Candidates Clash On Campaign Promises, Conservative Ideals

News / Candidates Clash On Campaign Promises, Conservative Ideals

By Matt Schaefer
Friday, March 09, 2012

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Published in the Tyler Morning Telegraph
Staff Writer
Posted at 2:22 AM Friday, March 9, 2012

Mike Hutchins, 51, of Tyler, attended his first political debate Thursday evening held by the Smith County Republican Club at OneREALTORCenter.

He was among more than 125 attendees at the second debate between state Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, and relative political newcomer Matt Schaefer for the state House District 6 seat. The campaigns are among contested local races that concern Hutchins, he said.

Before the event, Hutchins, a draftsman and self-described conservative, said he voted for Berman in the past and knew his record but was eager to learn more about Schaefer. He said he still has faith in Berman but is concerned about the legislator’s health following his diagnosis with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Berman was admitted to a local hospital in mid-January and a week later it was revealed he was fighting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was released and is continuing treatments. On Thursday, he wore a cowboy hat and told the crowd he was doing so because the treatments, which he said will last another three months, caused his hair to fall out.

Berman, 76, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and former Arlington city councilman who was elected to the state House in 1998, is seeking his eighth term. He opened the debate by noting his conservative anti-abortion, pro-gun, pro-business voting record and endorsements from groups supporting those causes.

“I have been endorsed by every conservative group in the state of Texas,” he said. “My record speaks for itself.”

Schaefer, 35, a Naval Reserve lieutenant commander and former attorney, is a relative political newcomer who has worked as a consultant, researcher and spokesman for congressmen from Texas, a state representative and most recently U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. He opened the debate by sharing his blue-collar background in rural West Texas, and how the lessons learned in school, church and on the football field have served him as a man.

“My goal is not to have endorsements but to represent everyday Texans,” he said. “If you want a fresh voice for East Texas, I am ready to serve.”

The debate was a see-saw battle between two men prepared to make a case for why they should represent District 6.

Schaefer continued to attack Berman’s legislative record.

Schaefer again pointed to Berman’s vote that created a new state agency that he said increased regulatory controls on homebuilders in 2003. He said the vote created more bureaucracy in Austin and more burdens on small businesses.

Berman said he does not support overzealous regulation. Builders and consumers called for regulation because the law prevented unscrupulous construction contractors from operating, he said. Schaefer said the law was pushed by lobbyists representing major homebuilders and did not protect consumers but increased costs for reputable local builders and small-business owners.

Schaefer said one fundamental GOP principle is to limit government and Berman’s vote created a government agency and increased regulation. Berman said the vote was conservative because builders wanted it and it protected homeowners.

Criticism of bureaucracy and reducing the scope of government was a theme for Schaefer. He used examples of licensing requirements for barbers and interior decorators as proof that Austin limits private growth with unnecessary regulation.

“Do you want more freedom and fewer bureaucrats in Austin or more regulation?” Schaefer asked.

Berman said consumers and professionals call for regulation because of “professional encroachment” and poor business practices. He gave examples such as interior decorators complaining about architects or podiatrists trying to assess and treat other parts of the body.

“We need regulation in those instances to protect consumers and professionals,” he said.

Two distinct pictures were drawn by the candidates when the question of the state’s 2011 budget came up.

Berman said conservative legislators delivered on their promise to address the $25 billion shortfall legislators faced that year by cutting spending rather than raising taxes. Schaefer said legislators used accounting “smoke and mirrors,” to defer billions of dollars for Medicaid and education until 2013.

One of the “accounting tricks” was funding Medicaid for 17 months rather than the full 24-month biennium, pushing billions of dollars into the 2013 budget.

“The day we get back (into session) we have to deal with that problem” he said. “So I have to put an asterisk beside the budget.”

Berman said 181 members of the Senate and House worked to pass a balanced budget without raising taxes and delivered.

Schaefer questioned Berman’s 2001 vote to support in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. Berman said the House was majority Democrats that year and that a vote against the amendment was a vote against funding higher education.

Berman said he has filed more than a dozen bills each of the past few sessions trying to do away with benefits for illegal immigrants. He said he will continue to do so.

On illegal immigration, both men agreed that ending benefits would end incentives for illegal immigrants to cross the Texas-Mexican border and save the state billions of dollars.

Schaefer again questioned Berman’s 1998 term-limit pledge.

In that race, against then incumbent Rep. Ted Kamel, R-Tyler, one of Berman’s platforms during his successful campaign was that he would serve four, two-year terms. However, in 2004, he said senior House leadership and Perry called on him to remain a member to maintain the conservative continuity of the House. Berman said voters released him from the pledge by re-electing him.

“Seventy percent (of voters) said, ‘Stay,’ so I did stay,” he said.

Schaefer has not committed to a term-limit pledge and said voters can decide how many terms a legislator should serve. He also pointed to Berman’s commitment to not participate in the Legislative Retirement System.

Regarding his commitment to not take the retirement money, Berman said “circumstances changed,” and that he will take the retirement because his wife does not receive Social Security.

Schaefer said Berman used the pledges to defeat Kamel but reneged.

After the debate, Hutchins said he was pleased “two Godly men are running.” But he said Schaefer had not swayed his vote. He said Berman’s past pledges were not a concern, and his top priorities were immigration reform, reducing government and increasing energy independence.

“I am going to continue to follow this race and read up more on these guys,” he said.

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