in Houston, Texas

Newly drawn Central TX district draws packed GOP field, from Tea Party leaders to Perry appointee leading in money column

Thursday, May 03, 2012, 01:56PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
voting sign

Nowhere in Texas has the opportunity presented to Republicans by redistricting been more eagerly embraced than in the newly drawn Congressional District 25.

Twelve candidates running the gamut of political experience and backing will be on the May 29 primary ballot, a division of voters the candidates themselves say is likely to produce a runoff.

Roughly 700,000 people live in District 25. The district is a gentle 200-mile arc of all or parts of 11 Central Texas counties from the western halves of Hays and Travis counties at its southern tip, all of Burnet, Lampasas, Coryell, Hamilton, Bosque and Hill counties, the southern parts of Erath and Somervell counties to Johnson County, just south of Fort Worth.

You can see a map of the district here.

The Texas Legislature redrew the district as part of a plan that had to make room for four new Congressional districts for Texas. The court-approved map gives considerable advantage to Republicans hoping to pad the current majority of 23 Republicans to 9 Democrats in the Texas Congressional delegation. Democratic candidate Elaine Henderson is unopposed in the primary.

Texas Watchdog contacted all 12 Republican candidates, several times if they did not at first respond. Nine of them answered questions about the issues important to them and what they thought was important to voters in the district.

Here are profiles of all 12 candidates in alphabetical order.

Ernie Beltz Jr., 30, Cedar Park. Beltz, who did not respond to our request for an interview, is a small business owner, Marine Corps veteran and the founder of the Warrior Transition Project, a non-profit to assist military veterans, according to his campaign website.

Like most of the candidates in this field, Beltz wants to put the brakes on out-of control federal spending. If elected he would work to reduce the tax and regulatory burden on small businesses and encourage American manufacturing and consumption. Having joined the Marines after 9/11, Beltz believes in an American military capable of winning the war on terrorism, his website says.

According to the Federal Election Commission, Beltz has raised more than $50,000 for his campaign through March, but has less than $1,500 on hand.

You may see the quarterly totals for all of the candidates in this race here.

Bill Burch, 60, Grand Prairie. Burch says he has acquired valuable political and legislative experience by being active for more than 30 years in the Republican Party in Texas. His founding of the Grass Roots Institute of Texas, he says, demonstrated his leadership in bringing the Tea Party together with the Republican Party to work toward common goals.

If elected, Burch told Watchdog he would try to establish a review committee for federal regulations he says cost Americans $1.75 trillion. He would require that every regulation created through the passage of a law be brought back to the original committee generating the law for final approval.

Burch would ask for an end to all executive orders which inflate the power of the President, circumventing the two other branches of government.

The Burch campaign has raised more than $117,000 through March and has about $34,000 of it on hand.

Dianne Costa, 57, Highland Village. Costa has been the mayor of Highland Village, outside of the district, for the past four years, but her family owns a ranch in Hamilton County.

Although she has raised nearly $250,000 for her campaign, Costa has prided herself on working the big district door-to-door. Costa says she doesn’t think the voters want a candidate who buys a seat on Congress, a reference to three candidates who have out raised her by at least three times.

“A mayor is the head of the government closest to the people,” Costa says. “That’s exactly the way I plan to be with the people of this district.”

Congress, she says, needs her kind of leadership to stop the federal spending spree, to refrain from back-room deals and fend off lobbyists.

James “Patriot” Dillon, 55, Liberty Hill. A contractor who was rebuilding a stone fence when Watchdog caught up with him, Dillon has delivered the message of Jesus Christ as a write-in candidate for governor in 2006 and the Texas House in 2008. The message crosses party lines, he says. He ran as a Democrat in 2008.

And he will continue to deliver the message, win or lose. “This is the best country in the world, but we have an illness,” Dillon says. “We’ve turned away from God, and the only help we can count on is help from above.”

Dillon’s platform is short on detail. He has no campaign website and is accepting no money. On his application for ballot status, under occupation, Dillon says he wrote, “freedom fighter.”

Dave Garrison, 60, Austin. Like the successful businessman he was with USAA and Halliburton, Garrison drew up a detailed plan, Solutions to Restore American Prosperity, laying out conservative positions on energy policy, health care and entitlements.

To back his ideas, Garrison put more than $800,000 of his own money into the campaign. He had $690,000 of it on hand at the end of the first quarter.

Garrison’s son told him that if he didn’t try to do something about the direction the country was heading it would be like a doctor going to the scene of a car wreck and doing nothing.

To alter that direction, Garrison says, will take people who understand how to and the need to balance a budget, someone who knows the negative effect federal tax policies have on business, the engine of the economy. His energy plan alone has the potential to create 5 million new American jobs, he says.

“I tell people I talk to in the district there is a way out of this,” Garrison says. “It’s not hopeless, but we’re going to have to start soon.”

Justin Hewlett, 52, Cleburne. The mayor of Cleburne, a suburb of Fort Worth since 2010, Hewlett prefers to be thought of as the owner of a computer technology firm and a former banker rather than a politician.

Although he did not respond to our request for an interview, Hewlett has put together a package of ideas for spurring the American economy - simplifying an unfair tax system and cutting wasteful federal spending - on his website.

Front and center on the home page is his signed pledge to vote for any and all bills that would dismantle ObamaCare. His conservative social values, the website says, are informed by his Christian faith.

Of the $185,000 Hewlett has raised, he still has about $75,000 on hand.

Charles Holcomb, 78, Wimberley. The retired state Court of Criminal Appeals judge is the only candidate in this race to proudly profess to be a moderate or, as he calls it, Eisenhower, Republican.

During a career of 50 years in the state court system, winning district attorney and district court judge races nominally as a Republican, Holcomb says he largely stayed out of party politics.

He believes voters might find that an asset.

Holcomb says he would work to devise campaign finance reform to replace the laws overturned by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case. “Citizens United is ruining our political system,” he says.

Holcomb believes the nine Supreme Court justices should be required to retire after 18 years, staggered every two years. He has no official opinion on abortion, believing it to be a choice left to the privacy of women.

Holcomb, who has no website, is accepting no money, preferring that word of mouth carry his campaign.

Brian Matthews, 59, Austin. Matthews is a Christian family counselor who says he had no political aspirations until he felt summoned to this race. “I’m probably the God candidate,” he says.

He is also what he calls a Constitutional conservative, believing the federal government must be shrunk to a size outlined strictly by the Constitution. He refers to the current state of federal spending “the utter immoral stealing from future generations.” He calls President Obama’s use of executive order “totalitarian.”

This will mean the elimination of entire federal departments and agencies, tossing regulations that prevent jobs from being created and the liberation of the broadest range of the American energy industry.

Matthews, who has raised less than $25,000 and has about $6,300 of it on hand, believes his message delivered directly to the voters is more powerful than the money.

Wes Riddle, 50, Belton. The founder and current chairman of the Central Texas Tea Party thinks it is time “to prioritize the value of liberty over security and a guaranteed quality of life in America.”

Riddle has not been afraid to take on the Republican Party for its complicity in failing to secure American borders. He refers to Obama’s term in office as a period of “transformational socialism.”

From taxes to regulatory assault of agencies like the EPA and the size of the federal government, Riddle’s responses are to free the people and “reaffirm our faith in our Founding Fathers’ Constitutional message.”

The retired lieutenant colonel, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army, Riddle knows he is in a war of another kind: one of big money. He has raised more than $310,000 and still had $116,000 available at the end of March.

“I don’t know if those numbers are in our favor, but one-on-one people are responding to our message,” he says.

Chad Wilbanks, 42, Lake Travis. Although this is his first bid for public office, Wilbanks is the former political and executive director of the state Republican Party. Since 2004 he had been a consultant for conservative candidates and political organizations.

Increasingly concerned with the complaints that the American Dream was being blunted by government overreach, Wilbanks developed a plan to get government out of the way of business and reform Medicare and Social Security without breaking the agreements we are bound to with today’s senior citizens.

The president of the Lake Travis Youth Association, a non-profit youth sports organization, freely mixes in messages of family and faith with his politics. Do right, do your best and show people you care are principles Wilbanks would like to apply to government.

Of the more than $117,000 he has raised through March, Wilbanks had more than $90,000 on hand.

Michael Williams, 58, Austin. In April of 2011, after 10 years and having won three elections Williams resigned from the Railroad Commission, which oversees the state’s oil and gas industries.

Williams is leaning heavily on having gotten as many as 140,000 votes for his commission seat from voters in District 25. He’s traveled the better part of the district for 12 years. During his time on the commission, some of it as chairman, Williams says the number of state employees in the department dropped to 675 in March of 2011 from 853 in 1999.

“Voters will also see somebody who never took a pay raise,” Williams says.

He bills himself as a Constitutional conservative, who would apply the same government spending cutting in Washington as he did on the Railroad Commission.

“I really believe this is going to be an opportunity for voters to make a classic decision about the role of government in their lives,” Williams says.

Williams had raised $765,000, but had a little more than $169,000 on hand, a distant second to the other Williams in the race, Roger. “We’ll have enough money to be competitive,” Williams says. “Being outspent won’t be the issue.”

Roger Williams, 62, Weatherford. No matter the issues or experience, the candidates in this race are talking about Williams’ money. At the end of the first quarter, Williams had raised about $2.3 million and had $1.4 million of it on hand. No one else is remotely close.

But this is the first stab at elected office for Williams, who is best known as Gov. Rick Perry’s appointee to serve as secretary of state from 2005 until 2007 when he resigned, he told the Houston Chronicle, to “pursue other opportunities.” The story took note that the secretary of state’s appointment was usually followed by a run for a higher office.

Williams declined Watchdog’s offer of an interview, but his campaign website stresses his longtime experience as the owner of a successful car dealership in bringing business principles to a runaway federal government.

Among his positions are privatizing parts of Social Security and Medicare, replacing the current tax system with a flat tax or a consumption-based tax, and opposing illegal immigration and abortion.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of 'voting' sign by flickr user KClvey, used via a Creative Commons license.

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