Politics is No Charm the Third Time Around in HD-34

This has happened before. Twice.

State Rep. Connie Scott, R-Robstown, who lost to Democrat Abel Herrero in 2008 and then beat him in 2010, is facing the former state representative once again.

The votes have been close. She got 46.9 percent to his 53.1 percent in 2008. Two years later, without a presidential race driving turnout and with a Democratic president suffering a bad midterm election, Scott was on the winning side, with 55 percent of the votes to Herrero’s 46 percent.

Now it’s Scott playing defense and Herrero challenging. The lines in this Nueces County district — HD-34 — were redrawn in redistricting last year, to the Democrat’s advantage. And it’s a presidential year, with the larger turnout that arguably helped Herrero against Scott in 2008. Barack Obama narrowly lost in the old district in 2008; he got 52 percent in the area covered by the new one.

Fewer than a dozen Texas House races are still in play in this year’s election. After redistricting, most districts belong either to the Republicans or the Democrats, and the November contests are less consequential than the primaries. But HD-34 is one of the few that could go either way, depending on turnout and how the candidates perform. Republicans are already assured of a large majority in the House next year; Democrats are trying to win enough seats to keep a meaningful minority in the legislative conversation.

The issues have changed. Scott, like most Republicans in the Legislature, voted last year for a budget that cut education funding by falling short of the amount needed to take enrollment and growth and inflation into account. That same budget included funding for standardized tests in public schools — an unexpectedly treacherous issue in several elections around the state.

She’s hitting him for older budget votes in favor of raising pay for judges — a number that is the basis for legislator’s pensions — and for voting against a tax deduction for small businesses. Herrero voted against increasing the deduction from the state franchise tax to $1 million, which allowed companies making less than that to escape paying. The pension vote applies to lawmakers who are eligible for pensions, which requires at least eight years in office; neither Herrero, with six years, nor Scott, with two, yet qualifies.

He says Scott voted to cut Medicaid reimbursements to doctors and other providers, forcing some to drop out of providing coverage to Medicaid patients. She says he voted to create a “quality assurance fee” at nursing home — her campaign calls it a “granny tax” — as part of a package that was designed to raise reimbursement rates for those providers. The nursing homes were for it, but Gov. Rick Perry tagged it with that name and helped kill it. Herrero was among those in favor of the fee.

Herrero is a lawyer and served on the Robstown City Council before running for the Legislature in 2004.

Scott owned a small pipeline company and helped direct the Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, which helped pull her into politics.

“I will never support a tax increase to fund the state budget shortfall and instead will demand state agencies reduce spending,” she says on her campaign website. That position is popular with fiscal conservatives but also forms the basis for the Democrat’s attacks on her.

Herrero says the difference between this race and the two previous ones is that Scott is an incumbent now. “She has a voting record,” he says. “Before, she could say whatever she wanted. Now she has to take responsibility for what she has done.”

In his TV spot, he talks about “thousands” of teacher jobs lost because of the 2011 budget vote; in the 10 school districts in the legislative district, he says, about 200 teachers lost their jobs. In his view, the race is a referendum on the incumbent.

Scott didn’t answer a request for an interview. Her consultant, Eric Bearse, concedes this district is more Democratic than the old one, but also says Scott is “the kind of Republican who can hold onto a seat like this” because of her involvement in civic affairs in the area. She and her husband are well known for their community work, according to Bearse, and that helps in the political realm.

And, Bearse says, she’s not the only candidate in the race with a record; specifically, he’s pointing at the Herrero votes on the state franchise tax and on nursing home fees highlighted in Scott’s ads.

The political demographics favor the Democrat. Money favors the Republican. In the latest campaign finance reports, Herrero reported holding $25,655 in his campaign accounts to Scott’s $255,629. From July through September, she spent $125,430 to his $69,722. As of this week, he was running his first television spot, while she was running her third.

It’s a close race, as reflected in the sentiments of the local media. The Corpus Christi Caller-Times gave its endorsement to Herrero, barely, saying either of the candidates would be good for the area and saying nice things about both him and Scott before leaning in the Democrat’s direction.

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