Republican candidates for local, state, national offices make their cases for March primary

dfwnewsa | February 7, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Republican candidates for local, state, national offices make their cases for March primary

Candidates for U.S. House District 12 speak at a candidate debate Feb. 7, 2024. (Camilo Diaz | Fort Worth Report)
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Ahead of a contentious 2024 general election, Republican candidates vying for a place on the November ballot for local, state and national offices pitched their visions for Tarrant County’s future.  

The Fort Worth Report, alongside fellow nonprofit and nonpartisan organizations KERA, SteerFW and the League of Women Voters, hosted the first of two candidate debates Feb. 7 at Texas Wesleyan University. Republican primary candidates for U.S. House District 12, Texas House District 97, and Tarrant County tax-assessor collector sought to draw a distinction between themselves and their primary opponents. 

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The March 5 primary election will determine which Republican and Democratic candidates face each other come November. Texas primaries are open, which means residents may vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary in March, and vote for either the Republican or Democratic candidate in November, regardless of which primary they participated in. 

The Fort Worth Report will have another forum at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 8. The debates will feature Democratic candidates running for the U.S. House District 12, Texas House District 97 and Tarrant County Commissioner Precinct 1. 

U.S. House District 12 

The departure of longtime congresswoman Kay Granger prompted a wide-open race for U.S. House District 12. Five Republicans threw their hats in the ring: Clint Dorris, Shellie Gardner, Craig Goldman, Anne Henley and John O’Shea. 

Goldman, former Texas House District 97 representative, said he was unable to make the forum because of a scheduling conflict. His presence was felt, however, in criticism levied by other candidates. 

“While all four of us represent kind of grassroots outsiders running for this office because of our love of country, we have a gentleman who was not elected but was selected to run for this seat, and the entire establishment has thrown their weight behind him with all the money,” O’Shea said.

The four candidates present emphasized their displeasure with the way things are currently running in Congress, and cited immigration control and government spending as some of their key issues. 

Dorris, an Army veteran and engineer, said the U.S. is under the largest threat it’s seen in his lifetime. He criticized the current presidential administration’s approach to relations with China and securing the southern border.

“Mark my words, we are going to have terrorist attacks in our country again,” he said. 

Gardner, an engineer and business owner, asked the crowd whether anyone was happy with the way things were going at the border or in Congress. If residents think there’s something broken in Washington, she said, they should elect an engineer to fix it. 

“There are some things that are taking the joy out of my life,” she said. “We see the border, it’s a national security issue. We see issues with the price of gas and we see issues with the cost of food. These are serious problems.”

Henley, a retiree, echoed concerns about border security and China, and added that drug use among the younger generation is a big issue that continues to grow. 

“I think we need more influence from God, godly people,” she said. “We need to stand together.  God has pulled countries out before but he’s also let them go down when they did not do what they were supposed to do. We’ve got a rule book, and that’s what we need to be looking at.”

U.S. House District 12 candidates Shellie Gardner, left, and Anne Henley, right, speak at a Feb. 7 candidate forum. (Camilo Diaz | Fort Worth Report)

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While in office, Granger became known for securing millions in funding for local defense industry titans like Lockheed Martin. All of the candidates agreed that the defense industry is important to the district’s future and deserves support. They differed, however, on what that should look like. 

O’Shea said he understands the need to protect local businesses, especially defense contractors. He believes in peace through strength, he said, but that doesn’t mean out-of -control spending is the right answer.

“But at the same time, that whole, ‘Let’s bring home the pork for our areas,’ led to where we are right now, almost approaching $35 trillion in national debt,” O’Shea said. “It is crushing working class and middle class people because it is spurring on inflation at the same time that the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates.”

Dorris described the ‘bring home the bacon’ philosophy as ridiculous, but acknowledged that defense contractors and other large businesses are very impactful on the district’s well-being.

“Those are all very important things for the district and very important things for America,” he said. “So we need to continue to grow that and increase our technology capabilities in the district and maintain those well paying jobs and make additional well-paying jobs for the district as well.”

Henley said she will look at what funding is currently there and what the defense industry actually needs before making any decisions.

“Jobs at places like Lockheed are important because of the planes that we have developed, the equipment we have to protect our country, and we have to be ready for anything that comes and you just can’t just say ‘Well, I’ll do this or I will do that.’ You have to figure out what needs to be done before you jump out there and do it.” 

Gardner said she’d continue Granger’s work of bringing money to defense contractors in the area. She’s worked with military officials before, she said, on a variety of engineering and technical projects.

“This is a time where we need someone who understands business, but also understands real practical engineering,” she said. 

U.S. House District 12 candidate John O’Shea speaks at a Feb. 7 candidate forum. (Camilo Diaz | Fort Worth Report)

All four candidates agreed that funding for Israel is important. O’Shea, however, cautioned against spending in a vacuum. 

“I think any military aid that goes to Israel, should it be necessary for their national defense, needs to be offset,” he said. 

When asked about their position on funding Ukraine during its war with Russia, Henley and Gardner said their focus is on taking care of things in the U.S. first.

“I’m an America-first Texan, and I believe that as long as we have issues at our border, and we have homeless vets — 60% more last year than the year before — I think we need to take care of our own first,” Gardner said.

O’Shea said fighting a proxy war with Russia is “grossly unconscionable,” and the U.S. should not spend its military defense budget on the conflict.

“I think the atrocity there is that the war was allowed to begin, and if we had had stronger diplomacy, we would have prevented it,” he said.

Dorris said he agreed that the U.S. needed to do something in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, but disagreed with the action that was taken.

“I guarantee you that there is no accountability on the funds that we put into Ukraine,” he said. 

Texas House District 97

The District 97 seat opened up after current representative Craig Goldman threw his hat in the ring to replace Kay Granger. Three Republicans — Cheryl Bean, John McQueeney and Leslie Robnett — are competing to replace him. 

All three candidates acknowledged they have similar platforms in regard to securing the southern border, expanding school choice and helping businesses grow. The difference, they argued, is in their respective backgrounds. 

Bean, who serves on the school board for the Texas Center for Arts + Academics, emphasized her longstanding commitment to the area. She’s lived in the district for 60 years, she said, and has been involved as an employee, business owner and Republican precinct chair. 

“I worked for Lockheed for many, many years, and in doing so, most of their employees live in this district so I kind of know what’s going on there,” she said. “Furthermore, my building company is in Benbrook, but it covers and has done houses and work in every aspect and every corner of this district so I know the people in this district.” 

Candidates for Texas House District 97 speak at a Feb. 7 candidate forum. (Camilo Diaz | Fort Worth Report)

McQueeney, a fast-food franchise owner, highlighted his experience in the business community. He learned how to run a restaurant from the ground up, he said, and he’ll take the same approach in representing the district.

“I think getting behind the counter for the district and understanding the issues with our constituents means getting on the road,” he said. “I’m out in front of our constituents, I’m knocking on doors. I’m spending time in all four of those communities: west Fort Worth, White Settlement, Crowley, Benbrook.” 

Robnett, a Texas attorney who represents businesses, highlighted her experience working in the office of now state Sen. Phil King when he served as a House representative, as well as her legal experience. She said her upbringing lends her a unique perspective; growing up with divorced parents, she spent time in both Fort Worth and Palo Pinto County.

“And being from a rural area as well as a metropolitan area, I can tell you that I know how to represent Crowley all the way to White Settlement all the way to west Fort Worth,” she said. “And the secret is, you answer the phone for every constituent in the district and you go deliver the results that they want at the Capitol.”

Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector

Wendy Burgess has served as tax assessor-collector for the past five years. This year, she faces a challenge from former Tarrant County Republican Party Chair Rick Barnes. 

The tax assessor-collector has traditionally served as a non-voting member of the Tarrant Appraisal District Board of Directors. Come summer, the position will be granted voting rights. Whoever is elected will work with the newly selected chief appraiser, Joe Don Bobbitt, and three new board members who will be elected in May. 

Although she hasn’t been able to vote until now, Burgess said, that hasn’t stopped her from being a vocal participant in appraisal district discussions. When the voting members of the board were at a standstill over whether to terminate then chief appraiser Jeff Law, Burgess said she made a phone call to Law. The next day, she said, he submitted his resignation. 

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“Now I can say, as of Feb. 1, we do have a new chief appraiser heading up the Tarrant Appraisal District, and I will focus on working with the other board members and our new board members that will be voted on by the people of Tarrant County,” she said. “Working alongside them to move forward to the new future of the TAD board.”

Barnes, however, said Burgess hasn’t been effective on the board. As the only person on the board who is not elected by a taxing entity, Barnes said, Burgess should have pushed taxpayer interests more.

“That person has not utilized their voice to represent you at all,” he said. “That’s exactly what I will do moving forward.” 

Tarrant County tax assessor-collector candidates Rick Barnes, left, and Wendy Burgess, right, speak at a Feb. 7 candidate debate. (Camilo Diaz | Fort Worth Report)

The tax assessor-collector office does not control property tax rates. That responsibility instead falls to taxing entities like cities and school districts. In discussing concerns about rising property taxes, the candidates offered differing visions on what a solution would look like. 

Burgess urged residents to speak up and attend meetings about their tax rates hosted by taxing entities. 

“You can be a part of it and you can watch the process,” she said. “You can see where they’re spending the money, you can see where you agree, you can see where you disagree, and you can not only gripe but you can also offer suggestions and you can be a part of the solution.”

Barnes said, if elected, he would push the Tarrant Appraisal District to limit property value appraisals to every three years, and limit to 5% the amount a property’s value can be raised at one time.

“My house in 20 years has almost doubled in value,” he said. “That is beautiful if I want to sell it. It’s not very beautiful if I want to pay taxes on it.”

Both candidates laid out their visions for working alongside the chief appraiser if elected. 

Burgess said she’ll work with the appraiser to meet tax code requirements, ensure quality work product from the appraisal district, and help residents navigate the process. Her office also takes a proactive approach to helping residents, she said.

“Working with the tax taxpayers at the front counter, we actually work with individuals when we see that they’re missing an exemption,” she said. “We make a suggestion and we say, ‘Hey, we see that you don’t have an appropriate exemption that might assist you and might lower your tax burden.’” 

Barnes said he’ll work with the appraiser to have conversations with taxpayers themselves, not just taxing entities. The person in the position needs to understand what the people of Tarrant County want, he said.

“Appraisers are an important part of the conversation because that person ultimately ends up being the one deciding what our homes are worth,” he said. “I think everybody in this room ought to be concerned about who that is and what their mindset is and how they make those decisions.”

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