Listen to the complete, unedited Hays GOP debate at the bottom of this story.
COMMENTARY by BRAD ROLLINS
WIMBERLEY — State Sen. Donna Campbell emerged bloodied and bruised — but as defiant and disingenuous as ever — from a candidate forum hosted last week by the Hays County Republican Party Executive Committee.
In the days leading up to the big event, Campbell supporters were pummeled withs email urging them to attend the Feb. 5 debate. Consequently, the crowd was clearly stacked with the firebrand freshman senator’s supporters, several dozen of whom turned out to ensure she received a warm reception. But not everyone who entered the Wimberley Community Center as a Campbell fan left as one.
Will Campbell snub San Marcos?
Sen. Donna Campbell is invited to attend the San Marcos Area League of Women Voters debate tonight along with her Republican challengers, Mike Novak and Elisa Chan.
But given the drumming she took last week at Wimberley over her record, it’s a fair question whether she will bother showing up.
About half of San Marcos — 18,883 voting-age residents as of 2010 — lies in State Senate District 25. The senator owes her constituents the favor of her company, of course, but has a record of ducking events where she’s not assured of a friendly crowd.
We won’t know until tonight whether she has the fortitude to take tough questions from the people she claims to serve.
UPDATE: Campbell was, in fact, a no-show at the League of Women Voters debate.
Her Republican Party challengers — San Antonio businessman Mike Novak and former San Antonio City Council member Elisa Chan — seem to have made headway with voters on a number of fronts, especially by noting Campbell’s sponsorship of legislation creating the Needmore Ranch Municipal Utility District on about 4,000 acres of a legendary riverside ranch between San Marcos and Wimberley. Campbell further outraged hundreds of constituents by failing to show up last April at a town hall meeting on the utility district, sending an aide instead to take the heat.
Minutes into the Wimberley debate, Novak wasted no time reminding voters about Campbell’s support for the utility district and her arrogance in declining to even justify her position to the people who elected her.
“It’s not right. It’s not appropriate. We’re talking about a place with a unique culture — a very precious part of this district — and that’s the Hill Country. How in the world, Dr. Campbell, can we possibly even think of creating a MUD” on that property?, Novak asked.
He added later: “When you establish a MUD you have enlarged our government. It is a political subdivision. You have created a government that we didn’t have before. It’s not a property right. It’s an entitlement issue.”
Chan picked up where Novak left off.
“Senator Campbell campaigned for limited government, small government and no new taxes. As a matter of fact, she signed three pledges [not to support new taxes]. So I think the MUD is a problem. It’s a new taxing agency and it’s also a new government. This is not the small government that the senator campaigned for,” Chan said.
Appearing flustered, Campbell jumped to her feet and sought to cast the issue as a property rights issue, saying the ranch’s owners have a right to do with it what they want. Maybe, maybe not. But then Campbell, incredibly and inexplicably, denied that MUD management will have the right to levy property taxes on people who live there should it be developed later.
“If you read the bill — not like Nancy Pelosi — it’s not a taxing entity. That MUD is not a taxing entity,” Campbell said.
But it is Campbell who seems not to have read the legislation that she claims to have written. SB 1868 states plain as day that the district’s board of directors “may impose an ad valorem tax or issue bonds payable from ad valorem taxes” and “may impose an operation and maintenance tax on taxable property in the district.”
The bill does stipulate that the district cannot levy taxes without an election. But since the only people eligible to vote in the election are either members of the LaMantia family or people they allow to live on their ranch, the election clause is a red-herring. It’s a bit of standard-issue bill-drafting trickery that accomplishes nothing except afford Campbell political cover.
Novak was not finished with the MUD issue and struck the hardest blow by pointing out that Campbell’s campaign did not go uncompensated for the senator’s trouble.
“I would challenge Dr. Campbell — the Democrat that owns that ranch — how much money did he give you for your campaign?” Novak said to an explosion of gasps and whispers from the crowd.
Then he yielded a minute of his own time to Campbell so she could answer the question, which she refused to do. Had she done so, the answer would have been a number with five digits preceded by a dollar sign.
In December, Campbell accepted $5,000 each — a total of $10,000 — from Steve LaMantia of Laredo, an owner of L&F Disributors, and Val Peisen of McAllen, the company’s president.
The LaMantia family and their employees are well within their rights to pursue legislation that serves their self-interests. Nor is there anything illegal or even unethical about their contributing to the campaigns of candidates who they support. Indeed, they likely think the utility district — and their subsequent campaign contributions — serves the community’s interests as well as their own.
But Campbell was elected to serve the interests of Hays County and the rest of Senate District 25, not just the LaMantias.
Her failure to do so with the Needmore Ranch MUD — and her insistent lying or appalling ignorance about her own legislation — is something that every voter, Republican and Democrat, should not forget. Early voting for the March 4 primaries starts Feb. 18.
Discussion of groundwater and the Needmore Municipal Utility District starts at 12:33
CORRECTION: Early voting for the March 4 party primaries starts Feb. 18, not Feb. 11.