Republicans Mike Schofield and Ann Hodge are speeding toward a May 27 runoff for House District 132, the Houston-area seat that state Rep. Bill Callegari is vacating after serving seven terms in the lower chamber.
While both Hodge and Schofield are touting their experience, neither candidate has ever held elected office. The crux of their debate has largely centered on who would best represent the district.
Hodge has lived in the district for more than three decades and been the CEO of the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce for 15 years. Schofield was most recently a policy adviser for Gov. Rick Perry, serving for six legislative sessions as the governor's point man on a variety of issues including voter ID. Schofield, who has split his time between Houston and Austin, moved into HD-132 last fall after Callegari announced his resignation; he rents a home in Katy.
Despite Schofield’s recent move to the district, he claimed 45 percent of the primary vote in a four-way race — 5 percentage points shy of claiming the Republican nomination without a runoff. Schofield led Hodge in every precinct, often by a 2-to-1 margin. Hodge earned 20 percent of the vote.
Schofield said he thinks voters have taken to the fact that he doesn’t “need to learn how the process works or where the bathrooms are.” He said that in his years in Austin, he has learned how to get work done and what makes a bill fail.
In Austin, “we need strategists like me on the conservative side who know how to fight off attempts to weaken our bills,” he said.
But Hodge believes the runoff is a blank slate, and that her grassroots, volunteer-based campaign is starting to gain momentum. She said she is just as qualified as Schofield and understands how the Legislature operates because of her “on-the-ground experience,” which she said she got advocating for the waste management company BFI before her chamber of commerce work.
“I probably have more experience with fighting through the legislative process to advocate for the community,” she said. Schofield "would have you believe that I’ve never set foot in the Capitol,” she added.
Although Schofield has never held an elected office, this campaign isn’t his first. In 2006, he ran for a different Houston-area seat, House District 133, and lost to Jim Murphy in a runoff, despite finishing ahead of Murphy in the first round. Schofield also filed to run in 2011 in what was then House District 136, but after that Houston-area seat was eliminated in redistricting, he did not run.
Schofield said he had been looking to move to Katy since February 2013, and that his arrival to the district and Callegari’s announcement that he wouldn't run again were unrelated. His opponents have characterized the move much differently, calling Schofield a carpetbagger.
“Katy is not going to reject people who have lived and worked and produced for the community of Katy by turning the keys of our House seat over to a political carpetbagger who looks at Katy as a mere garden to plant his political career,” George Scott, a community activist and public policy researcher, wrote on his website.
Schofield said that despite his short history in the district, he knows he would be an effective representative. As Perry’s adviser, he said, “I quickly learned that my skills and talents would benefit the Legislature."
Aside from the now-standard debate over who is more conservative — a fight that dominated March's Republican primaries — there are few differences between the two candidates on the issues. “There is no doubt that we would vote very similarly if we were both in Austin,” Hodge said.
Both candidates are proponents of increased border security, smaller government, anti-abortion legislation, pro-gun legislation — the National Rifle Association has given them both A ratings — and rely on their Christian faith to shape their decisions.
Both candidates said they would focus on immigration and health care if elected. Hodge also added infrastructure and education to that list. “Katy and Cypress are very fast-growing," she said. "I’ve watched our community grow leaps and bounds, and we aren’t keeping up with infrastructure or education."
Sherry Sylvester, a spokeswoman for the heavy-hitter Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, which is backing Schofield, said polling shows "Mike is well known, well liked, and his supporters are committed and enthusiastic about sending him to the Texas House."
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/23/hd-132-hodge-and-schofield-highlight-experience/.