by JENNIFER BIUNDO
In a bellwether district like Hays County, liberal isn’t exactly a dirty word.
But against a national backdrop of anti-incumbent sentiment, four-term District 45 State Rep. Patrick Rose is coming out purple as he faces GOP challenger Jason Isaac, a Dripping Springs businessman, at the Nov. 2 polls.
At the San Marcos Area League of Women Voters candidate debate earlier this month, Rose fielded a direct challenge from Republican Charlie Johnson: “If you are a conservative, why not join the Republican party?”
“I’m a Democrat,” Rose replied. “I happen to be a conservative Democrat, but I’m a Democrat. And I’m pretty fed up with both parties right now.”
For several years, Rose’s message has been one of cooperation across the aisle, and he’s frequently been known to highlight his role as a consensus-broker. Two legislative sessions ago, Rose seconded the nomination for Republican Tom Craddick as Speaker of the House, and the Texas Tribune currently ranks him as the seventh-most conservative Democrat in the House.
But this election season, Rose has upped the volume as he flaunts his conservative leanings. Most notably, a series of television ads and stump speeches call attention to the issue of illegal immigration.
“We have to crack down on illegal immigrants who break our laws, escape unpunished and take jobs away from Texans,” Rose said in one campaign ad.
At the League of Women Voters debate, he reiterated that message, calling for legislation adding enhanced penalties for illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes.
“You need not look very far to see that we have an illegal immigrant problem in this state,” Rose said. “There are dangerous people coming to the United States, and some of them come here to do ill.”
But Isaac is challenging Rose’s conservative street cred.
“I joked with some friends that I’m running against a Democrat who calls himself an Independent but plays a Republican on TV,” Isaac said.
Isaac, fighting an uphill battle to unseat a well-known and well-funded incumbent, is spending time, energy, and several hundred thousand dollars to spread the message that Rose is no conservative. He’s been a visible campaigner since well before the primary, spending hundreds of dollars at gas stations as he travels the three-county 45th District.
A widely-airing TV ad by the Isaac campaign shows an eerie image of Rose over a crackling static background, framed by a single red rose. The ad dubs Rose a “tax and spend liberal” and accuses him of voting with the most liberal members of the house 90 percent of the time. The narrator closes with the words, “Patrick Rose – a liberal thorn in our side.”
Those TV ads come with a high price tag, and like the Texas budget, Isaac’s campaign war chest is facing a shortfall. He’s taken in about $350,000, but spent about $510,000, supplementing the campaign with $350,000 loaned to him by prominent Dripping Springs businessman Robert H. Seale, who also cut the Isaac campaign a check for $100,000 in June. (Isaac noted that he coached Seale’s son in lacrosse.)
In the same time period, Rose has raised about $800,000 and spent about $950,000, with about $212,000 left on hand.
Hays County is well-known for its purple politics. Though most high-ranking county officials are currently Democrats, in 2008, Hays County voters gave a spare one percent lead to presidential candidate John McCain over Barack Obama.
While Hays County went red in 2008, Rose handily took 59 percent of the ballots in the three-way race against GOP and Libertarian challengers.
In 2002, at the age of 24, Rose stole the District 45 House seat away from GOP incumbent Rick Green by just 400 votes, a margin of less than one percent.
District 45 includes Hays, Blanco and Caldwell counties.
Rose and Isaac on the issues
- PEC: Since early 2007, Rose has been a vocal critic of the alleged mismanagement and corruption at the Pedernales Electric Cooperative, and continues to call for reform on the legislative level. Rose says he’ll sponsor legislation requiring co-op’s to abide by open records and open meetings laws and forcing fair and open elections for co-op boards. Though PEC is voluntarily undertaking many of those reforms, Rose noted that some of that progress could be undone. But Isaac, pointing to the newly elected reform board, said the legislature should leave PEC alone. “Let PEC take care of their business and let the legislature take care of their business,” Isaac said.
- Taxes: Isaac has called for eliminating the school portion of the state’s property tax, which typically comprises the largest chunk of the tax bill. But how he’d fill that hole – especially in an excruciatingly tight budget year – is unclear. Isaac noted that “efficiency at the government level” would be a step in the right direction. “I look forward to working with an $18 billion shortfall,” Isaac said. “I worked in trucking for the last 15 years. I know how to do more with less.” In an interview with the “Texas Sons of Liberty Riders,” Isaac said he liked the concept of a “consumption-based model” that could replace property tax with higher sales tax, while noting that a sales tax rate above nine and a half percent would be counterproductive. But he later firmly stated his opposition to any increase in sales tax. Rose has taken Isaac to task for his comments on sales tax, and accused him of changing his story. Meanwhile, Isaac has accused Rose of proposing $15 billion in new government spending. For several sessions, Rose has campaigned to put a five percent cap on home appraisals. He touts his record of “balancing the budget without raising taxes.”
- Education: In 2003, Rose voted to de-regulate tuition, adding in an amendment that 20 percent of the resulting revenue increases go to fund scholarships. In the coming session, he supports re-regulating university tuition. Rose has served on the House Higher Education Committee since 2005. He opposes tuition vouchers for families with school-aged children. Isaac received $20,000 in campaign contributions from a homeschooling advocacy group. He supports action by the legislature to mandate that schools spend 65 percent of tax dollars in the classroom, as ordered by Rick Perry.
Jen Biundo is senior writer at the Hays Free Press where this article was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the Mercury.