Posted on: Sunday, August 10, 2008, 6:30 AM
By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
In January, Ralph Sheffield sat down for a one-on-one interview with a reporter from the Herald, and said confidently that he was going to win the District 55 House seat.
It was months before the intense campaign battle in the Republican runoff made the District 55 race the hottest ticket in town. He didn't care that the media and others had anointed former Temple Mayor Pro Tem Martha Tyroch as the favorite in the race.
Sheffield trailed Tyroch by a slight margin after the primary March 4; Tyroch still had an enormous financial backing and outspent the Temple small business owner 2-to-1. But Sheffield was the one smiling a month later when he nearly doubled Tyroch's vote total to win the nomination.
He's still smiling.
It's tough to blame him – as a Republican in Bell County, Sheffield has to like his odds at winning the District 55 seat since the county's other 29 elected officials are Republicans.
And despite the worries of some that the runoff splintered the party leaders in the county and weakened Sheffield's finances for the fall campaign, he said the party has rallied behind him.
"They've seen what I've been able to do," Sheffield said Thursday. "In the primary, I came in second, but I was able to get the support of the third- and fourth-place candidates, and quite naturally, I was able to gather their supporters over. We've got a good Republican Party in Central Texas, and I think it's going to show we're going to come out and win big in the fall."
Sheffield only spoke briefly of his Democratic opponent, Sam Murphey, saying Murphey may have worked on the staff of successful Central Texas Democrat Chet Edwards, but the comparisons should stop there.
"No doubt that people are concerned about the presidential race and how it's going to come into play. ... Chet Edwards (has been) a great congressman for Bell County in the past, there's no doubt," Sheffield said. "But Sam Murphey is no Chet Edwards."
Sheffield said he's got the money to run a strong campaign this fall, despite the six figures in television time and mailers he spent before the runoff April 8.
"Financially, I've had two races I've had to go through, a primary and a runoff," he said. "They're costly, no doubt about that. ... I'm working hard in raising my funds. Campaigns are not cheap. However, I'm going to be able to have enough funds to get my message out and even supplement that part of it."
Since the contentious nature of the primary and runoff seemed to push his campaign message to the background, Sheffield is thrilled to be focusing on issues of Central Texas again. He said he wants to use the same strategy in Austin that has made him a successful small business owner for more than 30 years.
He said it's hard work and listening to what people need.
"I've always been very involved in community activities, and it's not often that a small businessman gets a chance to represent his district in the statehouse," he said. "Someone who's had to meet a budget and payroll on an ongoing basis, somebody who cares less about personal politics."
Sheffield said the future of transportation in Bell County starts with the completion of Interstate 35; all other projects are secondary.
He added that the funds generated by the gas tax shouldn't be pilfered so readily for other projects since that is TxDOT's only budget source.
"I'm not for any kind of tax increases, but at the same time, I'm all about fixing our roads," he said. "We need to find a way to correct some of that. There's a possibility that with inflation the way it is, maybe you look at indexing the gas tax. Central Texas is exploding. We're going to need roads to get around and deal with the growth."
The many facets of illegal immigration have been a topic of Sheffield's focus. In addition to all the problems it creates for citizens, it severely hurts infrastructure, and is one of the problems contributing to the public school system.
"We must stop the bleeding of resources to illegal immigration," Sheffield said. "It's having an effect on our infrastructure; it affects our schools, our insurance rates, it affects a lot of things."
It's one of the many aspects of the state house Sheffield hopes he can fight to change.
"Bell County has been Republican for a long, long time," Sheffield said. "And I think it's going to be hard-pressed to change that."
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568.