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Open House Races in Tarrant County Draw Bevy of Candidates

Four state representatives in Tarrant County are pursuing higher office this year, sparking four wide open primaries to replace them.

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With four state representatives from Tarrant County giving up their seats to pursue higher office this year, four wide-open primaries have been left behind.

Three Republicans – state Reps. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, Mark Shelton of Fort Worth and Todd Smith of Euless – are running for the state Senate. State Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, is running for Congress.

The four open House seats have drawn 16 candidates. Most of the campaigns are treating the primaries as the endgame, as all four seats are expected to stay with the same party as they are now because of how the districts were drawn during redistricting.

The two races centered in conservative northeast Tarrant County were shaped by last year’s announcement by state Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, that he would retire, prompting Smith and Hancock to launch bids to replace him.

With four Republicans running for Hancock’s District 91 seat, a runoff is likely. No other party has a candidate for the seat.

Three of the four candidates are telling voters that their backgrounds will allow them to hit the ground running in the next session.

“I know many of the legislators,” North Richland Hills City Council member Ken Sapp said. “I know how the process works. You don’t just write a bill. You have to know how to move a bill through the Legislature.”

Former North Richland Hills Mayor Charles Scoma and Stephanie Klick, a past Tarrant County Republican Party chairwoman, are also pointing to the value of their time in elected office.

Scoma ran against Hancock for the House seat two years ago but finds advantages to running in an open race.

“It’s hard to unseat an incumbent, so I find that this [race] gives me the opportunity to be on equal ground with my opponents,” Scoma said.

Klick said she’s been working to highlight her background in nursing and her interest in reforming the state’s Medicaid program to reduce costs.

“There are a lot of things that can be done about consumer fraud on the front end,” Klick said.

Lady Theresa Thombs, a real estate agent, has positioned herself as the outsider in the race. Her proposals include implementing term limits for the Legislature.

“I’m probably the only one who’s running who’s going to vote myself out of a job,” Thombs said.

Two Republicans are running for Smith’s District 92 seat covering the cities of Hurst, Euless and Bedford. The winner faces Libertarian Sean Fatzinger in November.

Jonathan Stickland launched his campaign last year when Smith was planning to run for re-election. Once Smith opted to run for state Senate, Bedford City Council member Roger Fisher jumped into the race and received Smith’s endorsement.

The change in opponents has forced Stickland to switch from highlighting Smith’s record in the House to Fisher’s record in Bedford.

“They’ve raised taxes three years in a row out here in Bedford,” Stickland said. “He voted for all of them.”

Fisher said he has no qualms with his votes on the council.

“I have a record, and that record was providing for the necessities of the city, providing fire equipment and police and fire radios,” Fisher said.

On the opposite corner of the county, three Republicans are vying to replace Shelton in District 97. Two of the candidates, Craig Goldman, a political consultant, and former Fort Worth school board trustee Chris Hatch, were among seven who ran for the seat along with Shelton in 2007.

The race has grown increasingly hostile as Goldman and former nurse Susan Todd have attacked each other. Todd accused Goldman of cheating on property taxes and not living in the district. Goldman said Todd lied to voters about her Republican credentials because of her voting in some past Democratic primaries and her involvement with groups that have supported Democrats. Both candidates say the other is distorting the facts.

“I’m the nice little grandmother who’s lived and worked in this community and who’s done nothing in my entire life but give back,” Todd said. “Little did I know how ugly it was going to get.”

Goldman said he's made a point of only focusing on Todd's record.

“She came out of the gate, I have to say, in a very negative manner,” Goldman said. “I’ve never made it personal.”

Hatch has stayed out of the fray and said he’s the only candidate who would enter the state House not beholden to any donors.

“I’m generally self-financing my campaign,” Hatch said.

The winner will face Democrat Gary Grassia and Libertarian Rod Wingo in November.

In neighboring District 95, an Austin-based group’s involvement in the three-way Democratic primary to replace Veasey could prove pivotal. Fort Worth lawyers Nicole Collier and Jesse Gaines and former Forest Hill City Council member Dulani Masimini, all Democrats, are on the ballot. The winner will face Republican Monte Mitchell in November.

Collier has led in fundraising due to the support of Annie’s List, a PAC committed to electing more Democratic women to the Legislature. The group is responsible for more than half of the $35,174 Collier has reported raising.

Collier said she’s focusing on restoring public education and drawing jobs to the district.

“One of the things we talk about with my campaign is tapping into the Rainy Day Fund and sunsetting tax exemptions and weighing them against the value of public education,” Collier said.

Gaines said redistricting is a key issue as the Legislature removed some minority neighborhoods out of District 95.

“They took the heart of the district out,” said Gaines, who has worked on redistricting lawsuits for years, much of it representing the NAACP. “My experience in congressional redistricting issues would probably differentiate me from the other two candidates.”

Masimini said he’s stressing to voters that he was born and raised in the district.

“Who better to represent them than a product of that district?” he said.

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