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Crowded Field Gathering for Comptroller Contest

Four Republicans are vying to replace outgoing state Comptroller Susan Combs, and at least one Democrat may join the race soon, too.

GOP candidates for state comptroller. Clockwise, from top left: former gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina, former state Rep. Raul Torres, state Sen. Glenn Hegar and state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran.

Eight years ago, Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s decision to run for governor did not prompt a rush of people vying to replace her. Then-Agricultural Commissioner Susan Combs won the Republican nomination unopposed and defeated Democrat Fred Head in November of 2006.

The position of Texas’ chief financial officer is proving more attractive this year. Four Republicans have launched campaigns for the seat, and at least one Democrat may join them. Combs announced in May that she won't seek re-election.

State Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, officially launched his campaign this week, joining state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, former state Rep. Raul Torres and former gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina in vying for the Republican nomination to succeed Combs.

Last month, Democrat Michael Collier, a retired accountant from Kingswood, reported to the Texas Ethics Commission that he appointed a treasurer for a campaign for comptroller. He said Wednesday that he will join the race if state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, chooses to run for governor. Having Davis represent Democrats at the top of the ticket would make his campaign "viable," Collier said.

"For me personally, if she chooses to run for governor, then I’d like to be a part of that," Collier said. 

The four Republicans running are all working to position themselves as the most qualified to serve in a job that involves tax collection, accounting and regularly estimating how much revenue lawmakers have to work with in crafting the state's next budget.

“To me it’s the most important position I would be qualified to run for,” Hilderbran said. 

The legislator largely cited his work since 2011 as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax bills. On Tuesday, he revealed three points of a 10-point plan he has to improve the comptroller's office, including having the office serve as a resource for Texans who feel they are being unfairly targeted by the IRS. 

Hegar’s campaign website points to his work over the years on tax and finance legislation, but he also highlights his recent role as the lead Senate author of a measure tightening abortion restrictions, which Perry signed last month. Debate over the bill gained national attention and drew thousands of activists to the Capitol.

On Tuesday, Hegar announced he received endorsements from several anti-abortion leaders. Texans for Life Coalition President Kyleen Wright praised Hegar’s “nerves of steel.” Cathie Adams with the Texas Eagle Forum said he possessed “tremendous character and integrity.”

While the comptroller does not usually have much impact on the state’s abortion policy, Hegar said his work on the issue and the endorsements inform voters about how he would approach the job. 

“I do believe that yes, my stance, as someone who strongly believes in life, I think it talks to my character, and where I stand as an individual,” Hegar said.

Medina developed a statewide following when she ran for governor in 2010 with a campaign that called for eliminating the state property tax. Since then, she has founded and led the nonprofit We Texans, which is committed to that issue.

“I suspect that major tax reform will be kind of a cornerstone of the campaign,” Medina said.

Although the Legislature decides the state’s tax policy, Medina said the comptroller has the power of a bully pulpit and works in an advisory role with lawmakers.

“I’m going to be a comptroller with an opinion,” Medina said. “They certainly don’t have to take my advice, but I’m going to be out there scratching and digging and looking for ways to do what we do better.”

Torres told the Rio Grande Guardian in May that his work as a certified public accountant made him the most qualified candidate. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday. 

In campaign finance reports filed last month, Hegar led the funding field with $1.8 million in his campaign account, followed by Hilderbran with $1 million on hand. Medina and Torres trailed with $55,000 and $2,500, respectively.

[Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Kyleen Wright.]

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Politics 2014 elections Glenn Hegar