Political Analysts review Texas House District 71 Candidate Forum

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ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – After Texas House District 71 candidates Stan Lambert and Liz Case went head to head in a forum, KTAB/KRBC spoke with two political analysts for a debate analysis.

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Dr. Neal Coates, Professor of Political Science at Abilene Christian University, and Dr. Paul Fabrizio, Professor of Political Science at McMurry University, spoke with KTAB anchors Bob Bartlett and Joni McKinnon after the District 71 Texas House of Representatives candidate forum.

Fabrizio and Coates noticed a different tone during the debate and highlighted some impactful moments.

“I thought that the debate was very professional. We have seen with all their ads, their mailers, the numerous mailers, that there’s a real hard-headedness that’s going on here. But today was mostly calm and cool. Their closing statements were a little bit hard on each other, the phone number, the lack of an office here in town, but other than that, this was a different tone than what we’ve seen through the campaign,” Fabrizio said.

“A couple of answers there at the very end that I thought were important. In Mrs.’s Case, she did emphasize that her main issue is what a lot of Republicans’ main issue is, and that is closing the border and doing something about illegal immigration. And so she reminded the audience that the governor had endorsed her because of that. With Stan Lambert, his response right after that… although maybe not formal, it was more who is Stan Lambert. He said I agree with Mrs. Case, and during his comments tonight, I kind of felt like he was trying to communicate that he listens to persons kind of across the spectrum, whether he’s voting in Austin or here in the districts that he’s going to have a little bit more of an open policy to hearing persons and working with them. Just kind of felt that that way. So I heard that from both of them,” Coates added.

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Both shared that this race differed greatly from what our local area typically sees.

“I can’t recall a campaign that has been as nasty as this one here. And I’ve been living in Abilene for more than a quarter century. And it’s just like, where did this come from? I think you know, at the end of last year, none of us were anticipating that it would descend to this level. And yet, here we are. And then we have a debate. And when you look at the issues, it’s actually really hard to find out where they differ from each other. We ended up with two conservative Republicans here. Despite all the attacks and when it comes down to a lot of the issues, really, is there that much difference?” Fabrizio said.

“It’s also unique in our memory of any race here locally, and there are some reasons for that. As you think about the special sessions and what was debated, and you get to the school voucher issue, it’s known, and it’s in the press that the governor wanted persons who would support school choice. And of course, with the impeachment of the Attorney General, those House members who were against both those men on both those issues became targets,” Coates shared. “As October ended, and as November ended, there was some recruiting going on. And the question that would be helpful to the average voter is because residency is an issue here, who recruited her, or when that happened because that seemed to have triggered all of these flyers in our mailboxes. Of course, it’s not just Lambert; there are nine others who have this $6 million pot that the governor is using when these persons are very interested in school vouchers. That has created a different tenor in this particular race. And then, when you throw on not just the endorsements from those state leaders, you also have the endorsement of Donald Trump. And that has created the average voter here in this four-county district confusion because they like the governor. But the governor is saying this, and they like Stan Lambert, so there’s some confusion, and I would almost go as far as to say chaos. And that’s very unfortunate because that’s not the history of this district. And that’s not the history of the past several elections for this, this particular seat, or the persons beforehand, who have held this seat.”

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Fabrizio and Coates shared their thoughts on the cause of the atmosphere that has been created.

“What’s going on here is that the Republican Party is eating itself. This is a Republican civil war. And I’ll even be more blunt: this is a power play by the Republican powers in the States. So the governor, lieutenant governor, Attorney General, and Senator Ted Cruz, to get out of the party, those who are not 100% with them on their agenda. And so that’s what this is. So they are willing to find candidates, not just taking place here, but this deal set has taken place all over the state; they’re willing to find candidates who will agree with those power players. They will make sure they have more than enough money to run the campaign and feed our mailbox with all these things. And also, they will make sure that they have advice on how to run their campaign,” Fabrizio said. “What we’re seeing, this is gonna sound horrible, and I don’t quite mean it this way. But in essence, Liz Case is a pawn of the larger players in the state. And, you know, the accusation could be that Stan Lambert is a pawn of his donors, and that’s something that Liz Case has said, but he has stood at times away from those power players. And there’s consequences for doing that. And the consequence now was those power players have decided he’s got to go, and they’re uniting with money to try to get him out of here.”

“Remember that before November, that Stan Lambert was just another representative. Usually voted with Governor Abbott, a loyal member of the party, won his races, four to one, five to one. So he was representing the district, listened to them closely on the school voucher issue, and decided that he was going to vote for his district instead of voting the way the governor and so now, that seems to be quite a difficult situation for him. But he got endorsed by the Land Commissioner, by our congressman, by our former mayor, so he was ready for reelection. And then these other powers lined up,” Coates said.

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Fabrizio brought up a previous occasion when a political party was dealing with internal conflicts.

“This is actually predicted. If you look at the Democratic Party when Texas was a democratic state. If you wanted to have power in the state, so I’m talking about the 20s, 30s, 40s 50s. If you wanted to have power, you were part of the Democratic Party. Well, there was an effort to get rid of those Democrats who didn’t agree with the powers that be. There were nasty fights. I don’t know if anybody’s alive who remembers, but Coke Stevenson against Lyndon Johnson running for the US Senate, here in Texas, just nasty, nasty things all inter-party. And so that’s what we’re seeing today. When you’re the dominant party, there are still disputes that rise up in the Republican Party. And those inner family fights are not pretty,” Fabrizio said.

According to Coates, regardless of the elected candidate, there is work to be done.

“Another thought about this is what happens on March 6? Because if Lambert wins, will he be able to still be able to bring home the bacon and represent us in a way that people in Austin will say, we’re listening to you? If Liz Case wins? Will she listen to the district? That would be the response there. And so it creates quite a difficult situation, no matter who wins, and whoever does win needs to really mend some fences,” Coates said.

Coates shared that more and more people are heading to the voting polls.

“There are a lot of people coming out to vote; it’s 35% more than the last time Donald Trump was on the ballot. Because this is a Donald Trump country, the people who have come out aren’t coming out to vote for Donald Trump; they’ll come out in November; they have come out either because he has endorsed someone, and that’s only a recent endorsement, or because they’ve known about the issue of residency for Mrs. Case for some weeks. So they’re coming out to vote to make their voices heard. We’re gonna be learning more and more about why they’re doing that, but residency does matter,” Coates said.

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During the campaign, questions about Case’s place of residence have been brought up, which Coates thinks can distract from the key issues.

“I think if you look at the court cases, it’s that person’s intent. And how do you measure intent? Well, we think about words, and we think about actions. And if you think about the words here, they might not match up with those actions, such as the homestead exemption in 2023. Well, why can’t that be here? Why is there a house in Dallas? Or when you go to Austin, why do you sign in just this last legislative session several times that you’re from Dallas? If she really did move here several years ago, in her mind, then she would have said, I’m from Abilene, or often Dallas and Abilene; you can be from two different places, right?” Coates questioned. “So this goes back to the point I was making a few minutes ago. When did she decide to run? Whether someone approached her or she just said, ‘Hey, this is this is an opportunity. I’ve been a school teacher; I know the issues. I’ve been an activist for a long time.’ I’d like to know when she made that decision. Because when you do make decisions and you get ready to run for office, you do get your ducks in a row. So she’s kind of opened the door here for criticism on the homestead exemption and on the voting five times after her application says, I’ve lived here for two and a half years. That’s a difficult thing, and you don’t have to have that issue because if you deal with that in a timely manner, then you can talk about what’s important for District 71. So it’s a very large distraction from Mrs. Case.”

“I’m not sure where it came from, and it really seemed to have emerged just recently as something that I think struck a chord. All of a sudden, I’m hearing about it. She’s been in the race for months now, but all of a sudden, we’re just hearing about her residency as a problem. So, that means that the Lambert campaign has been successful in raising it up as an issue. There’s a lot of things we don’t know. We don’t know, for example, why specifically, the Republican Party chose to keep her on the ballot. They could have kicked her off, and the fact that they put her on the ballot as a candidate, they accepted her as a ballot, again goes back to the fact that I think that this is a power play by the powers of the Republican Party to get rid of Stan Lambert,” Fabrizio shared.

If Lambert were to retain this position, Fabrizio and Coates believe that he may face more opposition in office, but something else could form depending on election outcomes statewide.

“How do you get along with persons in the big tent, whose you sometimes disagree with or who sometimes have more power than you or sometimes use that power in inappropriate ways? You still can’t just go home; you still have a job to do. And so he’s gonna, if he wins reelection, he is going to think about how best to do that. And he won’t be the only person,” Coates said.

“There’s going to be a group of Republicans, assuming they win, who are gonna go there, and they’re going to go, ‘ah, the governor hates my guts.’ Let me just add that one of those people who’s being challenged is the speaker. Right now, he is in a tough reelection fight. If he wins, he’s emboldened. The Republicans who were challenged, like Stan Lambert, if they win, could also form a clique and become more powerful. So it’s not just he’s gonna go have to go begging to the governor. But depending on the outcome of this election, statewide, there is a possibility that there could rise up a different Republican power group than there is right now,” Fabrizio added.

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Fabrizio and Coates ended the Post-Forum Wrap with some final thoughts.

“In the end, we have two people who want this office. We have two people when you look at the issues, who really don’t disagree that much with each other. And so in one sense, the choice is really hard. In another sense, it really is a question of representation and who you want to represent you? And you have Stan Lambert, who’s made certain choices to go against the party. And you have Liz Case, who’s saying she will make other choices to go in a different direction,” Fabrizio said.

“Remember that most of the choices over his career. Stan Lambert made with the party… To me, the number of voters that have come out is the big story here. We political scientists always want people to vote; we want people to make their voices heard. And so why are they coming out in large numbers? To me, we’re reminded that democracy matters because in democracy, you hear people, but you also hear people from different places. You hear from across Texas, for example, you don’t hear them just from one part of Texas. You even hear rural Texas, and so the concern that people are having, I perceive with a Dallasite being here seems to be the big story in this race, which is unfortunate because there are more important issues to talk about. But this also means that whoever recruited these persons didn’t do a good job of vetting for this one particular candidate. The other candidates don’t have this issue. And so I think that’s what the voters here are realizing,” Coates said.

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