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East Texas legislators discuss education funding, border security and the race for House Speaker

Watch the video of our conversation with state Sen. Robert Nichols and state Rep. Travis Clardy, or check out the recap.

East Texas legislators Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, sat down with The Texas Tribune’s CEO, Evan Smith, in Nacogdoches on Monday to discuss issues ranging from public education funding to border security. Here are some highlights from the conversation:

Is Clardy running for speaker of the Texas House?

House Speaker Joe Straus announced last year that he would not seek re-election. Clardy is on the long list of lawmakers who have shown interest in running to replace Straus as speaker, but he declined Monday to officially announce his candidacy, saying that the move would be premature.

Clardy said it’s too early to announce his intentions because the speaker is elected by members of the Legislature who aren’t elected until November, and it’s difficult to say exactly what that Legislature will look like politically. Regardless, Clardy said he fully expects the next speaker to be a Republican.

“I certainly haven’t ruled it out, but first thing’s first, I have an election in November we need to take care of,” Clardy said.

Should Texas reallocate border security funding toward public education?

With a Republican in the White House who has made border security a priority, some people in Texas say the state should redirect the money it spends on protecting its southern border to other purposes. Nichols and Clardy disagreed — at least for now.

Nichols said the federal government needs to show it has improved its ability to secure the border before the Legislature spends that money on public education. Clardy, meanwhile, said the federal government has historically not done a good job of protecting Texas’ border, and he said the money spent on border security is well spent.

Clardy said he would be open to cutting spending on border security once the federal government steps up. But he warned that simply throwing more money toward public education in the state won’t necessarily solve its problems.

Is Texas doing enough to fund higher education?

Both Clardy and Nichols emphasized the importance of investing in higher education in the state, and Clardy said he doesn’t think the state is putting as much money toward higher education as it should be.

“Sometimes folks in state government look at everything we spend money on as an expense,” Clardy said. “To me, when you talk about education, whether it be public or higher education, it’s an investment in the future.”

Nichols said he believes the state has already done a good job of investing in higher education, but emphasized that investing in higher education benefits the Texas economy because employers are more likely to invest in places with an educated workforce.

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Robert Nichols Texas Legislature Travis Clardy