State Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Atascocita, has spent 18 years on stage in the Legislature — plenty of time for an abundance of ambition to build up in the wings. When word got out that he wouldn’t be returning next session, Republicans in House District 127 found themselves with no shortage of potential successors to choose from. Four plausible candidates are vying for the GOP nomination on March 2, and each has a decent shot. The tough part for voters in the reliably Republican north Houston suburb is differentiating between them.
“We agree on many of the issues,” says Dr. Martin Basaldua, a Kingwood physician running for Crabb's seat. “I think it comes down to who has had the most experience and has the overall qualities that are necessary for the key issues of the day.” Basaldua has had his sights trained on elective office for nearly a decade: He ran unsuccessfully for the Texas Senate in 2002 and took on Crabb in the Republican primary in 2008. This year is different, as health care is a — if not the — key issue of the day. “Being a family physician, I’m kind of on the frontline, and I see what effect some of these issues concerning healthcare have on patients,” Basaldua says.
Basaldua is no stranger to politics: His resume includes several forays into civic life. Gov. George W. Bush appointed him vice chair of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Later, Gov. Rick Perry placed him on the Joint Interim Committee for Higher Education. His time as a House staffer while he was an undergraduate at University of Texas — he worked for state Rep. Frank Lombardino, D-San Antonio, in the mid-'70s — taught him the importance of having a “good” legislator, and he says he’d be one. “Someone who is going in for the right reasons," he says. "I’m at the point in my career where I’m not looking for a retirement package. I have all that. I really want to help the people of Texas.”
Basaldua doesn't have health care all to himself. Also in the race is Humble anesthesiologist Dr. Susan Curling. “If you ask anyone which candidate has come the farthest, I think hands down that would have to be me,” Curling says. “Prior to this campaign starting, nobody knew who Dr. Curling was.” After personally knocking on — by her count — more 2,500 doors in the district, that’s not the case anymore. In fact, her campaign now has the most money of the four.
State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, a fellow anesthesiologist, already knew Curling, who has a degree in government from UT-Austin. Zerwas (along with the Texas Hospital Association and the Texas Medical Association's political action committee, which also endorsed Basaldua) has endorsed Curling, though he warns that working in the Legislature is “like going back to medical school.” While Curling describes that as “every doctor’s worst nightmare,” she believes her training will serve her well on issues other than health care. “I took an oath to first do no harm,” she says. “That’s not a bad place to start for a legislator.”
Former Houston City Councilwoman Addie Wiseman may not have gone to medical school, but she's quick to point out that she’s the only candidate with legislative experience. “That’s what sets me apart,” she says. “When I get to Austin, I can hit the ground running.”
“I also wouldn’t be quick to suggest that we all agree on the issues,” she adds.
On the City Council, Wiseman gained a reputation as a stickler for maintaining Robert's Rules of Order and using the rules to her advantage to hold up legislation she felt was not in her constituents' interests. She says she will continue that tradition in the Texas House. "I will represent my constituents in the way they expect and that is doing everything I can to make sure they're taken care of," she says. "It is important to abide by the rules."
The well-connected Wiseman has been eyeing Crabb's seat for years, ultimately deciding to get in the race when her former constituents called her with concerns about how the upcoming budget battle might play out in the 82nd legislative session. “Representatives may not be strong enough to hold back on the spending,” she says. “What it comes down to is, we need a conservative with courage. And it’s important to have an experienced leader.”
Wiseman does not think Clean Fuels Energy Corp. Vice President Dan Huberty’s experience as president of the Humble school board measures up, but conservative groups are certainly flocking to him with endorsements: The Conservative Republicans of Texas, the Texas State Teacher Association, Huberty's boss and energy mogul T. Boone Pickens, Houston state Sen. Dan Patrick and State Board of Education member John Bradley have all backed him. Huberty also has, by leaps and bounds, the largest number of individual donors to his campaign: 252. But he also has the least amount of cash on hand.
Like the others, he says his past experience will heavily influence his views on policy. “I’d say education’s going to be one of the big topics this session,” he says. “There’s no doubt about it. Every legislator’s saying that. I’d like to have the ability to sit and visit with people about that, understanding that I’d like to be involved with the committees involved in that, because I understand it.”
In what is an amicable campaign overall, Huberty has been pestered by questions about one of his transactions on the school board: a vote he cast to approve a contract with Steep Creek Media — a company that commissions ads on the sides of school buses — with, in the case of Humble ISD, 60 percent of the incoming money going to the school district. The vote raised some eyebrows in the community because Huberty’s wife was volunteering as a consultant for the company and working as a consultant for The Tribune, a local newspaper owned by one of Steep Creek Media's owners. Though his wife was not being paid, Huberty later signed a conflict-of-interest form acknowledging her affiliation.
“We brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars for the schools, and the Huberty family didn’t benefit a dime,” he says. According to Huberty, the program has raised more than $250,000 for the schools. “If they have to tear me down to win, that’s okay," he says. "I understand politics. But if you’re going to come after me, come after me for something I really did. You can disagree with decisions I made on the school board, but every decision I’ve made has been to help the school district.”
The winner of the four-way battle for the GOP nomination, which could well be deternined by a runoff, will face Democrat Joe Montemayor in the November general election. Montemayor is running unopposed in his party's primary.