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Dallas County sees cluster of competitive Texas House races

Four Republican incumbents in North Texas are fighting off Democratic challengers in what could be some of November's closest contests.

L-R, top row: State Rep. Rodney Anderson, R-Grand Prairie, and Democratic challenger Terry Meza; state Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale and Democratic challenger Rhetta Bowers. L-R, bottom row: state Rep. Linda Koop, R-Dallas, and Democratic challenger Laura Irvin; and state Rep. Kenneth Sheets and Democratic challenger Victoria Neave.

DALLAS — Four Republican state representatives in Dallas County hope their legislative records will help them fend off Democratic challenges in what could be some of November’s closest state legislative races.

State Reps. Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie, Cindy Burkett of Sunnyvale, Linda Koop of Dallas and Kenneth Sheets of Dallas each outraised their respective Democratic opponents during the summer and early fall. And Sheets’ race against Victoria Neave has become the most expensive Texas House race in the state, with the two collectively raising more than $436,000.

While the Republican-drawn districts have favored GOP candidates, Dallas County in the past decade has become solidly Democratic, and some of its House races are consistently close contests — especially in presidential election years.

District 102

In northern Dallas County’s District 102 race, former Dallas City Council member Koop is seeking a second term in her contest against nonprofit program director Laura Irvin.

Koop declined through a campaign staffer to comment for this story. Her website lists securing the U.S.-Mexico border, funding road construction and maintenance and cutting taxes as key issues.

Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Phillip Huffines said voters are concerned about sustaining the state’s economic strength, which he attributes to low taxes and “reasonable” regulation.

“So our candidates are focused on keeping that and job growth and prosperity growing,” Huffines said. 

Irvin, though, blasted Koop for supporting campus carry legislation and a law that overturned Denton’s voter-approved ban on fracking. She also said that Republicans’ fights against marriage equality and Planned Parenthood wasted taxpayer money.

Irvin said her chief goals if elected are to expand Medicaid, increase teacher salaries and increase the minimum wage.

“You can’t work 60 hours a week or 70 hours a week and live in decent housing if you make minimum wage,” Irving said. 

District 105

In western Dallas County’s District 105 race, title insurance executive Anderson, 48, of Grand Prairie faces off against attorney Terry Meza, 67. Anderson said his accessibility to constituents and support of law enforcement justify another term. He also wants to suspend controversial STAAR testing in schools.

“It’s that high-stakes testing, over and over and over, that people have a problem with,” Anderson said. 

The Democratic research and strategy group Lone Star Project targeted Anderson, Burkett and Sheets in ads that criticize their votes to slash billions in state funding for schools during a 2011 budget crisis.

Anderson said the Legislature had to make tough decisions in 2011 but has since restored the funds and that schools now receive more than they ever have from the state. Meza disagreed, saying that current school funding is closer to 2003 levels.

Meza criticized Anderson for accepting campaign contributions from a payday lender that she said preys upon the district’s poorest residents. She also said lawmakers haven’t done enough to reform the beleaguered Child Protective Services. Meza opposes vouchers for charter schools, something her opponent supports.

“Our district deserves better,” she said of Anderson. 

District 107

In eastern Dallas County, the District 107 race heated up last week after the two attorneys lobbed attacks against each other in campaign media. Sheets, 39, criticized Neave, 35, for owning an expensive home outside the district, and she accused him of not protecting the state’s most vulnerable children. 

Sheets said health care laws he championed about mammogram notices for women with dense breast tissue and benefit coverage for people with acute brain injuries reflect his commitment to constituents. He also said he wants to maintain the economic prosperity that keeps drawing new companies to the state.

“We’re going to continue those trends,” Sheets said. 

Neave said she wants to bring the voice of working-class families to a Legislature that will wrestle with school finance reform. She said chief goals are making sure property insurance is affordable, college tuition doesn’t increase and teachers get pay raises.

“Some of them are working two jobs just to make ends meet,” Neave said. 

District 113

In far eastern Dallas County’s District 113, Burkett of Sunnyvale faces a challenge from Democratic substitute teacher Rhetta Andrews Bowers.

Burkett declined through a campaign staffer to comment on this story. She was instrumental in securing more funds for highway construction and maintenance in the past two legislative sessions.

Huffines, the county party chair, said funding necessary infrastructure is key to continued corporate relocations to Texas.

“They’re occurring because we have excellent representatives in Austin from this area,” he said. 

Bowers said she wants to focus on several education issues, including teacher pay, preventing program cuts and fighting against charter school vouchers. She also wants to strengthen relationships between residents and law enforcement and raise the minimum wage.

“People are either overqualified for the work that they’re doing or they’re working multiple jobs just to get a good salary,” she said. 

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