Candidates: John Bryant, Charlie Gearing, Alexandra Guio, Chris Leal, and Kendall Scudder.
What is the single most common issue voters have raised with you during your campaign, and how do you plan to tackle it?
John Bryant: High residential property taxes. Texas homeowners face the 3rd highest property taxes in the nation and pay a sales tax that is 30% higher than the national average, yet we are 43rd in per pupil spending on public education. Property taxes are so high because the Republican governor and majority in the legislature have reduced the state contribution to public education over the last two decades, forcing the burden onto property taxes. Worse, the property tax system consistently appraises normal homes at up to 80% of their value while appraising high-value properties like hotels and large mansions at under 30% of their value. For example, the home at 5846 Velasco, selling for $475,000, is taxed on 76% of its value; but the Crescent Court Hotel, which sold last month for $700 million, is only taxed on 26% of its value, as is the $43 million mansion on Baltimore in University Park featured in the February edition of Texas Monthly. I will introduce legislation to require appraisal districts strictly adhere to the “equal and uniform” property tax mandate found in our state constitution and stop limiting it’s meaning to equality within categories of property, in order that the burden on normal homeowners be shifted appropriately back to high value properties. And, to dramatically increase the state contribution to public education both to relieve the upward pressure on local property taxes but to move Texas from the bottom rankings to the point that within five years we have the best public schools in the nation. “
Charlie Gearing: Access to healthcare is the biggest issue I hear about on the campaign trail – from affordability to basic reproductive care, voters in House District 114 want our leaders in Austin to focus on real solutions to addressing our healthcare crisis. The most recent abortion restrictions passed in Austin are not only the most restrictive in the country, but they disproportionately affect women of color. We must restore reproductive rights as soon as possible, and fight to pass rape and incest exceptions while we work to roll back SB8 for good. Further, I will focus on bringing down the cost of healthcare and prescription drug costs. I’ll support Medicaid expansion so that we can expand access for prenatal and postnatal care for mothers, but I will also work to pass new programs, such as extending eligibility for the WIC program, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children would help improve health outcomes for mothers in Texas.
Chris Leal: Public Education. As the only teacher in this race, and the only candidate with a professional background in economics and finance, public school finance is one of the top concerns for our district and our state. Fixing our broken school finance system can achieve multiple goals at once: fully funding our schools, supporting our teachers, supporting our students, reducing the burden placed on our local governments and provide true property tax relief to Texans. We can do this by taking the states share of the education budget back to 50% or higher and fixing our recapture/Robin Hood system.
Alexandra Guio: Many of the conversations that I have with my community members involve access to affordable healthcare. Many people have lost their jobs due to the pandemic or have been affected by it impacting their access to healthcare. Small business owners have also described how the effects of the pandemic and the winter storms have not only affected their businesses and families but how it has also caused them to lay-off employees. All of this has caused many to rely on unemployment benefits, low-cost health clinics, or the emergency room. In addition, reproductive justice healthcare rights are being attacked, affecting women, trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming individuals in our community. This not only affects access to a safe and legal abortion, but access to sexual contraception, evidence-based sexual education, basic healthcare needs, and other maternal healthcare measures. First, I would support the expansion of Medicaid that would provide healthcare to millions of Texans. With Texas leading the country in uninsured residents, the cost of “emergency” room health care has greatly burdened the system. Medicaid expansion can alleviate the stress on the hospital system. Further, I would also pass measures that would decrease the maternal mortality rate in Texas. I would support legislation that increased Medicaid coverage postpartum for low-income mothers to 12 months instead of the 6 months that was passed in the prior Legislative session. Finally, I would advocate for the repeal of SB 8 and allow individuals to make their own decisions when it comes to healthcare and starting a family. Further, as a former prosecutor who handled sex assault cases and fought for survivors of sex assault, it is unfathomable that there is no exception in SB 8 for cases of rape or incest. This portion of this bill is something I would absolutely work on repealing.
Kendall Scudder: Our public education system and skyrocketing property tax rates. We must increase our school funding from Austin if we are to ever see meaningful property tax relief on a local level. If elected officials in Austin were really serious about our public schools, they would ensure that they received the funding needed to properly educate our children and prepare them for life. Part of having a strong public education system is about reinforcing the foundation of that system to meet current needs and prepare for the future. Right now, we have an unequal school finance system. The Texas legislature can reduce inequities in state funding formulas by increasing the basic allotment per student, scrapping outdated tax exemptions, appraising commercial properties at market value, and accepting federal dollars when they’re made available. We can secure additional revenue to pay for a sustained increase in per-pupil state funding by closing tax loopholes for massive corporations and prioritizing our public schools over the special interest projects of lobbyists and campaign donors.
Do you feel that the state legislature as a whole did a good job of addressing the concerns of Texans in the last legislative session? Why or why not?
Bryant: No. They repealed a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy on her own terms, limited voters’ access to the polls, and stuck a surcharge on our utility bills, which are already 17% higher than the national average, in order to pay for the price-gouging which pipeline companies and others engaged in to overcharge Texans by $11.4 billion. (If a person sold water during a crisis for $100 a bottle during a weather emergency, they would be jailed for price gouging. But during the freeze, while 240 people were dying, the pipeline guys and others charged $9000 an hour for a unit of electricity that normally costs $30 and got away with it. They they contributed millions to Abbot). I will fight to repeal all three of these measures and adopt a new law permitting district attorneys to prosecute pipeline companies that price-gouge during a crisis.
Gearing: I’m running to build a Texas that works for everyone regardless of their political party. I believe extremists in Austin have put their political agendas ahead of the needs of Texas families and hurt our economy by passing out-of-touch legislation that embarrasses the state and drives away business and good-paying jobs. As a State Representative I will work tirelessly to deliver results to the people here at home and throughout the state by building consensus where it can be found.”
Leal: Not even close. What we saw last legislative session was an onslaught of politically-driven attacks on our teachers, our students, our voting rights, reproductive rights, on LGBTQIA+ youth, and on working Texans, all while failing to actually fix our electricity grid. These officials were more focused on their own primary elections than they were serving the people of Texas.
Guio: There were several pieces of legislation passed that were good for Texans but polarization and partisan rhetoric dominated the legislative session. Reasonable compromise has appeared harder to reach in the recent legislative sessions. Polarized political rhetoric is taking over and dominates social media sites and various media sites as well. This does not allow for good bills to pass and for Texans to receive the relief that they so desperately need when it comes to education, healthcare, property tax relief, etc… Both sides need to do a better job at reducing the polarization and putting the needs of Texans first. As a prosecutor for eight years, I learned how to work in fast-paced and hostile work environments while maintaining my composure and focusing on the goal of my case. Over eight years, I have negotiated hundreds of cases with the goal of seeking justice and always keeping the victims and community in mind. This experience has taught me how to work with a variety of personalities and environments while also being able to successfully negotiate and gain respect from my opposing party. These unique set of skills will give me the political intellect and temperament to be an approachable and respected member of the legislature. My professional and life experiences have taught me that a calm temperament, a willingness to listen, and knowing where and when to draw the line makes you an approachable leader. I have learned through various leadership roles that the key to a successful result, or compromise, is to be able to get all parties at the table. So, being an educated, experienced, and approachable leader is extremely important, which is why I believe that my life and professional experiences will cultivate a culture and environment that can lead to more open conversations and promote reasonable compromise and governance.
Scudder: Republicans in Austin have done so much damage to this state that we’re struggling to even keep the lights on. The attacks on reproductive rights, transgender children, and access to the ballot box highlight Republicans’ failed priorities – and their lack of leadership on providing an effective COVID-19 response has Texas leading the nation in children’s COVID-19 deaths. Residents of east Dallas and downtown deserve a representative in Austin with a backbone of steel who will stand up for our community and fight to keep Republican politicians from trampling over the rights of ordinary Texans.
Do believe that everyone has fair and equitable access to the right to vote? Explain.
Bryant: No. People whose work hours, physical disabilities (including advanced age), and/or place of residence make it difficult to get to the polls do not have the easy access to the polls enjoyed by most of us. Primary elections should be moved to Saturday, the voter restrictions passed in the last legislature should be repealed, and reforms should be adopted to make voting easy and accessible.
Gearing: Republicans in Austin senselessly injured our democracy with the passage of SB1 in 2021, making it harder than ever for everyone, including disabled, minority, and elderly Texans, to vote. And it was all based on Donald Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election. I will fight to repeal the recent attacks on our voting rights and work to expand access to the ballot box with increased vote by mail and early voting options, including 24 hour voting locations and mega-centers (like the American Airlines Center in Dallas) with more voting machines, so that all our neighbors can have their voices heard. I will also support repeal of the onerous obligations for Texans assisting other Texans, notably disabled and elderly Texans, to vote.
Leal: Voting is one of our most fundamental rights. We should be making it easier for Texans to participate in our democracy, not harder. Texas is usually near the bottom of voter turnout, which should be considered a crisis for our state. Our campaign has proposed the “Top 10 in 10” plan — lets take Texas into the top 10 of voting states in the next 10 years. We can do it with automatic voter registration, universal vote by mail, removing barriers for Texans with disabilities to vote, youth outreach programs, and independent redistricting commissions.
Guio: No – currently, our laws create hurdles for certain voters to access the voting booth. Also, we should be finding way to encourage voter registration and participation in Texas. We should have automatic registration, same day registration, and make Election Day a holiday. Texas has one of the most restrictive ID laws in the nation and in addition to the everyday challenges of obtaining or renewing an ID at the DMV, the pandemic has made it even harder to obtain those required ID’s. For people of color and low socio-economic individuals, finding the documents needed to obtain or renew an ID can be difficult. Further, the time it takes to obtain an appointment or wait in line at the DMV during the pandemic is time that many of our working families cannot afford to spend. We should be finding alternatives to the additional ID’s listed in our laws which will make it easier for our communities to vote. Further, we should be finding and funding a method to have a centralized and secure system to register to vote online. The Secretary of State and Department of Public Safety can work together to ensure the integrity of this system and finally modernize the voter registration process in Texas. Finally, we should be doing more to encourage our younger generations to get civically engaged. Supporting organizations like March to the Polls in Dallas, which is a non-partisan organization, is something that I and other local leaders can do work to increase participation for underrepresented citizens (primarily people of color, economically disadvantaged people, and people ages 18-24).
Scudder: Our right to participate in the democratic process is sacred, but Texas Republicans have continually attacked our voting rights without a single shred of evidence to back up their claims of voter fraud. I am committed to ensuring that every citizen has access to the ballot box unabridged, including expanding the right of citizens to vote by mail and register to vote online.
How are you different from your opponent (or opponents) in this race?
Bryant: Experience: five terms in the Texas House of Representatives, during which time I was twice named among the 10 Best Legislators in Texas by Texas Monthly; seven terms in the U.S. House; service as U.S. Ambassador leading telecommunications negotiations in Geneva; 20 years of civic leadership, including chairperson of the World Affairs Council of Dallas, the Lewis Psychiatric Foundation (formerly the Timberlawn Psychiatric Foundation), and Dallas Fort Worth Community Alliance.
Gearing: First, my record of service to my neighbors is unique among the field. My work to serve our neighbors experiencing homelessness, my leadership to provide greater access to free legal services to all of my neighbors, and my work to create a more inclusive environment, specifically for the LGBTQ+ community, shows I am committed to service. I will continue this work and build upon it in the Texas State House. Second, I have the right priorities. I am focused and committed to restoring reproductive rights and equality for women in this state, as women face a crisis no other group faces right now– they have been without reproductive rights, and equal access to health care, for over 130 days in this state. I’m ready to do the hard work to expand Medicaid and address a number of urgent public health deficits, including our astronomically high maternal mortality rate. The fact that 31% of our maternal deaths in Texas are black women is unconscionable. Further, I am ready to fight for greater investments in public education so every student has the opportunity to receive a quality public education, every teacher is paid a fair wage, and every school is a safe place prepared to protect our kids and teachers from gun violence and this insidious virus, COVID-19. We must also fix our power grid and not only focus on short-term reforms to improve weatherization and disclosure requirements for our power providers but to also diversify our state’s power sources to include more sustainable and renewable energy like solar, wind, and hydro energy. Lastly, we must work to build an inclusive Texas where transgender and LGBTQ+ kids, families, and doctors are not bullied and cut out of our state’s future.
Leal: I am the only teacher in this race, we need someone who really understands what’s going on in our classrooms and the challenges our educators and students face. I am the only candidate with a professional background in economics in finance who knows how to fight to make sure our economy and state are working for all Texans. I am the only Dallas native in this race and the only Tejano in this race. We have more endorsements than nearly all the other candidate combined: teachers, labor, progressives, environmentalists, and independent voters have all rallied to our campaign. I am also the only Democrat in the state of Texas the League of Independent Voters are recommending for the state legislature. I’m also the only non-incumbent Democrat to be endorsed by the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. So not only do we lead the field in endorsements, we have built the broadest coalition of support. This is the type of movement we need to shake of Texas politics.
Guio: My diverse life experiences, my professional skills, & my community activism make me the best-qualified candidate for this new House District 114. I was born in Bogotá, Colombia & came to the United States when I was four years old with my parents & two older sisters. My parents brought me to this country because of the dangerous situation in Colombia & because my mother needed a brain surgery that was only available in the United States. My parents also wanted to offer their daughters the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. My parents taught me the value of hard work, the value of an education, & the value of serving my community. I held onto those values, especially as I faced the challenges of being an undocumented immigrant for most of my young adult life. I was fortunate to become a U.S. Citizen in 2013. That same year, I also graduated from the SMU Dedman School of Law, becoming the first attorney in my family. I have also served as an assistant district attorney in Dallas County for 8 years where I have developed my skills as an advocate for victims and a defender of my community. I know how to speak up for those who are often silenced or ignored. I also served as a Legislative Liaison for the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office for the 2019 Legislative Session and spent five months working at all levels of the legislative process including drafting bills, conferring with Legislators, negotiating compromise language, and whipping votes. Finally, I have been an advocate for my community here in Dallas for over a decade: organizing, registering voters, protesting, and testifying in Austin. My skills as a bilingual advocate have also brought comfort and unity to victims and community members in my role as a prosecutor, community activist, and candidate. With all these skills, I can confidently gain the trust of my community, thoroughly advocate for the residents of District 114, and hit the ground running in a legislative session, if elected.
Scudder: There’s not much daylight between my opponents and I on issues. Where I believe I differ from my opponents, and why I believe people should vote for me, is 2-fold: First, I have a solid record of doing what’s right even when it’s hard. When we needed a Democratic candidate in 2018 to run against the most conservative and ineffective State Senator in Texas, I stepped up. When I saw that there was a gap in support for down-ballot candidates in hard to win districts, I launched an initiative to raise funds for them. When Ken Paxton lied to 254 election officials, I stood up to the attorney general as a private citizen and filed a criminal complaint against him. Second, I believe that attorneys are over-represented in the legislature. Attorneys are an important part of the legislative process, but so are folks like myself who have a background in affordable housing and other social service roles who are rarely given a seat at the table. I believe it is important for the voter to ask what each candidate adds to the conversation in Austin, and that I am the candidate in this race with the most diverse and underrepresented life experiences.
What is the biggest issue the state will face in the next five years, and what is your plan to address it?
Bryant: Public education. Texas should have the finest public school system in the nation, instead of being 43rd in per-pupil spending. Texas has a surging economy, a $12 billion revenue surplus projected in the next biennium and a $11.4 billion rainy day fund. I will offer legislation to steadily increase public education funding beginning immediately so that within five years we have the best public schools in the nation. And I will offer house rules changes so that public education funding is considered first during every legislative session and no other legislation can be considered until the bill funding public schools has been finally passed and sent to the governor for signature.
Gearing: Our healthcare system is broken, and we will have to work hard and fast to fix it. The first step is to expand Medicaid and bring our federal tax dollars back home to work for us. I believe we are closer to this solution than many believe– the business case for Medicaid expansion, eloquently communicated by State Senator Nathan Johnson, has persuaded many conservative members of the legislature to consider supporting Medicaid expansion. From addressing rising prescription drug costs to keeping hospitals open, we must take action to ensure that everyone has access to affordable healthcare and the ability to see a doctor when they need to. In Austin, I will address the maternal mortality crisis in Texas. Our state has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with 18.5 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the CDC. Even worse, 31% of maternal deaths in Texas are black women. This is unacceptable, and we must do all we can to provide greater access to prenatal and postnatal care to protect Texas women. Medicaid expansion will help address this problem, but additional programs to specifically address this issue may be needed, such as those included in the US House’s Black Maternal Health Omnibus Act of 2021. For example, extending eligibility for the WIC program, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children would help improve health outcomes for mothers in Texas. We must work together to find solutions that ensure that millions of Texans can afford to see a doctor and that every child has access to health insurance and can receive the care they need.
Leal: Our public education system is under assault from all sides. We have a nationwide teacher shortage, meanwhile Texas teachers earn $10K less than the national average, and our students receive some of the lowest per-pupil funding in the entire country (43rd out of 50). We are attacking teacher retirement benefits. We have been defunding public schools for the last 10 years while also trying to privatize them. We have politicians in Austin trying to manipulate our curriculums and rewrite our histories, while also picking on LGBTQIA+ students. And all of this funding ties into the health of our local governments and the burdens placed on our property tax payers. It is time we send an actual teacher down to Austin (that also understands economics) to go clean up the mess these politicians have created in our schools.
Guio: Our biggest issue is ensuring our education system is fully funded in a stable and sustainable way. Our education system is underfunded and needs to meet the demands of our growing population. Though the passage of House Bill 3 brought the state’s share of school funding back to 45%, it was funded through one-time revenue streams and Texas is still ranked among the lowest in the country in per pupil spending. My top priority is finding a long-term solution to returning to the state’s funding of public schools at 50%. One way is through the expansion of Medicaid which can result in alleviating stress on our general budget and allowing for more available revenue for education. I grew up as a public-school student and firmly believe that a good education for every student, regardless of race, socio-economic background and immigration status is a right and the key to advancing both individuals, families and improving society in general. As a Latina and a candidate for HD 114, where the population is 54% communities of color, my advocacy for improving and expanding educational opportunities for all are a top priority. In addition, Texas needs to fully fund pre-k statewide. Although HB 3, in 2019, established Early Childhood Education Allotment for Districts, it also allows districts to op-out of Pre-K programs but still collect the funds for it. I would ensure that this would change. Further, Texas needs to increase funding for English Language learners. HB 3 only provided an additional 5% of funding for ELL students. The costs and needs for this program are much higher and the benefit of this program is invaluable. Finally, the underfunding of Texas public schools has had adverse consequences including inadequate teacher and staff salary increases. We must drastically increase teacher and staff pay and protect their retirement as well.
Scudder: I believe that the biggest challenge facing citizens of HD114 is uncertainty and a lack of confidence in our government. Our government has spent so much energy on social wars and such little time on kitchen table issues that our citizens have completely lost confidence in the good that can be created by effective governing. Will the electricity work when we need it? Will our kids safely attend school this morning? Will I be able to see a doctor if I am sick? Is it safe to raise a family in our community? These are all bare-minimum expectations of a Texan that can oftentimes feel out of reach. As the representative for HD 114, delivering results and giving my constituents confidence in their government again will be my highest priority.