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In HD-53's GOP Runoff, Debate Shifts Sharply

Andrew Murr and Rob Henneke are facing off in the GOP runoff in the race to succeed state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville. The conversation in the race has shifted as each tries to stand out as the conservative choice.

Andrew Murr (left) and Rob Henneke canvass for votes in the Texas House District 53 on May 10, 2014.

During the five-way race in the Republican primary to represent a 12-county Hill Country district in the Texas House, two candidates, Rob Henneke and Andrew Murr, largely focused on the state’s water policy and ensuring local control of decisions on education and infrastructure.

The two have advanced to the May 27 runoff to succeed state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, who left the seat to run for state comptroller. But the conversation has shifted in this phase. Discussions about water, taxes and immigration have been somewhat overshadowed by provocative topics like Shariah law, the Islamic code of law derived from the Quran.

“I’m going to be the candidate that’s going to fight to advance the constitutional conservative principles that I believe in and that this district believes in,” Henneke, a former Kerr County attorney, said.

Murr, a former Kimble County judge and county attorney, said his brand of conservatism would appeal to voters.

“The message of having a voice coming from local government, worried about issues like water and property rights resonates with a lot of people."

Murr, who received 41 percent of the vote in the March 4 primary, finished 12 percentage points ahead of Henneke. He outspent Henneke, $126,611 to $89,785, in the first round.

During a recent appearance on a local religious radio program, the two candidates squared off in a forum where they shared their views on water, immigration, anti-abortion efforts and Shariah law.

“I’m very concerned about the infiltration of our society by Muslims right now in Texas,” Henneke told listeners. “I don’t think people are aware about how pervasive that has become in our society.”

He said he would support in the next legislative session the passage of the American Laws for American Courts Act, which would forbid the use of foreign law in the state’s courts.

“We have good, very conservative judges that I don’t think would be open to allowing” Shariah law in Texas, Henneke said in an interview. “But I have seen reports and heard anecdotally situations elsewhere in this country and in Texas where that has been a problem and an issue.”

Murr said he would too support passage of the measure.

The two have also spent much of their runoff campaigns emphasizing their dedication to legal efforts to protect life and touting related endorsements. The Texas Alliance for Life leadership is divided in its support, with the president, Davida Stike, supporting Murr, and the group’s executive director, Joe Pojman, backing Henneke.

“We could not decide on one or the other. I think it’s safe to say that we all thought that each are quality candidates,” Pojman said.

Henneke said he would introduce legislation that allowed the unborn to have legal representation in cases like a recent one involving a pregnant Fort Worth woman on life support.

Murr said he planned to file legislation that would extend the length of time families have to make end-of-life decisions.

“We have a moral obligation to protect life around us,” he said.

Todd Olsen, a Republican campaign consultant who has owned property in the district for years, said voters in the district, which Hilderbran has represented since 1993, would support the candidate talking about clear solutions.

“You’ve got a group of voters that are a little libertarian in their nature,” Olsen said. “But that means they have a lower threshold for people who sound like politicians.”

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Politics 2014 elections