By TRACI SHURLEY
A first-time candidate for state office is challenging three-term incumbent Bill Zedler for House District 96 in a race with statewide implications and education as a key issue.
Challenger Chris Turner will meet Zedler at 6:30 tonight at the Arlington League of Women Voters forum in the Arlington school district administration building on West Pioneer Parkway in Arlington.
The district includes south Arlington, Crowley, Kennedale and parts of Fort Worth, Mansfield, Forest Hill and Burleson. Libertarian Todd Litteken is also running.
A victory for Zedler would boost Republicans who are struggling to hold onto power as state demographics shift to a minority-majority state, said Harvey Kronberg, editor of the Quorum Report, an online newsletter about Texas politics.
The increasingly younger and more ethnically diverse district could help Turner, he said.
Zedler is considered "one of the two or three most vulnerable incumbents out there because of the changes in the district," Kronberg said.
Turner, a former campaign manager and district director for U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, has focused much of his campaign on education. He believes changes to the state funding formula made during 2006 have been an "abysmal failure for local school districts and districts across the state."
Zedler, who has been endorsed by, among others, anti-abortion groups and the Texas Municipal Police Association, is proud of his work. He believes it’s important for lawmakers to continue to drive down local property taxes and favors requiring schools to rely on state funding. He also wants to limit government growth.
Illegal immigration is also a big issue with him. He wants to get rid of what he calls "sanctuary cities" by encouraging local law enforcement to more aggressively enforce immigration laws. He cited Houston as an example.
Turner agrees that getting control of the state’s borders is important. He said, however, that state legislators shouldn’t mandate decisions about immigration enforcement.
Transportation and healthcare are also likely to get the candidates’ attention. Turner has mailed out fliers criticizing Zedler’s 2003 vote to support the Trans-Texas Corridor. Zedler said he initially supported the bill but has since been a leader in efforts to stop the Texas Department of Transportation from moving forward with the project.
Litteken, an information technology specialist who lives in Arlington, said he, too, questions the project.
"I’m against using any tax dollars for things that do not directly benefit people, the individual, and even then it is something that should be reined in," he said. "I’m so tired of paying high taxes for just about everything."
Turner is one of seven Texas House candidates to be endorsed by the bipartisan Texas Parent PAC, based in Austin. That organization, formed after the 2005 legislative session, backed state Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, in her 2006 upset victory over longtime District 94 Rep. Kent Grusendorf.
Carolyn Boyle, chairwoman of Texas Parent, said Zedler’s stand on the state education funding formula is wrong.
She believes Turner will do better.
"He is so smart and articulate and grounded and mature, and he really gets these issues and he really cares," Boyle said.
Ron Wright, district director for U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington, and former Arlington mayor pro tem, said Zedler’s "consistently conservative" voting record will help him win.
"I think the district is still a Republican district and Bill still represents the values of the majority of people in that district, low taxes and limited government," Wright said.
Zedler reported more than $157,000 in contributions on hand for the Jan. 1 through June 30 reporting period. Turner had more than $173,000.
Zedler’s big supporters during the first half of the year included San Antonio executive James Leininger, who gave $10,000 to the campaign in June, and the PAC Texans for Rick Perry, which gave $10,000 as well. Leininger is a proponent of school vouchers.
Turner reported a $15,000 contribution from Bernard Rapoport of Waco and $7,500 from Texans for Insurance Reform. Rapoport, founder of American Income Life Insurance Co., supports Democratic candidates at the state and federal level.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
House District 96
Education: Bachelor’s and Master’s in Business Administration, Sam Houston State University
Experience: Retired from sales career in healthcare industry; first elected to the House of Representatives in 2003; vice chairman of the public education committee; serves on business and industry and House administration committees; served as precinct chairman, election judge and poll watcher
Military: Served in the Army in Vietnam
Family: Wife Ellen, three adult children and five grandchildren
Web site: www.billzedler.org