Population growth and education featured in race to open Williamson County seat

For those on the outside, the race for House District (HD) 52 in Williamson County is marked by the absence of one person: State Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock), who crossed county lines to run in an open district of Austin. But for those running in the GOP primary, Talarico’s leap across district lines is just one aspect of a larger set of themes dictating the race to succeed the former Round Rock resident. .

Talarico’s decision to move was hastened by the Republicans’ redistricting plan that took the district from a D-53% to an R-55%, according to the texan Texas Supporter Index.

The new lines aren’t a safe Republican bet, but it gives them the edge.

These four Republicans vying for the seat are members of the staff of Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), Caroline Harris; attorney and former staffer of Senator Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), Nelson Jarrin; technology engineer Patrick McGuinness; and IT businessman and former Texas GOP podcast host, Jonathan Schober.

Williamson County is growing rapidly, with its population increasing 35% since the last time the State House districts were redrawn.

With this growth comes growing pains, such as expanding housing, infrastructure, and school districts. Samsung chose Taylor for its $17 billion investment in the microchip factory, which will bring commerce as well as pressure on infrastructure.

According to Bond Review BoardWilliamson County political subdivisions and voters approved $8.2 billion in bonds for a mix of spending plans.

Last year alone, school districts across the district issued $988 million in bonds for various expansion projects. Last year, the city of Georgetown approved a $90 million bond for transportation projects such as street widening.

The previous decade was one of unbridled growth for the HD 52 communities.

Talarico flipped the seat in a 2018 special election after state Rep. Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock) stepped out of the legislature and retained it in the general election “Beto Wave “. Since then, what was a purple district was represented by Talarico, the 22n/a– the most liberal legislator at the Texas House.

A Democratic candidate, Luis Echegaray, is in the running and has reported no fundraising. But with the redistricting, the pendulum probably swung in the opposite direction.

In interviews with The Texanthe GOP candidates outlined their assessments of the biggest issues in the race — which can largely be tied to rapid population growth and the need to manage it.

Jarrin did not respond to an interview request. The first number listed on its website problems page, above border security and education, is called “Straight Talk”. The copy reads: “Too many politicians these days are hiding behind cleverly crafted statements and political doublespeak. You shouldn’t need a translator to understand what your state representative thinks or their position on an issue. »

As the value of the neighborhood increases, the appraised value of the property also increases, which fuels the continued increases in property taxes.

“People are paying $8,000 to $10,000 in property taxes to own average homes – the property tax burden is too high and we need real relief,” McGuinness said, backing a proposal from redemption of the school district’s maintenance and operating rates which account for the largest portion. tax invoices.

He said excess state dollars should be used to continually buy out rates, but because assessments keep going up and rates without new revenue not being passed, tax bills go up every year.

For example, Round Rock ISD lowered its tax rate for Fiscal Year 2021-2022 but has not adopted the no new revenue rate.

the Medium The Round Rock homeowner will see a $2,640 increase in his property tax bill over last year, after a 53% increase in property value. That’s despite the state’s new homestead exemption increasing by $30,000.

Also highlighting property taxes, Schober said he favors a commodity tax swap, but with a necessary transition period for adjustment. “Property taxes are philosophically the worst way to raise taxes for government,” he said. He also wants to see the state freeze assessments at the purchase price of the property until the transition is complete.

Harris said that during his time canvassing voters, the issue of property tax is usually tackled alongside education. But she added that the current environment is particularly trying for people on fixed incomes, mainly older homeowners living off Social Security and pensions, and first-time home buyers who can afford the down payment but not the taxes. following land.

Over the past two years, education has exploded to the top of the most important political issues. As the content of educational materials and inappropriate content in books have fallen under the national microscope, these political themes have also reentered Texas.

In addition to the current Round Rock ISD entanglement on assault allegations against its superintendent, the neighborhood was criticized for housing allegedly obscene books and encouraging teachers not to disclose information about a student’s gender identity to their parents.

Leander ISD was also asked about books found in its libraries deemed to be sexually explicit, graphically violent or excessively vulgar – 11 of which were removed for review by the school’s advisory committee.

As school districts expand, it becomes more difficult to control what materials students have access to or are given at school.

Governor Greg Abbott has noted that a strong push for school choice will be made when the legislature meets again in 2023 – although the article is not part of his campaign”Declaration of Parental Rights” education platform.

In addition to increasing transparency within school districts, Harris, McGuinness and Schober have each indicated their support for legislation that gives parents more say in how their education dollars are spent.

Schober said, “We have a bureaucracy-centric education system, and we need a parent-centric system.” To do this, Schober said the Texas Education Agency needed to be “radically reformed.”

“Good public schools shouldn’t be afraid of parents choosing alternatives, because if parents have that choice, the whole system will be better off,” said McGuinness, who took advantage of the opportunity charter schools can offer their own children. He also said choice was needed to get underperforming public schools to improve.

Harris mentioned the need to re-emphasize reading, writing and arithmetic in education, as well as introducing entrepreneurship courses.

The first problem mentioned by each candidate was securing the border. “Nothing that happens there stays there,” Harris stressed. “It also goes up in the suburbs.”

Schober said more funding would likely be needed, adding that “that’s the only place of new spending I’ll accept.”

Asked what separates him from other primary candidates, McGuinness cited his GOP activism since the 1980s and his long career outside of politics. “It makes me more independent and a better representative for this district,” he said.

“One of my main goals in office will be to ban taxpayer-funded lobbying,” McGuinness added, pointing to the various “unfinished” House items he hopes to pursue next year.

Harris highlighted his experience in both houses of the legislature — being a staffer in both — and his political experience on a number of issues while on Capitol Hill. She also said she hoped to provide an antidote to Talarico’s growing influence as a Democratic Party figure. “My goal is to get as much influence as possible out of [Talarico] and attract more young people to our party,” she said.

Schober emphasized his endorsement of former Texas GOP chairman and current gubernatorial candidate Allen West, for whom he works. “Conservatives need to move to the sound of guns,” Schober said, invoking a West slogan.

“Furthermore, Democrats as committee chairs are bullshit — and I will not support a Speaker of the House who does not commit to all GOP chairs and Texas Republican Party priorities,” a- he added.

Transparency of candidates running, Schober said, is paramount. On this, Schober brushed off Jarrin, who during a contestant forum asked Schober to turn off his live video.

Harris and McGuinness have separately confirmed this incident.

Sam D. Gomez