The Javelina Press Club and Kingsville Record and Bishop News hosted District 43 State Representative candidates J.M. Lozano and Marisa Yvette Garcia-Utley, as well as Kleberg County Sheriff candidates Juan Gonzalez and Richard Kirkpatrick, as they debated issues of local concern at an open forum held in Jones Auditorium Oct. 5.
Moderated by Tim Acosta, managing editor for the Record, the participants were asked questions about a variety of topics, including property taxes, economic growth, revenue bonds, and open carry.
In regards to producing economic growth influenced by the Eagle Ford Shale (oil and gas development), Republican candidate Lozano said, “Fewer than 20 percent of the state’s economy is from oil and gas revenue. We aren’t as reliant as it seems…when there was a recession nationwide, our real estate prices stayed constant. Here in Kleberg County, they have done an incredible job to bring a shortfall to almost nothing, and you are talking about millions of dollars of shortfall.”
Democratic candidate Garcia-Utley responded with, “Jim Wells County has been hit very hard with the fall of Eagle Ford Shale. Being engaged to the county judge, I know that he had a very tough budget this last month. He had to cut a little over $3 million off his budget. It’s getting these communities to open up to a different mindset of bringing in different manufacturers.”
The candidates were asked how they would ease the burden of the county’s financial woes.
Lozano acknowledged the neglected school districts that were advised to cut property tax rates.
“[Schools] would make up the difference trough a franchise tax and the cigarette tax. Of course, smoking is down every year and the franchise tax and the business tax did not bring in revenue.”
Garcia-Utley responded to the funding question, “As we have progressed, we have continued to fall short in funding our public schools, especially our rural schools here in our district. Bills are being voted on that do nothing but cut…voting for franchise taxes to be reduced 25 percent, that’s $2.6 billion lost in revenue.”
The third topic introduced was tuition revenue bonds and how Texas A&M University-Kingsville and other universities in Texas will potentially fund infrastructure expansion in the near future.
Lozano proposed a tuition revenue bond in 2012 that flopped, but through alterations, added $23 million to have more classroom space in addition to a music building.
Garcia-Utley stressed the need to keep tuition rates at a low cost to encourage enrollment of students. She felt that more action needed to be done in order to actually have an influence on the financial rates. She insisted that increasing the salary of educators is an issue that is always brought up, but never acted upon.
A 10-minute intermission was held after the first half of the forum to get the candidates for Kleberg County Sheriff ready to discuss different topics involving law enforcement in and around the community. Juan Gonzalez and Richard Kirkpatrick both took the stage to begin the 50-minute discussion starting off as a friendly conversation soon turning into a debate with both candidates sharing heated rebuttals for each other’s answers on certain issues. A few issues the candidates butted heads on were officers wearing body cameras, funding for said body cameras, dispatch training and overall unity of local law enforcement. A quote Gonzalez had for Kirkpatrick after hearing an answer from Kirkpatrick was, “My opponent is not doing his homework. He’s not paying attention.” Gonzalez then went on to give information that differed from his opponent’s. Kirkpatrick later had a statement addressing Gonzalez and his employees, saying “ I can tell you currently sir, you don’t have anyone in your office right now that can do the job that we have done consistently over, over and over again.” Two periods of early voting for both District 43 State Representative and Kleberg County Sheriff start from Oct. 24, –Oct. 29 and Oct. 31-Nov.4. The official day polls will be open to vote is Nov. 8 with different locations around Kleberg giving the opportunity to vote for candidates.