State Capitol

Nowhere in sprawling Texas Senate District 30 have voters been able to see the two nominees, Republican Pat Fallon and Democrat Kevin Lopez, side by side.

Civic-minded groups in Denton, Wylie, Wichita Falls and Parker County all tried to organize such events, but so far, voters hoping for that kind of view have been on their own.

Senate District 30 covers all or parts of 14 North Texas counties and runs from Wichita Falls to Stephenville to Anna in Collin County. Most Denton neighborhoods, but not all of them, are part of District 30. Craig Estes has represented the region since 2001. Fallon ousted him this spring in the Republican primary. Fallon has served the past six years as state representative for District 106, which covers northern and eastern Denton County, before stepping aside to run for the Texas Senate.

Fallon’s well-funded campaign has focused on appearances with Republican clubs around the district. Last week, Fallon found himself in hot water after speaking to one such club in Wichita Falls. He said he was trying to make a joke about labels that people claim and it went awry.

According to Wichita Falls media reports, Fallon took aim at the “hypocrisy of the left” for dividing people by class, race, ethnicity and sexuality, including the growing “alphabet soup” of LGBTQ.

He gave an example of state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, who has identified as pansexual. Then he joked with the crowd to “secure their cookware,” which he regrets because it proved hurtful to her, he said.

“We definitely need more civility in public discourse,” Fallon said. “What nations benefit from a divided America? Not America. China and Russia benefit. They are looking to fan the flames of division. We need to focus on who a person is and not what they are.”

“Let’s just be people that treat each other with kindness,” he added.

Lopez called Fallon’s original comments hateful and divisive, too.

“As a representative of the people, you never make hateful comments about anyone, no matter their race, religion, background, sexual orientation,” Lopez said. “It’s your unbiased duty to serve. I don’t think that he regrets he made the comments. He only expressed regrets because of the outcry.”

For a traditionally ruby-red district, Lopez’s campaign has gained traction. A firefighter from Bridgeport, Lopez has major fundraising and volunteer support from firefighter political action committees in the district and across the state.

To present the candidates side by side, we caught up with both in recent days and asked each the same three questions. Their answers are lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Kevin Lopez



Kevin Lopez

Lopez

Age: 44

Born in: Fort Worth

Education: diploma, Paradise High School, 1993; attended Weatherford College, 1994-95

Occupation: roustabout, 1993-97, electric lineman, 1997-2002; paramedic, 2002-04; firefighter, 2003-04; firefighter, Arlington Fire Department, 2005-present

The long-term viability of public pension funds is getting fresh scrutiny after problems emerged in the city of Dallas and elsewhere. What is the Legislature’s role in addressing this issue?

Specific to public retirement systems, I think that the systems need to remain as stable, defined benefits so that people on those systems have a safe retirement they can count upon in their retirement years. There’s been a lot of discussion about changing to a private system, and from defined benefit to defined contribution. That’s unstable because people would have to worry about the ebb and flow of the economy. I would vote against any attempt to change to a private system — for education employees, for public safety employees and for general employees.

Your opponent missed a candidate forum in Denton organized by the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens. Why was it important to you to attend that event?

I think that it’s important for the citizens who are voting for us to know who we are and what we stand for — what’s on our platforms — and how we are going to help the communities of District 30 succeed and how we are going to make that happen.

Do you agree or disagree that property tax reform should focus first on school finance? Why or why not?

We need to look at this because the burden of school finance is falling on the property taxpayer. The state is paying less and pushing the burden down to the local level. Last year, the state Legislature had an unfunded mandate to local school districts to raise taxes this year and next. So, it falls to the local taxpayer when the state could contribute more. Currently, they are contributing 31 percent. If they would participate more, it relieves the burden on the taxpayer. Also, it hurts the budget if money goes to private school vouchers. That would have a negative impact, particularly on rural schools. I would oppose any attempt at private school vouchers.

Pat Fallon



Pat Fallon

Fallon

Age: 50

Born in: Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Education: bachelor of arts degree, University of Notre Dame, 1990

Occupation: CEO, Virtus Apparel

The long-term viability of public pension funds is getting fresh scrutiny after problems emerged in the city of Dallas and elsewhere. What is the Legislature’s role in addressing this issue?

Defined benefits of the current pension plan are a promise that the state of Texas has made, particularly to teachers and first responders. One of the ways we can shore up the long-term viability of the plan is to look at new hires. If I get assigned to the committee that deals with pensions, we can look at those new hires — who are mostly going to be people in their 20s. This gives people 40 years’ notice. The deal we promise is the deal we can keep; and I think that’s the responsible, bipartisan thing to do.

Currently, with teachers, they can retire at 62. People are living a lot longer — and that’s great — but then the benefit lasts for 30 years.

It is math, and that’s the fairest.

Why did you miss a candidate forum in Denton organized by the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens?

Saturday is youth football, and I’m the head coach. It’s a family day. I’m proud of my boys and I made a commitment to them. The primaries were such a drain — I don’t know how I did it. But the kids are little for such a short period.

Do you agree or disagree that property tax reform should focus first on school finance? Why or why not?

Property tax reform is the most important thing this Legislature will do in 2019. I’m a homeowner and taxpayer and it’s unbelievable how much we’re paying. Really, what we’re doing when we’re putting a cap on property tax is slowing property tax growth; and to be fair, that’s only county and city taxes. The largest portion of the tax bill is school taxes. Each of the state’s 1,200 school districts are going to look at how it affects them. The state does kick in a significant portion, but it’s both taxpayer pockets — whether it’s the right or the left pocket. The way we finance schools, less than a dozen people in Austin have a full and complete understanding of its complexities — and they’re retiring. We’ve got to get it done.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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