Less than a month after Election Day, some Texans are already heading back to the polls to fill the state Senate seat given up by Glenn Hegar after he was elected Comptroller of Public Accounts.
Though Hegar did not officially resign the District 18 seat until Nov. 14 campaigning for it began months ago. Three Republicans and two Democrats have filed, and early voting begins Wednesday.
The district stretches from Katy, down to Corpus Christi, up through Victoria and reaches to just outside College Station. Democrats have not cracked 30 percent of the vote in the district since Republicans took control in 2006.
State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, is seen as the front-runner. She was first elected to House District 13 in 2000, and hasn't faced a serious challenger since. Kolkhorst pegs border security as a top priority
“Our border surges seemingly work when we do them, so we’re going to have to look at how we secure it — and do something right and good for Texas,” Kolkhorst said. “I don’t think the federal government is going to step up and do that for us.”
The race is Kolkhorst's to lose, said Renée Cross, associate director at the University of Houston’s Hobby Center for Public Policy and a political science lecturer. Kolkhorst has pulled in endorsements from Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, Hegar and several PACs, including the Conservative Republicans of Texas PAC.
“She’s shown a very conservative record in the house,” Cross said. “She’s a farmer, she’s got somewhat of a suburban link being in Brenham, she’s an athlete, she’s a hunter, she’s a fisher. I mean she’s got all the stereotypical Texas attributes that I think are going to play well, particularly in a very short election period.”
Her Republican challengers include Gary Gates, a real estate agent and cattle rancher from Richmond, and Charles Gregory, a businessman and the former mayor pro tem of Simonton.
Should Kolkhorst win, Abbott will have to call a special election for her House district. Kolkhorst has not resigned from her seat, so will stay in the legislature if she loses.
While Kolkhorst is touting her experience in the House to woo voters, her opponents are using it to argue the opposite. Gates, who has been endorsed by former U.S. Rep Ron Paul, has pitched himself as the anti-establishment candidate, saying he is not “trying to make a career” by running. And Gregory pledges on his website that he is “not motivated by money or power — only service.” (Gregory did not return multiple phone calls for this article.)
Gates said he became a Fourth Amendment advocate after a years-long fight with Child Protective Services, in 2002 after the agency accused him of emotionally abusing his 13 children in — some of whom were adopted. No evidence of emotional abuse was ever found and the agency returned the children.
“I’m a citizen statesman who is trying to fight the overreach of government,” Gates said. “Every time a bill is passed, it gives power to something — it’s usually to government. And it’s at the expense of freedom and liberty. I really want to take the power from government, and give it back to the people.”
Like Kolkhorst, Gates listed border control as one of his top priorities, suggesting that Texas create a separate law enforcement agency that lives and works on the border.
Cross said immigration and border security have become hot topics in the special election, propelled in part by President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration. Candidates are running against Obama as much as each other, she said.
“Just from the little bit I’ve seen so far, it looks like Obama may be running for state Senator of District 18,” Cross said. “The vast majority of people who would turn out to vote in SD18, Obama has them all fired up.”
In a conservative district with turnout likely to be low, Cross said, the two Democrats face a formidable challenge.
Democrat Christian E. Hawking, a lawyer from Rosenberg said she found out about the election just days before she filed to run. She previously ran unsuccessfully for a city council seat.
“I am optimistic, you have to be,” Hawking said. “I think this is exciting. It is a clean slate; we get to pick someone new. And I think that I’d be good at it.”
Democrat Cynthia Drabek, who recently ran unsuccessfully for Texas House District 85, also filed to run. Both Drabek and Hawking said public education funding is a top priority for them.
Election day is Dec. 6.