Fight ramps up for Texas Senate 10 seat

02/15/2014 3:45 PM

02/17/2014 9:38 AM

A lot of voters about to cast ballots in one of the most closely watched legislative races in Texas are thinking ahead.

Who can win or lose in November?

That’s the key to winning the primary for Senate District 10, the hotly contested battle to replace Wendy Davis, political observers say as early voting begins statewide Tuesday.

“SD10 is the one Texas Senate district where primary voters actually need to consider how well their preferred candidate would fare at the polls in November,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

“Of the 16 Senate seats in play this election cycle, SD10 is the only one where there exists any doubt as to which party will be victorious in November,” he said. “Primary voters must balance their twin goals of selecting the candidate closest to their heart and of winning in November.”

Five Republicans hope to reclaim the seat: Konni Burton of Colleyville, a longtime leader in the NE Tarrant Tea Party; Arlington school Trustee Tony Pompa; Colleyville chiropractor Jon Schweitzer; former state Rep. Mark Shelton of Fort Worth; and Mark Skinner of Colleyville.

Two Democrats — Mike Martinez, a Fort Worth energy executive, and Libby Willis, a longtime neighborhood leader in Fort Worth — hope to be the one fighting to retain the post for their party.

If Democrats lose this race and all other Senate seats stay the same, Republicans would inch closer to claiming a supermajority in the chamber.

Candidates have stockpiled nearly half a million dollars combined for this battle, which is expected to grow fiercer in the days leading up to the election.

Early voting for the March 4 primary runs from Tuesday through Feb. 28.

If the race goes to a runoff, as is expected on the Republican side, it would be May 27.

Here’s a look at the candidates.

Republicans

Shelton, a pediatrician and former state representative who lost a bid for the seat to Davis in 2012, has the most cash on hand — more than $155,000, according to the most recent Texas Ethics Commission reports.

Shelton, 57, picked up more than $25,000 in donations in January, including $10,194 from the Texas Medical Association Political Action Committee, $500 from W.A. Moncrief Jr. and $2,000 from the Eye PAC of the Texas Ophthalmological Association.

“We need continued economic growth, a good education system so all children will have hope for a great future, and secure borders so crime, drugs and human trafficking will no longer spill into Texas,” said Shelton, who served two terms representing District 97 in the House.

“I am the only candidate who has consistently voted to restrain spending, protect innocent life and make tough decisions to ensure Texas’ future.”

Burton, 50, is second in fundraising, with nearly $120,000 in the bank, including $3,000 in January. That included $1,000 from the campaign of state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, according to Texas Ethics Commission reports.

Burton, who has been active in numerous political campaigns and grassroots politics at the local, state and national levels, said she is the right candidate.

“Several elections in a row, Republicans ran a candidate who didn’t turn out grassroots GOP voters, and subsequently we lost to Wendy Davis, a seat that should be in Republican hands,” said Burton, a former sales representative and small-business owner. “Our campaign has unified GOP and conservative activists and grassroots voters for the simple reason that I plan to stand on principle, not maintain business as usual in Austin.

“I’m concerned about the direction of our country, and I know that many in Tarrant County are as well.”

Pompa, 42, said he brings a new perspective to the race because he started in this country as an undocumented immigrant. His mother brought him to Texas from Mexico when he was 11. He gained legal status after marrying his wife during his junior year in college.

“My story really is the ‘American dream,’ ” said Pompa, owner of Pompa’s General Assembly. “To go from undocumented immigrant to citizen and business owner to conservative Republican candidate is truly amazing. My candidacy has even been called the Republican antidote for the Democratic Party’s efforts to turn Texas ‘blue.’ ”

He raised just over $4,000 in January and has nearly $50,000 on hand, along with more than $95,000 in loans. Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck was among those to donate to his campaign, chipping in $500.

“I truly believe our campaign gives Republicans the best chance we’ve had in years to defeat the Democrats in the November general election,” he said.

Skinner, 57, said he offers voters a true option — 30 years in commercial real estate, building small businesses statewide.

“I disagree with the progressive social agendas set forth by the incumbent senator from SD10,” he said. “I believe that conservative values have led to the current economic prosperity and quality of life here in Texas.”

Skinner, who has served on the Colleyville City Council, owns Skinner Commercial Realty & Associates. He raised more than $5,000 in January, including $4,000 from Jim and Diane Calvert of Colleyville. He has $6,698 on hand and nearly $1,500 in loans.

“I have extensive leadership skills, 30 years of business experience creating value for Texas businesses,” he said. “I want to lead in efforts to keep Texas the most prosperous state in this country. Through economic diversity and better education, we will succeed.”

Schweitzer, 41, has promised voters that he can deliver the seat in November.

“I’m unhappy with the state of affairs in Texas and the country,” he said. “We need new blood, not more politicians with false promises and tired old ideas.”

He raised $1,525 in January, including $500 donations from Robert Myles, a Bedford orthopedic surgeon, and Tim Blakey of Colleyville, and has $4,000 on hand. And he said he wants to minimize the negative impact of the federal healthcare law and work to cut taxes, reform education, improve roads and secure the borders.

“Real leaders listen. They think about issues. They look for real solutions which work. Then they lead,” he said. “That is the most important reason I am the best candidate for the Republican nomination for Senate District 10. I am the only candidate to have thought about and proposed workable solutions for every problem voters helped me identify as top priorities for Texas.”

Democrats

Willis, 54, leads fundraising on the Democratic side. She has $92,000 in cash, as well as $77,000 in loans. She raised $11,260 in January, including $5,000 from Annie’s List and $300 from former Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairman Steve Maxwell.

“We need some neighborhood-level common sense in Austin,” said Willis, former president of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods. “I have experience at the neighborhood and citywide levels of working with neighbors, families and businesses to solve problems, big and small.”

She is the daughter-in-law of the late Doyle Willis, who represented Fort Worth in the House and Senate for decades. She said she wants to improve public education, create good-paying jobs and expand in-home care for seniors.

Martinez, 43, said he is the best candidate in this primary.

“I understand commerce and the art of successful negotiations that benefit our community as a whole. I have a proven track record of creating quality high-paying jobs for our citizens,” he said. “ I have the pedigree and experience required to serve as an honorable leader for our state.”

He last sought public office in 1998 when he ran for Tarrant County Commissioners Court but dropped out after being arrested twice on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. He said he was convicted of DWI twice.

“I know my past will come up,” he has said. “That is not who I am. That is not what I am about. I finally grew up and became the man I am today.”

He has more than $18,000 in cash, with no loans, and raised more than $14,000 in January.

He said he wants to increase access to early pre-kindergarten, expand Medicaid and encourage economic development.

Two Libertarians, Gene Lord and Gene M. Woodard III, are also vying for a spot on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The winners of the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian primaries will square off with Green Party candidate John Tunmire of Fort Worth to represent Senate District 10.

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