HD 60 spans across Brown, Callahan, Coleman, Eastland, Hood, Palo Pinto, Shackleford, and Stephens counties.
The four candidates are businessman and Wilks family member Jon Francis; Mineral Wells mayor Christopher Perricone; doctor Glenn Rogers; and attorney Kellye SoRelle.
Tuesday night they convened in Brownwood for a forum in front of a few hundred voters.
Each candidate has carved out their own persona in the race. Francis has fashioned himself the uncompromising conservative who’s not about politics-as-usual. Perricone, the strong conservative who has a governing record to reflect on and is not afraid to tout it.
Rogers, meanwhile, has taken a somewhat more moderate approach stressing that “incremental, positive change is better than no change at all.” SoRelle, being a former prosecutor, has chosen the hard law and order path, emphasizing “justice and fairness.”
However, their respective niches are not the only things separating the candidates.
Francis has, by far, brought in the most campaign contributions with over $625,000 — an almost unheard of total for a State House race. Francis has received some criticism on the campaign trail over his funding.
Of note is that Francis is a member of the Wilks family, one of the most prominent conservative donor families in the country. He has been instrumental in the family’s advocacy work over the years and has even served on the boards of national conservative organizations Live Action and PragerU.
But during this campaign, Francis is only taking money from individual donors — a point he has frequently repeated. He emphasized last night that no money from special interests, lobbyists, nor political action committees has been taken by his campaign and that his funding has come from over 525 individual donors.
His campaign has just over $340,000 cash on hand.
Francis jumped in the race after Lang announced at the eleventh hour he wouldn’t run for re-election, which caused the filing deadline to be extended.
Meanwhile, the candidate in a distant second is Glenn Rogers with nearly $162,000 raised since he began running last summer. The contributor he is proudest to tout is the Texas Farm Bureau, which donated $30,000 to him last month. He has also received support from the Texas Medical Association and Texans for Lawsuit Reform.
SoRelle has raised just under $15,000 and Perricone less than $1,000.
At the forum, the group of candidates took turns stressing their commitment to limited government and upholding the Texas GOP platform.
Rogers told the crowd he believes in local control and wants to “focus on the issues that face Brownwood every day: healthcare, education, and jobs.” He added that he’s opposed to “all illegal immigration and [is] staunchly pro-life and pro-second amendment.”
Touting his conservative governing record, Perricone told the crowd HD 60 needs a representative “who is going to go to Austin and influence people.”
Perricone is currently embroiled in a perjury investigation by the Texas Rangers over a property valuation contestation. Perricone is accused of falsifying evidence during the contest trying to lower the valuation of a property from $770,000 to $500,000, which his acquaintance Matt Campbell purchased from the City of Mineral Wells for $500,000 a few years earlier.
Perricone maintains his innocence and told the Mineral Wells Index in December, “A just trial will serve justice.”
When asked how they plan to be effective in Austin should they win, the candidates took varied approaches.
Francis and Perricone both stressed their desire to “fight” and be “uncompromising” on their principles.
Perricone added, “Uncompromising men are easy to follow. They must be able to stand firm and articulate why they’re standing firm.” He then pointed to his push for a sanctuary for the unborn declaration in Mineral Wells — a motion the council rejected despite Perricone’s advocacy.
In a similar fashion, Francis stated, “One man can make a huge difference. Part of leadership is making sure you’re willing to go and stand up for what you believe.” He then voiced his frustration with the Texas GOP’s priorities being “ignored in the legislature.”
With a different tact, Rogers told the crowd, “We’ve seen extremists, left and right, hold positions so extreme that they cannot get anything accomplished.”
“[Governing] requires trust in relationships,” he further stressed.
SoRelle’s approach is rather straightforward: “I have always understood you ‘kill people with kindness.’”
In 2017, she said she received the prosecutor of the year award in Cameron County because she “advocated for what was right and stood firm on it.”
On education, the candidates were asked if they approve of school voucher programs.
SoRelle stated she is “somewhat opposed” to vouchers on the grounds that they can be abused. “Non-public schools must be accountable and transparent.”
Rogers is outright opposed to a voucher system because he sees it as detrimental to rural schools. In low population areas, such as rural communities, opponents of school choice programs like Rogers believe it can be difficult to adequately fund private educational options because of the lower consumer base.
Those opposed to voucher systems also frequently say they don’t want to see the tax money that would otherwise go to their public school taken elsewhere.
Neither Francis nor Perricone explicitly answered the voucher question, but expounded on education overall.
Francis, first and foremost, wants “to get prayer back in schools.”
“Most of our problems in society started when we took prayer out,” he added. Francis then stressed he aims to get funding back to the classroom — to the teachers and students rather than the administrators.
Along those lines, he lamented that years ago the administrator/teacher ratio was 1:5 and now it’s 2:1.
Perricone, meanwhile, focused on re-establishing parent involvement in their child’s education. “What determines success for students? Having a mother and father in the home followed by how many meals those families have together at the dinner table.”
A huge concern among rural communities is slower economic growth compared to higher-populated areas. Some towns, such as Mineral Wells, are doing well. But many others are still struggling.
Perricone stressed that technology is changing the game. He emphasized refocusing on “bringing people here” not just businesses. He cited Kansas City and New York as two opposing models. Where the latter spent $3 billion to attract 25,000 Amazon jobs, the former is not spending all that cash and still growing substantially.
SoRelle, for her part, believes part of the solution lies in further fixing the property tax system. The 86th Legislature famously passed property tax reform, limiting the annual property tax growth of local entities. But many believe there is still more to do — especially regarding rising appraisals.
Francis, seeing an opportunity to highlight his conservative credentials, emphasized, “Government is not the answer. Less government and more freedom is.”
“The government does not create economic growth, individuals do…and I’m opposed to the government picking winners and losers.”
Rogers plainly stated, “The future of America depends on thriving rural communities.” He wants to focus on spurring economic growth for these communities who are lagging. “Every community has something unique they can build on.”
On redistricting, each candidate stressed they — and nobody, really — has any clue how redistricting will ultimately play out. But each remarked on their dedication to ensuring HD 60 was well-represented in the discussion.
Regarding the accessibility they will provide if elected, Francis pointed to his decision to put his personal cell number on all campaign literature. “It’s important that we are open with you,” he told the crowd, adding, “I’m expecting that you will hold me accountable.”
SoRelle wants to ensure field offices will be evenly distributed across the district.
Rogers touted his long-running campaign, stating, “We’ve been through every nook and cranny of this district.” He added that one field office will be placed in Brownwood.
“I’m the accessibility candidate, that’s what I’m about.”
For his part, Perricone emphasized his use of Facebook on which he frequently posts videos, conversing with his constituents about issues in Mineral Wells. In addition, he voiced his intention to set up bi-monthly meetings with HD 60 constituents.
Super Tuesday is 27 days away and if one candidate does not receive over 50 percent of votes in the primary, a May 26 runoff will be triggered between the top two candidates.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.