If there’s a heated fight being waged over a divisive political issue, chances are that state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, is part of the battle.
In the last legislative session, Zedler, who is running for re-election in House District 96, introduced bills to end in-state tuition rates for illegal immigrant students, create reporting requirements for abortion providers, ban discrimination against college professors researching intelligent design and prohibit courts from considering foreign or international law.
Though none of those bills passed, Zedler’s voting record places him firmly among the ranks of the most conservative House members.
“You either stand on principle or you don’t,” he said. “I believe you go down there [to Austin], and you stand for the principles that have made this country the greatest country in the world. And my responsibility is to convince people that that’s the best way to do it.”
It is his unyielding conservatism that has drawn challenger Mike Leyman, 64, the Mansfield school district’s police department chief, into the Republican primary to represent the district, which includes south Arlington, Mansfield, Kennedale and Crowley.
“What I’ve observed is a tendency to be polarized,” Leyman said. “I’m solutions-oriented. You cannot be in law enforcement as long as I’ve been in it and not look for middle ground or ways to do things better. Solutions are not always drawing a line in the sand and saying you just have to come to my side.”
Zedler counters that he doesn’t stick his finger in the wind and decide what will make the most number of people happy. The 69-year-old lawmaker joined the House in 2002, lost his seat in 2008 and won it back in 2010. Despite losing by a 5-point margin in 2008 to a Democrat — whom he defeated two years later by the same margin — Zedler said he does not worry he might be too conservative for voters in his district.
No Democrat is running in the race. The Republican primary winner will face Libertarian candidate Max W. Koch III, a pedorthist in Mansfield.
Zedler said his priority in the next legislative session will be to improve Texas' business environment. He will also focus on issues that are “necessary to preserve freedom and create an environment that suggests that we believe in the sanctity of human life.” He said he would push for the bills he introduced in the last session.
Zedler has collected endorsements from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, Texas Right to Life and the Texas Association of Business. He touts the “A” grade the conservative Heritage Alliance gave him and points out that Leyman received a “D.”
Leyman, who has worked in law enforcement for 43 years, served for four years as Mansfield city councilman until last year. The focus of his campaign has been on public education. He has been endorsed by the United Educators Association and the Texas State Teachers Association.
“There’s no greater responsibility for any parent or for any legislator than making certain our next generation gets the best possible education,” Leyman said.
He said he would not have been in favor of the $5.4 billion the Legislature cut from public education in the last session “without being thoroughly convinced all other areas of the budget had been cut sufficiently first.” Noting that Texas ranks near the bottom among states in per-student spending, Leyman said his main goal as legislator will be to get “funding for education going in the proper direction” by reprioritizing spending — with the ultimate aim of pushing Texas’ per-student spending into the top 10 among states.
Zedler said schools need to learn to do more with less.
“With Mr. Leyman, any time, your solution to a problem is you’ve got to spend more money,” Zedler said. “That’s not being a conservative.”
Leyman said he is conservative. "But I’m reasonably conservative," he said. "Where I think Bill is unreasonably conservative."
The Republican primary has turned more personal — and bitter — in recent weeks after details emerged about an internal affairs investigation Leyman was subject to in 1971. As a 23-year-old officer in the Arlington Police Department, Leyman caught a couple having sex in a car at a park and gave them a warning. Later that day, he called the woman and asked her to meet him at the same park. The woman showed up with her boyfriend, his stepfather and another man and filed complaints. The Arlington Voice reported the story May 10, after Leyman was asked about the investigation at a forum and refused to explain what it was about.
“Do you think abuse of authority might be something to consider when they’re voting for a state representative?” Zedler said.
Leyman emphasized that the incident took place more than 40 years ago and was dealt with at the time with a three-day suspension.
“I just cannot believe this man is this petty to get into something that long ago and not give any benefit of the doubt to a four-decade career in law enforcement,” Leyman said. “He wants to continue to hammer on something that occurred as a young policeman. I made a very grave mistake, and I’ve apologized. I don’t know what more I can do.”
Leyman, in turn, called attention to a Tribune story from 2010 that revealed Zedler had used his position as a lawmaker — before being unseated in 2008 — to obtain confidential records from the Texas Medical Board in order to defend two doctors investigated by the board for misconduct. The two doctors had given Zedler a combined $25,000 in contributions. Zedler told the Tribune at the time that he got the documents because he believes the doctors were unfairly targeted by rival physicians.