A forum was hosted by the Young County Republicans organization last Tuesday at the Young County Arena. Shown from left to right are Texas Senate District 30 candidate Shelley Luther, Sylvia Overton, Young County Republican Chairman Kyle Milam and Texas Senate District 30 candidate Drew Springer.
Leader photo by Thomas Wallner
Senate District 30 candidates answer local questions
The Young County Republican organization hosted Texas Senate District 30 runoff election candidates Shelley Luther and Drew Springer at the Young County Arena last Tuesday. The candidates gave their address to community members and answered questions from those in the audience.
In the forum, the candidates were given 10 minutes to explain themselves and their platform. Following their introductions, those in the audience were asked to give questions to either one candidate, or both candidates.
What is going to replace property taxes in the county after you said you will abolish them? (Addressed to Luther)
Luther - "So what I am mainly focusing on are the school property taxes. A lot of people that live in their homes, they either don't or their kids have gone away (...). Public school should be funded by the state, and we can do that if they cut their government spending. I don't want to add a tax to create more funding for schools. The government spending is outrageous. We spend millions of dollars, actually billions of dollars on illegal immigrants. We throw our veterans out on the street. We pay for their housing. We pay for their medical, their schooling, the hospital bills. That's all on us. We have an open border that we haven't taken care of. We also have corporate welfare that our government spends our money on that we don't agree with. There is a contact tracing bill that our governor spends money on that we don't agree with. There is also taxpayer funded lobbyists, where your tax money goes directly to lobbyists in Austin to work against you. The bills need to be cut in Texas. That could cover the amount that is paid to our schools. The rest of it could be a consumption-type tax on non-essential products. Hostess Cupcakes, sodas, anything that is unhealthy. Anything like milk, bread, diapers, we are not going to have a consumption tax to. But what that does is it makes illegal immigrants pay their fair share of taxes and it also makes it to where if you want to buy a luxury-type item, which I figure a Hostess Cupcake is kind of luxury, you pay an extra one or two cents sales tax on that and only the people that afford it will buy those things. So, if we cut government spending a lot and I mean a lot. This is a process that is going to take at least 10 years, but we've also got to cap the taxes where they are and we need to make appraisal positions elected positions."
Would an income tax be something we could implement? (Addressed to Luther)
Luther - "I will say I will never vote for an income tax. Ever. I'm sorry I just don't agree with you on that. Texas is great because we don't have an income tax. I will never say yes to an income tax. What we can do is do a consumption tax based on what people buy and that will earn your money for the county. Including for our police officers. Including for roads, lights, tollways, firefighters, all of that stuff. The money is there, the government is not spending it the correct way and the way that they should be."
When you say you want to abolish property taxes, what's the largest expense and how many items would we need to sell to fund that expense? (Addressed to Luther)
Luther - "So there is a certain amount that the county receives. What I am saying is if there is a raise in tax on certain items that are non-essential, not diapers and things like that. If you raise sales tax on something, which some people have called a luxury tax which has happened before and happened to other states, there is enough money for that."
A larger expense for Young County is the jail and it is that way across the state. Mental health is being taken care of by these jails. (Addressed to Luther)
Luther - "We are definitely lacking mental health across the United States and that's why I think that it’s very important that we open veteran’s hospital which has a huge floor just for mental patients and a lot of them have PTSD from the war. That doesn’t mean they can’t also take in other patients for mental (reasons) because there is a lot of people that are in jail that shouldn’t be in jail, they should be in a mental facility.”
What about those that are not veterans in jail? (Addressed to Luther)
Luther - “I said some of them don’t have to be veterans. The flood is huge. That’s why I’m working on that. I realize that mental issues and psychology is a huge problem. It is actually all across the United States, but Texas is one of the worst in the nation.”
I do not see how abolishing property tax with no income tax would fund the state? (Addressed to Luther)
Luther - “Well I would never vote yes on income tax. I don’t want to punish people for making money. And it’s not fair that because someone is making more that they should have to input more taxes like that. I think that it should be on a consumption base and all of Texas would agree with that on a whole. We do not want an income tax.”
Would taxes go up in another area if we got rid of property taxes? (Addressed to both candidates)
Springer - “You are exactly right. We did the compression where it went from $1.50 to $1 on the school taxes, (...) the problem is we didn’t set that $1 based on what your appraisal was. As appraisals went up, that dollar went down. We have now done that with what we passed last session with SB2, so that school taxes can only go up two-and-a-half percent. So when I say we cut it from $1.04 to $.92, if your house or land goes up 10% every year, it can not exceed two-and-a-half percent because we don’t want to see it continue to grow how it has. And so we have worked to slow that from happening again because that was the fault of what they did (...) that was about 15 years ago when they did that compression that they didn’t put that in. And so we’ve addressed that now in the state to be able to do that. But you are right. The cost of educating kids are not going down. We spend over $80 billion, so the STAAR test is $10 million. You eliminate it, that doesn’t affect your taxes hardly at all (...) because there are large dollars on what we spend to educate kids. The problem we have in our schools today is it wasn’t like everybody who raised their kids here and, really, anybody who is involved that shows up. You raise your kids right, you teach them respect, they learn. Half of our school kids don’t have the key thing to success which is a parent or one that acts it (...) and so we’ve asked our teachers to do just unbelievable things. They have to be a mental psychiatrist. They have to be a nutritionist. They have to deal with all their own problems for half the kids that come and it is expensive to educate. (...) The courts have ruled that we have to educate everybody who shows up at the door. The state of Texas does not have the ability to say ‘No, we are not going to educate those people.’”
Luther - “You are exactly right. What the problem is the appraisal side of the taxes. That’s what affects you directly. We’ve got to stop the bleeding on that. You cap the number. Because what happens is they are saying ‘We only raise it 1%, we only raise it 2%,’ but if they don’t deal with the appraisal of your house your taxes continue to go up and it’s a trade for another and it’s never a good deal for you. I want to abolish property taxes because I don’t want your taxes to fluctuate. I want you to be in control of what you pay for taxes and that’s why consumption. You control that. As a teacher, I had to buy all my own supplies for my school (and) for my room to decorate it. We barely made anything. I bought school supplies for the kids that couldn’t afford it when there were administrators making over $300,000 a year. The money is misappropriated. The money is spent all up on top and not down in the classroom where it needs to be where our kids can really learn. It needs to be more like a free market, because right now you can barely get a teacher to fill a position because a job is so horrible. Because they are scared of Black Lives Matters, they are scared of saying something inappropriate and getting fired. They’re not getting backed. Teacher’s hands are tied because they can’t discipline kids in the classroom. So if you absolutely want to change, those schools can change how much they are spending. We don’t have to give superintendents $300,000 a year. That’s not what I am saying happens exactly right here, but they make a heck of a lot more than teachers do and teachers are the ones doing the work. It’s the people that are doing the work that deserve the money and if we pay teachers what they are worth, you would have free market enterprise and people would be waiting in line to take those teaching positions. So if you have a bad teacher, bye, we have 10 waiting in line that want your job because you’re worth it. Our police officers it’s the same thing. You’re worth it because (...) people are dying to get here because we pay you and how we treat you. If we don’t put the people on the front lines that are directly affecting our children, if we don’t put them first, then we are in trouble and that has to do with property taxes. They need to be appropriated correctly, number one, and number two, you cannot control your property taxes if we don’t get rid of the whole appraisal of your house part of it. So you have to go with a consumption tax. Put the power back the people.”
What are your thoughts on the new Speaker of the House Dade Phelan? (Addressed to Springer)
Springer - “Rep. Dade Phelan from Beaumont, Texas, this last weekend was just unanimously elected by the house Republican caucus to lead us as our speaker. So that was 83 members strong that voted for him. In fact, I should say 82 members because I stayed through the campaign and it didn’t go down to vote, but unanimously he was elected to serve. The point I would make about Dade though is, he shared state affairs last session and one of the bills that came up dealt with taxpayer funded lobbying. That was one that the Democrats proposed. He could have easily killed that bill. He worked with chairman of the Freedom Caucus, (Rep.) Mays Middleton out of Galveston, Texas, to help him get that bill to the floor and he could have easily (...) killed that bill and Dade made sure that bill got through. I am proud to say Mays Middleton endorsed him, you know, the leader of the Freedom Caucus because that is the conservative wing of the house and so that far side from there. So to have Mays’ support is good. Dade is one though that also believes in letting the house. That means when Republicans are in charge and Republicans have the vote, Republican legislation will move forward to be able to do that. There was a few Democrats early on that jumped on that knew that Dade was going to win and it was really the body of the Democrats. It was not the progressives from Austin. They fought Dade. They did not want Dade. They continued to try to back another candidate in the Republican party so that they wouldn’t have Dade Phelan. So I feel comfortable that he is going to work for the agenda for the Republican priorities that we have set and allow those things to work through the process.”
What is the Republican party going to bring to let others in the party get behind them? (Addressed to both candidates)
Springer - “The best thing is I have had four years of experience in doing it. The first four years, if y'all remember, was when Obama and Biden were trying to do what they did to Texas and we fought them all the time. We knew that they didn’t properly fund the border and so we put in the budget as a priority to make sure that we secured the border. I patched (...) $2.4 billion dollars to make sure that we are working to secure the border from drug flow to human trafficking flow where the President Obama failed and President Biden/Harris are going to fail us just as well. Those of you in agriculture know how bad Obama was when he did waters of the world and we had to fight him on that (...) and so we will have those fights with him. We know how to push back against him. We know how to pass legislation that allows the attorney general to set up for lawsuits that are ready to go to the supreme court, where we do hold a 6 to 3 majority, to be able to overturn anything that Biden does. So those are the things we are going to work to fight back on what Washington’s doing. When they don’t do the right things, we’ll step in and make sure Texans are secure. We’ll push back when they fight against our liberties and our freedoms and our properties and we’ll address them from those just like we did the first four years I was in.”
Luther - “I’m going to be honest with you, this is what I’ve learnt. You are voting in people that do not care about you. You are voting in people who ignore the Republican platform. It wasn’t touched in the last session. Your priorities weren’t touched, so there were not improvements in Texas. We allowed this to happen. We have representatives that have closed-door meetings that only allow certain people in to elect a speaker of the house that’s not even really Republican. He calls himself a Republican, but he’s the only Republican that’s been awarded for his LGBT activities and how he’s contributed to that. If we are the majority in both the house and the senate, why did we not pick a speaker that was a real Republican? Why are we having to compromise with Democrats? We shouldn’t. Why are lobbyists running the decisions in Austin? Because our people are greedy and they are bought. You wouldn’t need lobbyists if you had representatives that voted for what you wanted. You need someone with no strings attached that goes in and I mean business. You’ve seen me stand up. I will stand up to the Democrats. I will stand up to the other Republicans saying ‘I thought you said you were conservative?’ I will give transparency to the voters so if someone is acting like a rhino, you vote them out. You are responsible for this. 2022 Abbott’s gotta go. He is not what you voted in. He has used Texas as a stepping stone to something else and he’s been bought. Get the government back in your hands. You are responsible for this. Elect real people that care about you, that go in and do what they say they are going to do and if they don’t, get them out immediately. That’s how we get Texas back.”
What can you do to bring out people of other colors to the Republican party? (Addressed to both candidates)
Luther - “I took a hit on my campaign because (...) after I got out of jail, I got out after two days instead of seven and then I was attacked by different parties saying that it was white privilege, things like that. I was a school teacher of every kid, of every color. I taught Spanish, not my native language. I value everybody for who they are. When I got out of jail, we helped every small business owner that we could. We went to restaurants giving thousands of dollars, black, white, it did not matter. We gave $18,000 to a black-owned barber in south Dallas at the time when there was no rioting, there was no looting going on at all. There were black people protesting in the streets. I made a tweet that said the Black Lives Matter movement, that was happening at the time that was not violent, should join with open Texas. We would be a force that you could not recognize. A lot of the things that we want are the same, liberty, freedom, respect and I got hit on that. Of course two days later the rioting and the looting started and I said well a group has taken over BLM and that is Marxist terrorism of course. But we have to, like he said, unite and bring everybody together and quit leaving people out of the Republican party. And we need to do a better job of getting young people in here and all of the other black people, hispanic people, anyone that wants to be a Republican because we need them or we will turn blue.”
Springer - “What he is saying is we have go and meet people on their own areas. And so I sat in pew of Eastside with Rev. Reginald Blow, African American leader in Wichita Falls, and talked with them about what are their needs, what are we not listening to. I am here to hear because God gave us two ears and one mouth and we should use them in that order and so listening first and foremost of what are their concerns because you’re right, it’s about their values and if we listen we can understand that we share so much. And we need to re-emphasize that we share that, that we want to give those opportunities. It’s why we did HB3 this last session. We put more money in for bilingual education because our hispanic brothers and sisters that share an awful lot of the same values that our African American brothers and sisters do on family, small government, low regulations because they can easily open a business. And that’s why I held another event where we brought in about a dozen of the hispanic leaders in Wichita County to do that very thing because I haven’t served there, I haven’t sat down with them. We didn’t make a big deal about it, but I wanted to understand what was important to them and the fact that when you sit down and say ‘I want to understand what are we not addressing that we need to address. What’s important that you want to hear me answer.’ And then they know that somebody who is one of us is going to represent a million people. That you care enough about their community to listen to them and hear them out before you come in and tell them what you think they want to hear. That’s how you start building that party up with each and every one of those coming to join us. And that’s what I will continue to do just like I have.”
What will be the main difference with you as a candidate than with you then your opponent and what will be the main thing you will work on if you get elected to office? (Addressed to both candidates)
Luther - “The main thing that separates me or how I am different from my opponent is that I am not a politician. I don’t have any political ties to Austin. I don’t owe my vote to any political parties or pacts. I want to go there. I am a teacher, I like checklists. I want to look at the Republican platform and I want to go down a list and make sure what you ask for, you get, or at least get to vote on it so we can see how everybody is voting. That’s what makes us different. I am going to vote while I am looking you in the eye because you deserve that. As far as the other question you asked me (...) of course it’s government overreach that’s the top of the platform and I have already stood up to it. I will stand up to it again. Gov. Abbott works for us. He’s still not my boss even if I get elected. You are the boss, you decide, and if we get these conservative Republicans to actually vote how they say they are going to vote then we won’t have a problem getting it back. I think Texas should never be shut down and I believe in personal responsibility for yourself. I believe in seven days, 30 days, no, you do not have the right to shut us down and keep us from making money for our family. You don’t have that right. Especially the governor. Personal responsibility because you are smart enough to decide for yourself and your family what you should be doing to protect yourself. The government is not there to keep you safe. They are there to protect your rights. That’s their only duty. They need to start doing that.”
Springer - “So I started off saying the first bill I filed was on executive orders, but the other piece of that I would say is the rural issues that we face of infrastructure and that’s making sure that broadband, roads and water and making sure because those affect each and every one of us every single day, but those have to be a big part of what this senate district means. Over 35% of it is rural and there is not a lot of rural senators down there that care about rural Texas and so we need somebody who understands and works on it. And the other thing that makes us different, I know how to get things done for the constituents of Young County and the other 13 counties that make up this senate district. And the evil practice that we are talking about, that’s the fact that farm bureau yesterday gave me another $2 for each one of their members that live in this district. That is representing the farm bureau members of this district. Now I share the values, yes, I want to work on imminent domain with farm bureau because I don’t think their evil and I don’t think their issue’s evil. I want to work with the NRA because there is five million Texans that are members of the NRA. And so yes, they are a lobbyist, because they lobby for your right to carry a gun, so I will continue to work with them proudly and work through that. I won’t work with anybody that’s working against the interests of SD30, Young County or any of the other 13 counties. And understanding that is what dramatically makes a big difference.”
What happens to your District 68 seat if we elect you to the Senate District 30 position? (Addressed to Springer)
Springer - “If you elect me senator that will be the one bad thing I will say will happen for Young County, is you’re going to have to have another election because the 22 counties that make up HD68 would have to have a special election just like me and Mrs. Luther running for on this one, it is a special election called. It will be the same format. As many people could run (and) either party could run in it for that seat.
How quickly would that election happen after you were elected? (Addressed to Springer)
Springer - “The laws change once you’re inside session for the start of session within 21 days, so it would happen relatively fast. And the governor sets the exact date, but it is a very small window gap between everything.”
What is your opinion on Shelley’s idea of the consumer or the consumption tax as a way to eliminate property tax? (Addressed to Springer)
Springer - “There’s not enough retail activity in Young County, in Newcastle, in Olney, to pay for the services that we would buy. Because if Olney, Texas, had to raise their tax rate to what it would be to cover the amount that they generate off of property so that they can have a police department, streets, you would be at 24% and everybody would be driving to Fort Worth to buy everything. So you would just close your main street brick and mortars down. You just cannot do that from that aspect. From the M&O, that’s the one I said I filed last year, we could eliminate 50-100% homestead exemption where homeowners don’t pay property taxes and replace that with a small amount of things that aren’t taxed today. And that’s what I had in my bill last time. It is not a sin in Texas to drive a car that burns gas, but Tesla owners don’t pay their fair share of the road tax. A Ford Fusion pay $225 a year in road taxes albeit at 20 cents a gallon when they are filling up. Tesla’s ought to have that added to their registration sticker. It would make things fair. And so it’s all about tax fairness at that standpoint and we could use that to buy it down, but you can’t eliminate the county side of it, you can’t eliminate it. Because all you will do is you will just destroy business in rural Texas if you do that.”
What are some alternatives to property tax? (Addressed to Springer)
Springer - “I was talking about gas for the Tesla side of it making up on that aspect of it. The one I have had is and my favorite one to always use is this, there is $120 million right there if we charge the sales tax, today’s current eight and quarter (dollars) or six and quarter for the state, if we charged it on bottled water. There is $600 million when you put cakes, cookies, donuts, potato chips, bottled water in there and you can use that to buy down your homestead exemption and be able to extend that out. So those are the type of things you would look at from that aspect of it, but you’ve got to be looking at fair consumption taxes through there. We used to tax, to the tune of $250 million a year, over-the-counter medicine (such as) aspirin/ibuprofen, we could go back to taxing that. If people said I didn’t have to pay any school tax, but when I have a headache I’m going to pay 18 cents for a bottle of Aspirin, they probably would think that was a good tradeoff. And so it is in there that you would be able to come up with the answers.”
Luther - “So basically his answer was the same as mine, the consumption tax. The same exact answer.”
What about property taxes on 65, 70 and old residents? What can be done to help them out? (Addressed to both candidates)
Springer - “From the school standpoint, we’ve allowed a 65 and over freeze on property taxes and so I continue to support those freezes from that aspect of it so all of your school taxes are. The city and counties are left with that local option on whether they want to put that to their voters or whether they want to do that themselves and so the local decisions get to decide from that aspect.”
Luther - “So in the small towns if you can’t eliminate property taxes completely, what if you when you first find your house or what your house is appraised at at that time, and the local governments can decide this, you pay a certain amount of property tax and your appraisal never changes and it is certain percent until you leave that house. If a small town wants to decide that they want to do that for their county taxes then they can decide to do that, but as far as property taxes are concerned, if we can eliminate most of them especially for the school portion of it with cutting government spending, then that is absolutely acceptable. We can do it. There is government spending that is disgusting, that needs to go away. You would be disgusted with what your money is going to.”
Editor's Note: This Q&A is a continuation of a story in the Saturday, Dec. 12 edition of The Graham Leader. This section was supposed to be placed in the Wednesday, Dec. 16 edition, but due to the length of the section and the timing of the election has been put online.