalism and is currently a fellow with Texas Scorecard.