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Anderson Draws Two Challengers in HD-56 Race

Waco's Doc Anderson has two challengers in a classic experience vs. new blood contest that all parties agree is getting only light voter interest.

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Chris DeCluitt remembers taking his dog to Charles "Doc" Anderson when he was a teenager growing up in Waco.

DeCluitt still likes the vet, but doesn't think Anderson should be elected to a fifth term in the Texas House. He and Raymond Hixson of China Spring are both trying to knock Anderson off in the Republican primary.

It's an uphill battle.

Anderson came in third in a boisterous Republican primary in 2002 — a contest that left winner Holt Getterman so beat up that Democrat John Mabry won the general election. Anderson won the primary in 2004, defeated Mabry in the general and has been in the Legislature ever since.

That 2004 primary was his closest race. He beat two other candidates with 50.4 percent of the vote and never looked back, beating Mabry with 53.2 percent and pulling no less than 58.5 percent in any election since.

The incumbent backed House Speaker Tom Craddick against Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, in 2009, but he made his peace when that was over. Now Straus and the House Leadership PAC are backing him over his Republican challengers. He's not a chairman, but remains the vice chairman of the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee — the same spot he held when Craddick was boss. The Texas House Leadership Fund has invested $24,500 in Anderson's re-election bid; his next biggest benefactor is the Texas Veterinary Medical Association's PAC, at $7,000.

Anderson was hit two years ago with stories about federal tax liens that proved to be embarrassing but not politically fatal, and this race has been more about his effectiveness in Austin and the unpopularity of incumbents in general.

"Challengers always try to poison the well in that regard," Anderson says. "They always try to blemish incumbents — and that may be augmented by national politics this year. But I certainly don't think they can say, 'Doc's done a bad job.'"

McLennan County had a lot more clout before the last election cycle. State Sen. Kip Averitt, R-McGregor, is gone, replaced in 2010 by Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury. U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, was upended that year by Bill Flores, R-Bryan. And state Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, lost his seat to Marva Beck, R-Centerville. Anderson is the last man standing, at least in McLennan County.

It would be a better argument for Anderson's opponents if the lawmaker was from outside the county. He's not. So instead of invoking geography, DeCluitt — who says "it's been a clean race" — argues the incumbent doesn't pass a lot of bills, and simply can't shoulder the responsibility any longer.

"I've known Doc since I was 16," says DeCluitt, a former member of the State Republican Executive Committee. "But he's just been in Austin too long."

Anderson counters that he gets things done in other ways, and points to efforts to slow implementation of new standardized tests in schools and his work on a constitutional amendment that benefited the survivors of veterans. "I think people are more concerned about the bills they pay than the bills we pass," he says.

The incumbent also cites McLennan County's loss of clout, saying it would be worse if the only representation for the area came in the form of a freshman lawmaker.

Most of the Austin lobby has followed the House leadership in supporting Anderson. DeCluitt's largest single source of money is himself: He has loaned his campaign $40,000.

And turnout, the candidates agree, has been light. "Folks are kind of burned out with all the presidential stuff and the fighting over redistricting," Anderson says. "I'm optimistic, but we need to turn everybody out."

An Assembly of God church is one of the busiest polling places, and several candidates have been greeting voters there as they go in. One candidate got the idea of putting a smoker in the parking lot and serving barbecue to voters. Only about 70 people showed up that day, DeCluitt said. "There's a lot of voter fatigue."

One local source of pride is Baylor University. Neither front-runner got his education there. Anderson went to the nearest veterinary school — Texas A&M. That's DeCluitt's alma mater, too. "I grew up within walking distance of the stadium," he said. "I bleed maroon and white, but I wear green and gold."

The redistricting delays in HD-56 turned a two-man contest into a three-man race, raising the possibility that the new candidate — Hixson — could force a runoff. DeCluitt is hoping for a runoff and says Hixson's votes come out of Anderson's base.

"The one real variable is Democratic crossover," DeCluitt said, pointing to a busy race for sheriff that could draw local voters of every political stripe into the GOP primary. "Our sheriff's race has become very contentious."

Hixson, meanwhile, has funded his own campaign, with one exception: He reported a 62-cent contribution from Anderson on one of his filings with the Texas Ethics Commission. Hixson says they were at a forum and he told the audience that the way to deal with lobbyists is to "just don't take their money." That got some applause. Anderson, he says, went by his campaign table later, and threw the change from his pocket in a box there. "That's not lobby money," Hixson remembers Anderson saying. He adds: "I just hope he supports me in the runoff."

Hixson himself has put $27,556 into the campaign so far.

"I'm just worried about the liberty and freedom of others. The government is just getting too intrusive at the state level, and I was compelled to get into this race," Hixson says. "Elected officials have placed themselves above we the people."

He wants to cut government rules and regulations, and says the federal government is "just a frog's hair from socialism."

"There's a convenience store up the road here and they've got nine permits on the wall," he says. "Wow."

Like DeCluitt, Hixson has known Anderson for a while and says he has voted for him in the past. "But it worried me when he took so much money from Joe Straus," he says. His beef with Straus stems from the speaker's first election, when he won with a coalition of nearly a dozen Republicans and a horde of Democrats.

"When your contract comes up every two years, if there's a better candidate out there, they need to hire that guy over the old one," Hixson says. But he concedes this about Anderson: "It's hard to overcome his name recognition." 

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