By Timna Rutledge
Words got a little saucy between Texas House State Rep. Stuart Spitzer, MD and former State Rep. Lance Gooden Thursday evening January 28, 2016 during the Kaufman County GOP Debate held in Terrell at the Herman Furlough Jr. Middle School, where a crowd of about 200 people gathered to hear what candidates from various District area and local contested races had to say.
Gooden is trying to return to the House, where Spitzer has spent the last year supported by his Tea Party conservative base. Candidates in each contested race made opening statements after attendees mingled and visited over coffee. Citizens were invited to write questions for candidates anonymously, which would be asked during the forum.
Spitzer was first to make his opening statement. “I was elected about two years ago, and sworn in a year ago, and it’s been a great experience. It’s been an honor to be down there for you guys in the State House. We’ve passed a lot of good, solid legislation… protected our pastors from being prosecuted, gave you some money back, passed four billion dollars in tax cuts, and was able to pass gun legislation, which we haven’t been able to pass before.” Despite claims by his opponent that he hasn’t done anything, Spitzer said, “Every organization in the State that’s a legitimate conservative organization has either endorsed or supported me. It’s an honor to have those, and that’s including the National Rifle Association, so I have good conservative leadership on my side. You’re hearing a lot today [at the debate] about me being ineffective. Well, I want to tell you, I did a lot…and I’m honored to be endorsed by all those folks.”
What I had to do this [past] year when I got into office was clean up some stuff. When I got into office, the Terrell State Hospital was running right towards being privatized, and so I’m happy to put an end to that. Somebody asked me earlier, ‘Who’s your biggest contributor?’ …That would be my wife.” Spitzer then recounted that his predecessor and current opponent, Lance Gooden served four years in the Texas House. “While he was in there,” explained Spitzer, “he took almost one million dollars out of this District. For that, he passed four bills. Of those four bills, two of those were for a rich donor. One of those created a highway. One of those created the fee.” Spitzer concluded, and asserted that he is strong conservative leadership.
Gooden responded, “It’s a first to hear an incumbent attack the challenger in introductory remarks, but I really appreciate you all for being here… I was raised here in Terrell. I won’t bore you with my history, but I want to kind of cut to the chase. When I was your State Representative, we accomplished a great deal. I was very proud to be a supporter of the Speaker of the House [Joe Straus] and be on his leadership team. I was very proud of the bills that we passed. We passed voter ID, we spent more money on voter security, we balanced the budget, we accomplished a lot of things that needed to be accomplished that had been talked about for many years. On an individual level, some of the bills I passed that I authored or sponsored, one of them, I’ll pick on our District Clerk Rhonda Hughey, one of them was a Process Server bill that required that they be basically, regulated because before, if you were getting a knock on your door by someone saying you’re about to be sued, then they could have been a convicted felon, or anything horrible you can think of; so what we did was we created a Board that they wanted… that required them to follow the law and be good citizens, and we were fortunate enough to have Rhonda Hughey appointed on that Commission. As a direct result of my action, we of Kaufman County actually had more influence than other counties on that particular Board.
“Another example of a bill that I passed in my first session is one that has Henderson County Fairgrounds in a great financial position today. And, I also want to say, if you author or sponsor a bill, that means you put your name on the bill and you shepherd it through the House and it becomes law. If you sponsor a bill, that means a Senator gets his bill or her bill through the Senate and then you sponsor it as a Member, and then you shepherd it through the process. I authored or sponsored seven total bills in two years, that became law… It’s very, very difficult to pass legislation in the Texas House, I’ll give you that, Mr. Spitzer; but it’s really unacceptable to have a House Member who can’t pass a single bill, not one single bill. The bills that he was talking about, he’s taking credit for the work of our leadership in the Texas House. He had no part of that. The Speaker of the House and leadership that he voted against are the reasons that we accomplished the great things that we’ve accomplished as a State,” accused Gooden.
Kaufman County Court at Law Judge Dennis Jones moderated and posed the questions, some of which were directed to individual candidates. The first was directed to both candidates, with Gooden being given the first opportunity to respond. The question: “Do you support school choice?”
“Before I answer that,” said Gooden, “I’d like to make a request that we announce who the person is that’s asking the question. You know, I’ve heard a lot of petty questions in other races… Applause if you agree with me. If you’re big enough to write a question, you ought to be big enough to put your name on it.” He then suggested that names be provided at future forums, “so that our Party Chair doesn’t have to take credit for every question.”
Redirecting his focus to the question, Gooden said, “The answer is, I support our public education more than anyone on this stage that’s been a Member of the Legislature. I’m opposed to not only vouchers with any forms of diversion of public funds from public education. My opponent claims that he doesn’t believe in vouchers, but I challenge him to say that he opposed any and all forms of diversions of funds away from public education, including tax breaks for companies and people that contribute to private schools. It’s a big issue, and he has not been honest. He has said in front of superintendents that he is pro-vouchers.”
Spitzer had 30 seconds for rebuttal, and indicated it wasn’t appropriate to “change the rules as we go, so I want you to know, I’m going to stick to the rules the way that they are, and I do think it’s important that we do that. As far as the voucher question goes… I think that every child should have a chance for a great education. If some child is trapped in some school that’s awful, they should have a chance to get out of it. I’m not for taking any money away from the public schools. I want to go on record saying that right now. But I do think we need to find some way that children that are failing schools can get a decent education… The private schools don’t want vouchers. They don’t want the rules that go along with them. What we’ve got to do is fix the rules that are holding our public schools back, so that our public schools can strive high… We need to improve our public schools for all our children.”
The next question: “Have either of you ever been found guilty of an ethics violation, and as a result paid a fine?”
Spitzer simply answered, “No.”
Gooden answered, “And, who is that question from?” There was a muffled voice on stage. Again Gooden spoke, “Okay, that was a question from Jan Shedd. Jan brings this up a lot. She equates filing a paper a few days late and having to pay a late filing fee with being found guilty. A judge in a court finds folks guilty. The answer is, no, I have not been found guilty of anything; but like Dr. Spitzer, we’ve all had complaints from the Ethics Commission, which is why it needs to be overhauled.”
*Editor’s Note: Jan Shedd was in attendance and was asked later if she indeed posed the question. She said that while she had submitted a question at the last public forum, she had not submitted any questions at the January 28 Terrell debate.
Judge Jones directed the next question to both candidates as well. “What legislation did you author your first session that was passed?”
Gooden answered first, “Well, I’ve got the list right here. There’s seven total bills that I authored or sponsored. Oh, we’re talking about the first session. Excuse me, that won’t take as long. House bill 1458. That was passed. Excuse me, that was two years ago, forgive me. Okay. 83rd Legislature. The first bill I passed in my freshman year was 1458… The other two, for a total of three, was 1411 and 1827.” He then rubbed in the fact that Spitzer had not gotten any of his own bills to the floor for debate or a vote, as Gooden indicated that he, himself would be more effective as State Representative.
“Effective, conservative representation, that’s exactly what we have,” Spitzer rebutted. He then pointed out that the three bills Gooden had passed in his freshman year were only passed with the support of a Speaker who “is not the most conservative guy in the world.” In fact, several right wing conservative groups, including Empower Texans, Texas Eagle Forum, and Texas Right to Life have accused Speaker Straus of being a RINO (Republican in Name Only).
Spitzer told the audience that he was working for the “winning team” and on the House floor debating for a number of conservative bills. “I did what I said I was going to do, and I would do it again.”
The next question was, “What kind of work do you do in your private life? And, would you release your income taxes for the last five years?”
Spitzer answered first, “I am a general surgeon, operated on somebody this morning, saw somebody this afternoon, and have a few cases tomorrow, and so that’s where I make my living. This job (State Representative) does make 600 dollars a month. I think that’s very important we know how people make their living when this job only pays 600 dollars a month. To that end, four years ago I did release my taxes, I did the second time around. You need to know where I’m making my money and where my money is coming from…. I’m happy to be open and responsible for anything.”
Gooden answered, “To answer the income tax question, I do not intend to release my IRS statements. I file every form that’s required of me just like the other candidates up here have. To my professional life, I’m a consultant. I do insurance work, I have experience creating capital insurance companies. I’m not an insurance broker, but I do do consulting work, and I’ve done some accounting work as well; and I’m going to pick on our Mayor because our Mayor called me a few years ago. He had a problem with his business and asked for some help. I’d like for you to go and ask him for a reference. The company I was with really performed well for the Mayor’s company; and I’m really proud of that.”
The following question was directed at Gooden, “How can you call yourself a conservative when you support Speaker Joe Straus when he and his appointed committee chairman continuously block so much of the conservative legislation?”
“Thank you, Jan for that question,” Gooden responded. “It’s a really great question. I’m so proud of Speaker Joe Straus, and you know, I think Dr. Spitzer must be proud of him too, because in his opening remarks he told you about all the conservative victories that Joe Straus was responsible for. It was really fascinating to hear all the things, the pastor protection act, the open carry bill, these are all things that Joe Straus helped usher in, so you can’t say that you’re opposed to the Speaker of the House because he’s not conservative enough, and then get up in front of everyone and talk about all of the great conservative accomplishments that the Speaker helped accomplish…. I’m very proud of Joe Straus as Speaker of the House… and I’ll be proud to support him again, assuming he runs again, and I’m pretty sure he will because there’s been no other Speaker in the history of the State of Texas who has accomplished so much for the conservative movement.”
A similar question of Spitzer was asked, “Will you support Joe Straus for Speaker of the House?”
Spitzer said, “I didn’t support him last time. I’m not sure if there’s going to be a Speaker race this year or not.” Spitzer said conservatives stood up and said, “Hey, we’ve got to move this to the right. We can’t stand another year, another session where we have to have this horrible moderate legislation. We need to advance things to the right, so I went in there and I voted the way I voted, and we moved things to the right. The things I talked about, the Pastor Protection Act, was not passed until this session. It was brought up before, but it wasn’t passed. Open carry: it was brought up almost every session, but it wasn’t passed until this session, but I chose to… work towards passing good legislation that’s going to help out all Texans.” He concluded, “I’m not signing a promise card for anybody, including Joe Straus.”
Again, a question was directed to Gooden. “Why did you try to privatize Terrell Hospital?”
“I’ve never tried to privatize the State Hospital, but when the Governor’s office said this is what’s going to happen, I took him at his word. That was Rick Perry at the time; and I immediately went into, well, let’s get the best deal. Let’s make sure we’ve got a hospital, if it’s going to go private, then it’s a good thing,” Gooden answered.
He then claimed that no one has ever heard a thing from Dr. Spitzer on this issue. “No one heard from Dr. Spitzer. You’ve never heard one public statement from him until this week when a meeting was called to have a Town Hall, one month before Election Day. The State Hospital employees have never seen doctor Spitzer.” He accused Spitzer of making no public statement and not taking a stand on the difficult issue.
*Editor’s Note: The Northeast Texan published a press release from Rep. Spitzer’s office on November 3, 2015 titled, “Legislators and HHS Commissioners Visit Terrell State Hospital; Spitzer Hopeful of Medical Ward Restoration.”
Spitzer rebutted, “Sometimes you do something behind the scenes that works a lot better. I know the people at the Hospital. I went up there and just did my things privately. I got people I know from church and the gym, and asked them to show me around, and I asked those people, what do you guys want? How am I going to do this?” Spitzer explained that he went to some Town Hall city meetings with the Mayor, and some of the people there told Spitzer that, “this was a bad, bad deal.” It was requested that he stop the privatization, which he did.
Look for stories on The Northeast Texan web site in the coming days regarding candidates in each of the races represented Thursday, January 28, 2016 at the Kaufman County GOP Debate. Contested candidates for State Board of Education, District 4 State Representative, Justice of the 5th Court of Appeals District – Place 7, 422nd District Judge, Kaufman County Sheriff, Tax Assessor-Collector, and County Commissioner Pct. 3 were present, and given time for comments and/or questions. Primary Election Day is March 1, 2016.
Related stories: Kaufman County Pct. 3 Commissioner Candidates Debate in Terrell