The three candidates vying for the State Senate District 31 spot squared off at an Ector County Republican Women’s forum at the Odessa Country Club Wednesday talking about everything from taxes and education reform to the quest for limited government.
About 93 people attended. The primary is March 6.
Challengers Mike Canon, a former Republican mayor of Midland, and Amarillo businessman Victor Leal, a Republican from Amarillo, charged that incumbent Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, is the most liberal Republican member of the body and has voted with Democrats numerous times.
Canon, who has run for the Senate spot previously, said he sees management problems with state government in Austin and the creation and delegation of control over Texans.
He said the state spends billions on education, roads and other items and agencies keep getting larger and exercise more control over residents.
Canon said he wants to eliminate standardized testing in schools or substantially reduce them.
“They’re not doing our children any good. We need to free up those resources that are used on standardized tests for better uses, to actually teach the kids, to allow our teachers to be paid higher salaries and substantially reduce the cost of education and maybe reduce the tax burden on us,” Canon said.
Every time local school districts want to do something, Canon said it seems they have to ask permission from the Texas Education Commissioner.
“I say let’s move that back to the local level,” Canon said. “Let’s let them make those decisions.”
Canon advocates treating Texas like a business instead of a place where special interests and lobbyists influence legislators.
“We need to start spending money wisely and holding government agencies in Austin accountable. We need to bring some common sense back into the equation,” Canon said. He added that politics needs to be eliminated from government.
He also advocates sending guidelines instead of unfunded mandates to local entities to give them more flexibility to make decisions.
During his time as senator, Canon said Seliger has done nothing to reduce the size of government and returning local control.
On standardized testing, Seliger said he introduced the first bill that did away with the TAKS test and introduced the bill that reduced the STAAR test from 15 tests to five.
Seliger said the Senate is still looking at what it can do to ensure school districts are accountable for the billions in taxpayer dollars spent on them.
He said Canon talks about special interests. Seliger said he is supported by business associations like the Texas Association of Realtors, Texas Medical Association and the Texas Farm Bureau. Eight of the oil and gas organizations gave him the champion of the oil and gas industry award.
Leal, who owns Leal’s Restaurant, said he grew up knowing the struggles of a small business and has been signing paychecks for 31 years. He said he knows what it’s like to keep a budget and be up nights worrying about keeping the lights on when business is slow.
“State government needs that kind of approach,” Leal said. “The state doesn’t generate any of its own money. I’ll be a hardworking advocate to spend your money efficiently and well.”
Leal also criticized Seliger for being a liberal senator in the most conservative district in the state, getting failing grades from various conservative organizations and voting against property tax reform.
“I want to work for education reforms,” Leal said. “We need to get more money into the classrooms and make sure our kids are being taken care of.”
Also participating were candidates for Texas Railroad Commission. A candidate for U.S. Senate was scheduled to speak, but was not in attendance.
A separate forum will be scheduled for the Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 contest, for which seven candidates — all Republican — have filed. A time, day and location have not yet been announced.