Walsh takes on embattled Schwertner in Texas Senate race
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Both incumbent Republican Senator Charles Schwertner and Democratic challenger Meg Walsh won their March primaries by a wide margin.
But in September, allegations of sexual misconduct arose against Schwertner, who under legal advice has chosen not to grant interviews.
Senate District 5 covers 10 counties, and includes Williamson County, extending east to Huntsville and Bryan and north to Fairfield.
Elected to the Texas Senate in 2013, Schwertner served previously for a single term in the Texas House of Representatives. He is an orthopedic surgeon and lives in Georgetown.
In late September, allegations were made public that Schwertner texted sexually explicit material, including a photograph to an unnamed University of Texas graduate student. Schwertner has denied the allegations.
In a statement, Schwertner’s attorneys said, “Senator Schwertner did not send any inappropriate texts as alleged. Period.”
The statement goes on to say that “the University of Texas should immediately make an official statement exonerating Senator Schwertner of these allegations.”
It also called for the immediate termination of any university officials who may have compromised the investigation by making the allegations public.
In response to a request for updates and information on who at the university is conducting the investigation, Chief Communications Officer Gary Susswein said in an e-mail, “I cannot confirm the story, which relied on unnamed sources. In order to protect the integrity of the investigative process, the university does not discuss ongoing investigations. The University of Texas takes all allegations of wrongdoing seriously and encourages members of the campus community to report them immediately. We strive to investigate complaints thoroughly and quickly while respecting the confidentiality of students and employees who file complaints and those accused of wrongdoing.”
Initial attempts by The Independent to interview Schwertner during the campaign date back into August.
Walsh emerged with a sizable victory over two other Democrats in the primary, grabbing 71 percent of the vote across the district.
She said her experiences as a single mom and work in the corporate world have positioned her to take on a role in the Texas Senate.
One of the key issues Walsh said must be addressed first is generating revenue, and ensuring the state doesn’t clamp down too hard on local government in terms of the same.
“The legislature wants to limit property taxes and put a cap on that,” she said. “If you do that, the cities and towns are unable to do anything.”
With a finance background, and experience in managing an $800 million-plus budget, she said she understands budgeting and how to look for new ways to bring in funds to support Texans.
“I’m looking forward when I get elected to looking into other revenue sources, including the oil and gas industries where there are taxes they used to pay but don’t anymore,” she said. “What have we given up in the past that we can bring forward? Everybody has to pay their fair share.”
Walsh believes that businesses no longer pay their fair share as individuals take on a greater burden in taxes and fees.
“I know you have to get the revenue from somewhere,” she said. “They cut the franchise tax that used to be taxed at $1 million and they bumped that up to $4 million, and that’s $2.5 billion you could bring back in right out of the gate that you could use to finance schools.”
Walsh said providing increased funding for public schools in Texas is a responsibility of the state and should be looked at as an investment, not just an expense. She said funding decreases in recent years should be reversed.
“In terms of school funding, back in the late 90s, Texas had a lot higher percentage of school funding from the state,” she said. “In 2011, it was 45 percent per student. Since then, that funding amount has dropped down to 38 percent as the state share, and there’s 7 percent of that that comes out for charter schools. So you’ve gone from 45 percent to only 31 percent and that causes a huge amount of hardship for all the school districts, and much more so in the rural districts.”
Senate District 5 is very suburban in parts and very rural in others, and Walsh sees the challenges on both ends of that spectrum.
“I want to find a way for the quality of education to be very consistent for everyone. I can’t say it will be exactly the same, I’m a realist, but how do we have an aspect of consistency so we can expect a certain level of quality for all schools?” she said. “As per our Constitution, we’re supposed to provide an education to these kids.”
She is opposed to using public school funds for charter schools and vouchers.
“The charter schools, where they are pulling money out of public education, are also getting to pay for their facilities with that money, which you can’t do with public schools,” Walsh said. “The other thing is that they are trying to push through vouchers for private schools, well, I’m not okay with that because at the end of the day we have to take care of our public schools.”
Despite promising to seek new revenue streams to increase funding for things such as education, Walsh says she is very pro business and believes it is pro business to create and fund the best education possible.
“I’m a pro-business person,” she said. “I have worked in technology, I’ve worked in oil and gas, I’ve worked in energy. I want to have a state where we can bring businesses in and be business friendly, but where I think it is to excess is when they are trying to make it this way at the expense of the regular person that is trying to earn a living.”
Businesses need more than low taxes to thrive, she said.
“It’s going to be hard for Texas to continue to attract new technology businesses and good employees to Texas if our schools are terrible and property taxes are out of control,” Walsh said. “It is pro business to be in favor of quality education.”
Healthcare is something many voters bring up in conversation with Walsh, especially in the rural areas of the Senate district.
“I hear that people are paying so much for healthcare, that they don’t have access to insurance in the rural areas,” she said. “They worry about the fact that if you don’t have a job you don’t have healthcare.
“One of the things that has really impacted people is the closure of all these family planning clinics, which impacted 150,000 Texans. Even men used to go there to get well checkups and cancer screenings, so that has had a huge effect across the rural counties.”
Ensuring a future with plentiful clean water is also on Walsh’s list of issues, and something she wants to make the state look closer at in the near future.
“Right now the water supply in Texas is barely adequate for the population we have, much less the increase in population,” she said. “Right now we have a water plan in Texas that is not accurate. It actually has reservoirs that don’t exist or reservoirs that have no pipeline. The plan has to be accurate and it has to include funding. We need to take a very realistic view of how we use water.”
Being out talking to voters has given Walsh more perspective about the variety of concerns among district voters.
“I introduce myself when I am going door to door or making phone calls, but I want to find out what is important to them, because for me as a State Senator I want to represent everyone,” she said. “What I hear a lot is about schools and property taxes. In Williamson County, I hear about high property taxes, but in Milam County and Robertson County, I hear concerns about keeping schools open because it is a concern for them.”
No matter the issues now, Walsh has pledged, if she wins, to stay in touch with voters to always keep up with their concerns.
“I’m out there, meeting these people, and I plan to continue to do that after I am elected,” she said. “I will be out going to different functions and staying in contact because what happens in Austin is far different than what happens in other counties. At the end of the day we all want the same things. We all want to be able to go to work and make an honest living. We all want our kids to be able to go to school and get a good education. We all want to be safe and have clean water. It doesn’t matter what party you are in.”