Waco’s Texas congressional candidates state their case

From top left to bottom right: Kyle Kacal, Katherine Turner-Pearson, Robert Vick, Charles "Doc" Anderson and Brian Birdwell. Photos courtesy of each respective campaign.

By Zach Tufenkjian | Contributor

Ballots for three local Texas Legislature races in the upcoming general election will feature candidates of different backgrounds and policy priorities.

In the Texas Senate, Republican Sen. Brian Birdwell of Granbury will seek reelection against Democratic candidate Robert Vick of Granbury in Texas Senate District 22.

In the Texas House, Republican Texas Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson of Waco is fending off a challenge from Democrat Katherine Turner-Pearson, also of Waco, in the race to represent Texas House of Representatives District 56. Republican Rep. Kyle Kacal of College Station is running unopposed in the Texas House’s 12th district race.

TEXAS SENATE 22

Texas Senate District 22 includes the entire counties of McLennan, Hood, Johnson, Somervell, Bosque, Hill, Ellis, Navarro and Falls. The district also includes a small portion of Tarrant County. A March 2020 analysis by the Texas Legislative Council listed a district population of slightly over 870,000 people. The district’s population is comprised of 59.2% of Anglo non-Hispanic people and 40.8% of non-Anglo people. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott won 65.4 percent and 69.4% of the district’s vote respectively in their Nov. 2018 general election campaigns, according to a February 2020 analysis authored by the Texas Legislative Council.

Robert Vick (D)

Obtained from VickForSenate.com with permission
Obtained from VickForSenate.com with permission

Democrat Robert Vick of Granbury is running to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Brian Birdwell. Vick most recently served as a precinct chair for the Hood County Democratic Party in 2019. Vick previously served as a commissioned U.S. Army officer following his 1967 enrollment in the Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Ga.

The Texas Tribune reported on Saturday that over 57% of registered voters have already voted in the Nov. 3 general election. Vick attended a “Ridin’ with Biden” car caravan event in downtown Waco on Saturday in support of former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. During an interview following the event, Vick said that political participation in Texas has changed over the years.

“Texas is really not a Republican state or Democrat state. The largest bloc of people are non-voters,” Vick said. “Our voting record in Texas has been dismal, and it seems to have changed with this election.”

Vick is a 1974 graduate of Georgia Southwestern University and holds a Master of Science from Georgia State University, according to his campaign website. He has served in several private, governmental and political positions, including economic development director for the City of Grapevine and county chair of the Hood County Democratic Party.

To try and overcome this challenge of District 22’s conservative leanings, Vick said he has had conversations with predominantly conservative and Republican groups like the Midlothian Rotary Club.

“[I’ve] explained some of these issues in economic development terms — what it means and taking it out of the political realm — and the response has been very good,” Vick said.

Vick’s website lists the candidate’s priorities as healthcare, criminal justice reform, gun violence prevention and other issues. When it comes to public education reform, Vick believes that the state should eliminate “A through F” school ratings, implement a moratorium on new charter schools and oppose school vouchers. Vick also opposes “right-to-work” labor laws and state contracts with privately run prisons, jails and detention centers.

Vick said that recovering from the pandemic is the number one issue for people living in District 22.

“When you talk about recovering from the pandemic, you’re talking about healthcare, but you’re also talking about the economic blow we have received,” Vick said.

Vick said that an expansion in the federal government’s Medicaid program in Texas was needed to help address the pandemic and that taxpayers in Texas were not receiving the full value of their tax dollars.

Vick has been endorsed by the Texas Equity PAC, Tarrant County Black Democrats and Transport Workers Union of America.

“I’ve had a lot of support from teacher’s groups, women’s groups and [organized] labor,” Vick said.

Vick expressed regret of older generations and their political impact over the years, saying that students at Baylor and younger people needed to take the reins of the political process.

“In the next few years, you guys are going to inherit this world,” Vick said. “Unfortunately, we may not be leaving it in the best condition.”

Brian Birdwell (R)

Photo by Glen Davis
Photo by Glen Davis

Republican District 22 Sen. Brian Birdwell, a retired U.S. Army officer and nonprofit co-founder from Granbury, is seeking his fourth election to the Texas Senate. Birdwell has served as a senator in the Texas Senate since 2010, when he was the winner of a special election.

Birdwell is a 1984 graduate of Lamar University’s Army ROTC program in Beaumont, according to his Texas Senate biography. Birdwell subsequently served in the United States Army for twenty years. During the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Birdwell was critically wounded and burned after American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. In the years following the incident, Birdwell founded a non-profit organization with his wife, Mel, seeking to support critical-burn survivors and wounded service members in the United States military.

In an email Friday, Birdwell’s campaign was optimistic about his chances in winning the election.

“I am confident that my record of supporting free market capitalism, defending Texans’ Second Amendment rights, protecting life at all stages, and being a proponent of personal responsibility, small government and liberty will again resound on Nov. 3rd,” the email said.

Birdwell’s campaign website describes him as an “experienced conservative leader.” It lists border security, preserving the Second Amendment, defending life starting at conception and others as issues foundational to Birdwell’s campaign. Birdwell served as chairman of the Texas Senate’s Committee on Natural Resources & Economic Development during the 86th session of the Texas legislature in 2019.

Birdwell’s website lists several initiatives led by the senator during the Texas Legislature’s 86th session. In 2019, Birdwell authored Senate Bill 405, which sought to protect correctional officers and jailers from false accusations. The legislation was passed by both chambers of the Texas Legislature and signed by Gov. Abbott into law. Birdwell also served as a co-author to the legislature’s principal property tax reform legislation for the session. The legislation, Senate Bill 2, also became Texas law.

Birdwell’s campaign said that the senator’s immediate priorities during the upcoming legislative session would be to balance the state’s budget in the wake of the coronavirus and prepare for future pandemics. Birdwell’s campaign identified the COVID-19 pandemic as the most pressing issue for people in Senate District 22.

“I am working on legislation that will ensure that if an unprecedented pandemic happens in the future, a governor will be required to involve the legislature and receive legislative approval if an emergency declaration goes past a specific time and involves a majority of the population in the state,” Birdwell’s campaign said.

Birdwell has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, Texas Farm Bureau AgFund and Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT).

Birdwell’s campaign said that it is important for Baylor students to be involved in their community and the political process.

“My generation is doing its best to defend liberty for the next generation, but it is up to you as the next generation to keep it,” Birdwell’s campaign said.

TEXAS HOUSE 56

Texas House of Representatives District 56 includes Baylor’s campus and is entirely within McLennan County. An analysis published in March by the Texas Legislative Council provided a total district population of almost 175,000 people. The racial and ethnic makeup of the district is predominantly Anglo, with 61.8% of residents identifying as Anglo non-Hispanic and 38.2% identifying as non-Anglo. A February 2020 report by the Texas Legislative Council showed that the district leans more politically conservative with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz obtaining 63.9% of the vote during the 2018 midterm general election.

Katherine Turner-Pearson (D)

Courtesy of Katherine Turner-Pearson
Courtesy of Katherine Turner-Pearson

Archaeologist and Democrat Katherine Turner-Pearson is running to unseat Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson. Turner-Pearson previously ran in the 2018 midterm general election against Anderson. She obtained 34.2% of the vote to Anderson’s 65.8%.

Turner-Pearson’s campaign website describes her as a third-generation resident of Waco and a 2002 graduate of Baylor. She received degrees in both Journalism and Archaeology before going on to earn a Master’s degree in Archaeology and Anthropology. Turner-Pearson is a registered professional archaeologist and is the owner of Central Texas Archaeological Resources in Waco. She has taught classes to incarcerated women at the Women’s Correctional Facility in Gatesville as a Central Texas College adjunct professor.

Turner-Pearson said in a phone interview on Monday that she has been endorsed by groups like the National Association of Social Workers’ Texas chapter, labor organizations and education groups.

Turner-Pearson’s website lists property tax reform, public education, prison reform, women’s healthcare and race relations as top campaign priorities. Turner-Pearson believes that her service on the McLennan County Tax Appraisal Review Board will provide a unique perspective into the tax appraisal system. She is also seeking to boost funding for public education, address racial disparities in Texas prisons and reduce the maternal mortality rate.

Turner-Pearson said that COVID-19 is the most important issue in District 56. She said that the coronavirus pandemic has worsened the impact of other existing problems.

“The lines for the food banks in our community are getting longer and that means we have thousands of people in McLennan County that are not food independent yet,” Turner-Pearson said.

Turner-Pearson also said that the pandemic has worsened Texas’ education and property tax related issues.

“The schools are having to deal with the extra expense that they’re having to undergo because of COVID when they were already underfunded,” Turner-Pearson said. “School funding goes with property taxes. COVID is making the property tax situation worse because there are going to be people who have lost their jobs and the tax bill is coming due.”

Turner-Pearson said she is cautiously optimistic about the election in light of the coronavirus pandemic and said that there are different variables involved.

“I know that we have had more people vote in McLennan County than vote in 2016 or 2018 already, so I don’t know how that is going to play into the statistics,” Turner-Pearson said.

Turner-Pearson encouraged students to be involved and vote on Nov. 3 if they have not already.

“I’ve been so excited by the number of the young vote — the youth vote,” Turner-Pearson said. “It’s not just that they show up to vote, it’s how incredibly well-informed they are.”

Charles “Doc” Anderson (R)

Courtesy of Charles "Doc" Anderson campaign via http://www.docfortexas.com/
Courtesy of Charles "Doc" Anderson campaign via http://www.docfortexas.com/

Republican state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson is seeking his ninth election to the Texas House of Representatives. Anderson was first elected in 2004 and will serve another two-year term if reelected.

Anderson is a graduate of Texas A&M University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and has worked as a small animal veterinarian since 1981, according to his campaign website. Before serving in the Texas House of Representatives, Anderson advocated for small business through the Texas Association of Business and the National Federation of Independent Business. Anderson was also appointed by former Gov. Rick Perry to the Texas Small Business Advisory Council.

Anderson campaign consultant and spokesman Todd Smith said in a phone interview on Monday that maintaining Texas’ dominance as the top job-creating state in the country is the most important issue facing residents of District 56.

“The number one issue facing voters in House District 56 and McLennan County is the same issue and top issue for everyone in the state of Texas, and that’s to keep the Texas economy growing, to continue to create new jobs and opportunities for Texans and to do so despite the tremendous burdens that have been placed upon the economy by the COVID-19 virus,” Smith said.

Anderson’s Texas House member webpage lists him as the chairman of the Texas Legislative Rural Caucus, vice chairman of the Texas House Aerospace Caucus and vice chairman of the House Committee on Energy during the Texas Legislature’s 86th session in 2019.

During the 86th session, Anderson authored legislation seeking to address state investment in broadband service, the care of incarcerated pregnant women, firearms training for county jailers and other policies.

Smith said that Anderson’s top priority for the upcoming 87th legislative session would be to ensure that a balanced budget is passed by the Texas Legislature as required by the Texas Constitution. Smith also said that providing broadband access to Texans across the state would be important to Anderson’s work.

“[Anderson] wants to continue to lead the fight to ensure that we have broadband access to all Texans, regardless of whether you live in a rural area or urban area,” Smith said. “The COVID-19 pandemic shined a spotlight on how important that was, especially with distance learning and all of the things we have had to do as a result of the pandemic.”

Smith said that Anderson has been endorsed and supported by numerous interest groups in the election.

“[Anderson] has received endorsements from everyone, from to Texas Right to Life, to the Texas State Rifle Association, the National Rifle Association, Texans for Lawsuit Reform — basically any conservative pro-business group in the state of Texas has endorsed his reelection,” Smith said.

TEXAS HOUSE 12

Texas House of Representatives District 12 includes Falls, Limestone and Robertson counties and parts of Brazos and McLennan County. Someof the City of Waco is included in the northern part of the district’s boundaries. A March 2020 analysis by the Texas Legislative Council listed a district population of slightly over 165,000 people. 53.5% of the district’s population are Anglo non-Hispanic people and 46.5% are non-Anglo people. The district has a strong Republican leaning with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott winning 65.2% and 68.5% of the district’s vote respectively in the Nov. 2018 general election, according to a February 2020 Texas Legislative Council report.

Kyle Kacal (R)

Obtained from KyleKacal.com campaign website
Obtained from KyleKacal.com campaign website

District 12 State Rep. Kyle Kacal, a rancher from College Station, is seeking a fifth term in the Texas House of Representatives. Kacal is running unopposed as a Republican in the Nov. 3 election.

In a phone interview on Monday, Kacal said he was optimistic about the election and Texas’ recent early voting turnout numbers.

“It’s really encouraging that this many people are participating in the election cycle,” Kacal said. “The more people that are engaged, the more people that are paying attention.”

Kacal’s official Texas House of Representatives member webpage says that he was first elected in Nov. 2012. He is a 1992 graduate of Texas A&M University in College Station and operates a breeding and hunting cattle business near the area. Kacal served on the House Committees on Environmental Regulation and Culture, Recreation and Tourism during the 86th session of the Texas Legislature in 2019.

Kacal’s campaign website lists illegal immigration, education reform, protection of the unborn and others as issues key to his candidacy. In 2019, Kacal introduced legislation amending the Texas Health and Safety Code and requiring that physicians performing or inducing abortions maintain professional liability insurance under threat of a criminal offense. Kacal also authored legislation the same year seeking to establish a bail advisory commission intended to develop risk assessment-based recommendations relating to personal bond offices in Texas.

Kacal said that his immediate policy priorities for the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature would be to balance a state budget that includes continued funding for education in District 12.

“House District 12 has 31 to 32 independent school districts — it changes a little bit and I have partials of certain school districts,” Kacal said. “In the smaller, rural communities, obviously, the churches are the soul of that community and the schools are the heart of the community.”

Kacal’s candidacy has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, Texas Alliance for Life and Texas State Teachers Association, according to VoteSmart.org.

Kacal encouraged college students to remain engaged in elections and research candidates running for office.

“I’d recommend that [students] are registered to vote, whether they’re at home or in their new home, whether that is Waco or College Station,” Kacal said. “I think candidates love to get to know young people because we want to know how you’re thinking.”

The last day to vote in the election will be on Nov. 3. Voters in McLennan County can visit McLennanVotes.com for more information on how and where to vote.