While the borders for Texas legislative districts look different this year, many Fort Worth voters casting ballots in Senate District 9 will choose between two familiar names.
Business owner and incumbent state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, 58, and Gwenn Burud, D-Fort Worth, 54, a former public school teacher for deaf and hard of hearing students, are competing for the seat that covers most of the northern half of Tarrant County and extends into Benbrook after the most recent round of redistricting.
The two were on the ballot in 2018, with Hancock winning 54% of the vote and Burud 46%. About 20,000 votes separated them.
“When I got into the race, it was obviously a long shot,” Burud said of the 2018 election. “The person who ran prior to me lost by a 30-point deficit, so we worked really hard with engaging with voters at the doors where they’re at.”
Even though she lost in the last cycle, she said she was proud to have narrowed the gap down to 8 points and is working to build off of that momentum this year.
The former public school teacher of 28 years is hopeful that a boost in donations, which allowed her to invest more in voter outreach efforts, will make the difference this year.
As of the July filing deadline, Burud raised $152,984, spent $127,570 and had $61,693 cash on hand from Jan. 1 through June 30. Hancock reported $2,641 cash on hand during the same period. However, the Texans for Kelly Hancock Super Political Action Committee raised $63,429, spent $82,178 and had just under $3.6 million cash on hand between Feb. 20 to June 30, according to reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.
“Frankly, I’m excited to start getting out,” Hancock said. “I’ve had some health issues that I’ve been dealing with, with a kidney transplant in July, and so we’re back and ready to hit the ground running.”
Before being elected to the state Senate in 2012, he served three terms in the state House and 13 years on the Birdville ISD school board.
The pair are running to fill one of the state Senate’s 31 seats for a four-year term.
Currently, the Senate has 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats, and each member is paid a salary of $7,200 per year.
Important voting information
The last day to register to vote is Oct. 11
Early voting begins Oct. 24
Election Day is Nov. 8
Both candidates mentioned concerns about a hot-button issue for Texans: property taxes.
As an example of how he is working to provide tax relief for his constituents, Hancock pointed to the passage of a 2019 law. The law requires tax rates to be shared in an online database and also requires most local taxing entities to hold an election for any increases higher than 3.5% of total property tax revenue.
“What we want to do is make sure that the voters, the constituents, have a voice in that if we’re going to spend more than what is at those levels,” he said.
Burud would like to see the state kick in a higher share of funding for public schools rather than having residents fund the bulk of kids’ education through local property taxes. In 2019 the Texas Tribune reported that local property taxes pay for about 64% of public school budgets and the state makes up the rest.
“The state is trying to take away local control and they’re blaming local government for that happening when it’s really not kicking in their fair share,” she said.
Burud also wants to see a cost of living adjustment for retired teachers and criticized the emphasis on high-stakes testing.
“I was a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing, and my position was working with families who have a baby, from (the) birth to three population,” she said. “No one child, no one baby, no one family is the same.”
Hancock said he has taken note of the high levels of engagement at local school board meetings and what he’s heard from constituents and said he wants to make sure parents have a voice in education.
“We’ll continue to look at ways to do that and to empower those parents to make sure that they’re able to and have a voice in what is best for their child,” he said. “Because every child is different.
When it comes to Texas’ power grid, Burud said more work needs to be done to ensure that it can withstand the extreme heat and cold.
“Oil companies got a break and it came out of … it came out of our wallets,” Burud said. “So when we talk about regulation, I think we, everybody, can agree we want the lights to stay on. And we want affordable electricity and gas.”
Hancock highlighted the role his office played in passing legislation in the aftermath of the 2021 winter storm, including a bill he authored that restructured the board of Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT.
“We really passed, I mean, 13 different pieces of legislation. Our office was really key on that,” he said. “And if you notice, we had a very, very successful summer where we always had additional capacity on there. We’ve made major changes on that, (and) continued to work with the Public Utility Council and ERCOT as they addressed that.”
Both candidates, though familiar with the ropes and each other, will have another battle to deal with: voter turnout.
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Midterm elections generally see lower voter participation than in years where there is a presidential election.
In 2018, more than 67% of the voting age population in District 9 was registered to vote, and of those who were registered, nearly 54% cast a ballot.
Matthew Wilson, an associate professor of political science at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, estimates that voter turnout could improve slightly this year because of highly motivating events for both major parties.
Wilson doesn’t expect this year’s turnout to be as high as presidential elections, but estimates that it could jump by about 5% nationally.
“On the Republican side, there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with the Biden administration and with the economic condition of the country, and I think that will drive Republicans to the polls,” Wilson said. “On the Democratic side, I think that Dobbs’ decision certainly galvanized Democratic activists, and that will tend to drive them to the polls. So I think this will be a fairly high turnout election for the midterms.”
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.