KATY (Covering Katy News) - On the same night that the Astros played in game one of the World Series a room full of local residents felt selecting our next state representative was more important than seeing the first pitch against the Washington Nationals. The 5 - 7 p.m. Monday night candidates’ forum was scheduled before the anyone knew the Astros would be in the World Series.
Five Republicans and one Democrat took questions on a variety of subjects from moderators Tommy Kykendall ad Margaret Laney. The event was sponsored by the Fulshear-Katy Area Chamber of Commerce and the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce. It was held at TaD’s Louisiana Cooking along FM 1463 in Katy.
The candidates are running to finish out the term of John Zerwas who stepped down Sept. 30 to become executive vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Texas System.
The candidates who took part were Anna Allred, Gary Gates, Tricia Krenek, Elizabeth Markowitz and Gary Hale. Markowitz is the only Democrat. The other candidates are Republicans.
The first question came from Kykendall on local control. He wanted to know how much state control the candidaets think Austin should have over local communities.
Candidate Gary Hale said his experience has not been good when an organization from afar makes hyperlocal decisions.
“The Army Corps of Engineers made a decision to flood my neighborhood in Canyon Gate, said Hale noted. “I believe that we need more autonomy over those decisions so that we can design our own fate.”
Candidate Anna Allred, a Republican, agreed.
“We need to give control back to our local communities,” she said.
Candidate Gary Gates, a businessman, disagreed about Austin passing laws that control local municipalities. He says local evaluations of properties keep increasing without a lowering of the tax rate in most communities. He says he favors the state placing revenue caps on local communities. Gates also said the state can stop unfairness at the local level. He cited a local ordinance that chares a significantly higher fee to read the water meter of apartment complex than a business that sits directly across the street and uses the same amount of water.
Tricia Krenek, who has served on the Fulshear City Council, disagreed with Gates. She says she understands the reasoning behind state mandated revenue caps, but she says they often harm small communities.
“When you are a small city that revenue means the difference between putting another police officer on the street, building that road, putting sewers in,” Krenek said. “We have to stay focused on limited government and allow people to govern themselves with only a limited amount of overnight from Austin,” Krenek added.
Markowitz did not provide specifics but seems to disagree with the state capping local tax revenues.
“We need to revisit this legislation,” she said.
“What do you see as the most significant infrastructure challenge or opportunity in our district and how will you address it?” asked moderator Margaret Laney.
“We need to build the flood tunnel. We need to control the Cypress Creek overflow. We need to excavate the reservoirs,” said Anna Allred who was the only candidate to list multiple infrastructure improvements that she’s supporting.
She also criticized the length of time it takes for the Texas Department of Transportation to approve a new road.
“We need to free up the system so people can build faster and more economically,” Allred said.
What experience do you have and what will you do as a state legislator to address criminal justice and related issues in ways that are smarter and more effective - protect our children and ultimately makes us safer, asked moderator Kykendall.
Gary Gates took aim at the state’s drug laws.
“We have criminalized minor infractions to where we’ve devastated the black community, Gates said. “Seventy percent of the black males in the foster care system wind up in jail or prison. A lot of this is because of simple drug charges. I think we need to decriminalize some of that so that we won’t be breaking up so many families,” Gates told the audience.
Markowitz agreed with Gates and was even more specific.
“We need to immediately decriminalize marijuana to ensure that we lower the taxpayer burden on our prisons.”
Hale, a former federal Drug Enforcement Agency operative, is also in favor of drug law changes.
“I am a proponent of legalization and decriminalization of some drugs. Decriminalization of user quantities of marijuana and also of medicinal use marijuana,” Hale said.
He would also focus on protecting schools against active shooters.
“Mass shootings in the schools are an important issue,” Hale said.
Krenek and Allred support focusing on the boarder in an effort to reduce crime.
“We have to start at the source, and that means strengthening our porous border,” Krenek said. Our border is allowing a continuous flow of not only drugs but human trafficking.
Let’s call it what it is, “modern day slavery,” Krenek said of human trafficking.
“I-10 is the number one route for human traffickers so we have to secure our border and find ways to attack the problem,” Allred said.
Allred, Markowitz and Gates believes education can also help reduce crime.
“What are your priorities for public education going forward?” asked Laney.
“Public Education is my passion,” said Markowitz said. “Many of you have noticed that since 2011 your property taxes have been rising exponentially and the reason for that is that he conservative legislature, at the time, pulled $5.4 billion out of our public education system,” she said.
She also supports increasing teacher pay or “a proper fair share,” as she said.
Markowitz and other candidates also criticized the statewide educational testing in public schools.
“Unfortunately, since the 1980s standardized testing has become a cornerstone of our public education system.” She said it’s time to “get back to teaching our students,” and Krenek agreed.
“Teaching how to pass a test does not help our future generations, rather we need to teach children how to think,” Krenek said.
Krenek also spoke about the state continually lowering the amount of money it pays local districts with a high property tax base, communities like Katy.
“I think it’s critical that we (the state) fund publication at least 50 percent or higher. That’s our constitutional mandate,” Krenek said.
Allred is a critic of the state’s standardized testing of students. She said she does not believe that spending more money on education is the answer but also said “we need to ensure our teachers have better salaries.”
Hale believes education funding can be found by taxing migrants.
“We have a lot of migrants or aliens that come into this country that are not contributing as much. A lot of that money that they are making in this country they are not paying taxes on. A lot of that money is being sent back to their home countries,” Hale said.
Hale did not explain how migrant’s income would be taxed in a state that does not have an income tax.
On a side note, each candidate was asked who they thought would win the World Series. Not surprisingly every candidate picked the Astros when asked on Monday night. Only Allred’s prediction still has a chance of coming true. She predicted a seven-game series that will come down to the final inning.
“They’re going to win in the last inning like they always do,” she said.
Sarah Laningham and Clinton D. Purnell, are also running for House District 28 but they did not participate in Monday's forum.
Below is an unedited video of the entire event provided by Dan Mc Junkin of Fulshear.com.