Candidates vying for District 53
By Evelyn Snyder BCC Contributor
Pictured: Candidates vying for District 53 State Representative who participated in a recent candidates forum included Andrew Murr, Karen Harris and Rob Henneke.
Karen Harris, Rob Henneke and Andrew Murr, candidates for Texas District 53 State Representative, participated in a forum held Saturday, Feb. 15, and sponsored by American Legion Post 157 and Ranchers and Landowners Association of Texas.
A native Texan, Murr served as Kimball County Judge for five years. He holds a teaching degree in vocational agriculture from Texas A&M and a law degree from Texas Tech. Murr's priorities include property rights, water issues, impact of unfunded mandates, local control and education.
Henneke's interests include protecting the Hill Country's unique quality of life; protecting small businesses from heavy-handed government and frivolous litigation; protecting and improving public schools; and protecting natural resources, including land and water. "I will always vote against raising taxes," he said.
Because she lives on the "now dry Medina Lake," Harris will make water issues a priority. For 31 years, she and her husband owned and operated medical services clinics. Describing herself as "one of Wendy Davis' worst nightmares," Harris is a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-First Amendment, pro-property rights African-American businesswoman.
While border security remains largely a federal responsibility, candidates offered some ideas.
"When someone steps across border into Texas carrying drugs, they are committing a crime," Henneke said, "Then it is a law enforcement issue." He advocated that the state administer grants to 16 counties to fund a prosecutor's position dedicated to organized crime and weapons coming up from Mexico.
Additionally, since the unemployment rate among veterans in the Valley is 55 to 60 percent, Henneke recommended that state create a division under Department of Public Safety along the border with veterans as law enforcement."
Harris said legislatures must give law enforcement the necessary resources to keep Texas residents safe. "We need to end the shell game in Texas that we have funding of $17 million for film industry, but not money for volunteer fire departments or aerial surveillance along the border," she said. "Politicians say their door is open. Well, the door may be open but nobody's home."
According to Murr, the US allows criminals to come across border, both from Mexico and other countries. To combat this, the legislature must focus on recurring offenders from outside our borders. "We don't need a new division of DPS; we need funds for more resources, helicopters, training, hardware and software.
A question about using National Guard troops and resources on border elicited several "Amens" from audience.
"The federal government has abdicated its responsibility," Henneke said. "Texas needs to be proactive in committing resources, not diverting a couple million from movies. We need to invest resources to get control over state. We need to make a commitment to see that Texas invests resources to get boots on ground. It's hurting us here in the Hill Country, not just in the border area."
Murr recalled his family coming home to find their house had been burgled with clothes and food gone. He said Texas law enforcement needs integration with local resources ensuring everyone is on same page and in loop with state. "Local law enforcement may not know what DPS is doing. There needs to be a liaison relationship," Murr said.
While living in Laredo, Harris saw many examples of non-US citizens reaping the same benefits as citizens, including care costing "millions and millions of dollars." She added, "Every illegal coming across the border receives a chest X-ray, medical exam, food and housing, which causes security issues as well as a financial drain." The legislature must prioritize the budget so undeserving programs don't get funding.
To a question that military retirees are not receiving the benefits they deserve, Murr noted, "If you have an issue, you should be able to go to your representative and tell him that you have a problem."
Vets, term limits &
Henneke vowed to see that the VA facility in Kerrville provides necessary services. He also proposed expanding criteria under the Hazelwood Act, allowing Texas natives who enlist and end their military service in another state to receive Texas benefits.
Harris pointed out that attention is being ramped up because the state has created a division for veteran affairs. "Veterans are waiting for their well-deserved benefits," she said. "The process needs to be speeded up and held more accountable."
Regarding term limits, Henneke stated that accountability comes in ballot box.
"As the only candidate here over 50, I'm not planning in staying in Austin very long," Harris said. "I am responsible to citizens. If you don't like job I'm doing, you have responsibility to vote me out."
Murr agreed terms are up to voters. "Every two years is a job review," he said. "California has term limits and it sure hasn't fixed their problems. The voters should decide."
To keep constituents informed Henneke would hold regular town hall meetings and also meet with key groups, including sheriffs, county judges and school superintendants monthly via conference calls.
"In this age, we can use technology to stay connected to communities," Harris said. "People may not come to a meeting but will spend a few minutes on a town hall meetings via phone."
Murr noted that technology drives the information we receive. "The most important facet of communication is regular emails - even between sessions." He added, "Constituents should demand communication from their representatives. I'll also visit in person on a regular basis, as well as via an inbox."
When asked about the impact of the Proposition 6 Constitutional Amendment that voters approved last fall, Murr said, "The law is meant to benefit rural areas, agriculture and conservation. In 2015, local government entities can apply for funds." Murr proposed to serve as a liaison between local and state agencies to speed along the process. "This law is not a magic bullet that fixes the state's water problems. Urban areas have a high demand for water; they will be looking at our surface and ground water. The local entities need to be ready."
According to Harris, although $2 billion sounds like a lot of money, 1,200 people moving into Texas every day - and only 10 percent of Texans live in rural areas. She warned that legislators must scrutinize the application process for funds.
Harris explained, "Someone is trying to figure out how to get water from us to them. These are low interest loans. Where are we going to get money to pay loan back? This was taxpayer money in first place. Now they're telling us they're going to give it back to us?"
Henneke said since the state's economy is going well, he would have pulled $2 billion not from the Rainy Day Fund but from general appropriations. "A solution will come from local control. If we're waiting for state to help, we need to realize that even if Bandera is on priority list, it's still on the bottom," he said. "The government needs to give local entities tools to apply for low financial and tech assistance."