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A look at Republican candidates for House District 50

Tuesday, February 17, 2004 by

By Andy Rhodes

Two political newcomers square off against incumbent Jack Stick in the March 9 Republican primary race for District 50 State Representative. Coming off his first term in office, Stick hopes to maintain the momentum he built by addressing local and statewide issues impacting residents in this northern Travis County region. The challengers, Mike Davis and Michael Elkins, claim their perspectives on school finance reform and economic development will offer a much-needed fresh voice in the Legislature. The winner will face Democratic challenger Mark Strama.

Mike Davis

Mike Davis, 55, believes his day-to-day experience as a public school teacher provides him with the most practical qualifications for the position of District 50 state representative. For 24 years, Davis has witnessed the impact of state-funded education, and he feels legislators have lost touch with the real issues impacting teachers and students.

“There are some well-intentioned folks in the Legislature, but they don’t have the perspective of somebody like me who’s there day in and day out,” Davis said. “I’m not a politician, and I’ve never run for office before, but it’s the American way to put your passions into action.”

Davis, who owns a small ranch near Pflugerville and teaches high school math in the Pflugerville school district, claims the current legislative representation has also lost sight of issues he faces daily in rural and suburban areas. For the rural regions, Davis says the most important issues are taxes and protecting family farms from political and financial interests. “We need somebody to speak up for the farmers; they’re the bedrock of our society and they’re getting pushed further out every day,” Davis said.

In suburban areas, Davis believes the highest priority is to address the school finance issue. The “Robin Hood” recapture program is unfair and should be remedied immediately, he said. “I want to make sure all school districts are taken care of,” Davis stated. “In this country, we’ve always honored people who do well. It’s not right to take away from them and disproportionately pay for education at their expense.”

Davis encourages residents in District 50 to cast their votes for him because he is a candidate “coming from the perspective of a private citizen.” Although he says he has no higher political aspirations, Davis said he has specific goals to assist students, teachers, farmers and other citizens in District 50 who want their voices heard in state government.

“If I’m elected, I’ll walk on the straight path God set for me and I’ll do what’s right,” Davis said. “I’d like to be this district’s representative because I think it’s important to have somebody there who does what they truly believe in.”

Michael Elkins

Candidate Michael Elkins, on the other hand, believes that open dialogue and improved relations are the key components to representing District 50 and addressing difficult issues. Elkins, an engineer, has lived in the Austin area for more than two decades. He says his commitment to the citizens of District 50 will be manifested in the fresh ideas he plans to bring to the Legislature. “This position appeals to me because I’d like to help solve some of the complicated problems we’re facing these days,” Elkins said.

At the top of his list is school finance, followed by health care, budget concerns and transportation issues. Although he admits he is just as challenged as the current legislators are about finding an effective solution to the “Robin Hood” system, Elkins says improved communication both within and outside of state government is a good way to start. “We need more bipartisan relationships within the Legislature,” Elkins said. “I could be a consensus builder by working with everyone, whether they’re liberal, conservative, Democrat or Republican.”

Regarding transportation, Elkins believes that recent concerns about toll roads in the area could have been avoided if the Legislature had adequately addressed the topic. “There’s been so much talk about toll roads around here, especially with 183,” he said. “That makes no sense to me whatsoever. The Legislature needs to put restrictions into place so we don’t have to waste our time addressing unnecessary issues like this. I’d like to help change that.”

Elkins also feels that open government is an essential tool for maintaining trust between lawmakers and citizens. If elected, he plans to keep the District 50 constituency regularly updated about legislative activity via the web and email.

Elkins, who will turn 44 this month, believes he is the right person for the job because he is a man of his convictions and will genuinely represent the district’s residents. “I’m asking voters to choose me because we need someone in office that will bring fresh ideas and someone who is a conservative family man,” he said. “I can promise that I will listen to what everyone has to say and be honest in all situations with the Legislature.”

Jack Stick

According to incumbent Jack Stick, experience is the key to winning the district’s Republican primary race. If he is re-elected in November, Stick plans to follow up his first term as a legislator by continuing to address important issues such as education, transportation and the economy.

Stick, 37, says his leadership position and experience in the Texas House provide him with the necessary background to make a difference. He is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and the House Corrections Committee (where he chairs the Subcommittee on Budget and Oversight). Stick is also the chairman of the House Appropriations Interim Committee on Community Supervision and Parole, and he chairs the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute Health and Human Services Task Force.

With his working knowledge of the Legislature, Stick says he hopes to maintain the momentum he built during his first term in office. “We made historic changes in the last session, and there’s more work to be done,” Stick said. “We need to address economic development issues, and we’re facing education and tax reform. I have the experience to participate actively in the process and I plan to give my constituents a voice to make positive changes for their children and grandchildren.”

Stick believes the most important issues facing residents in District 50 are education finance reform, refining the region’s transportation system (including ensuring the integrity of existing roads and addressing the toll road situation), education system reform and economic development.

Stick also claims Texans are on the verge of an “economic explosion” that could result in the creation of as many as 60,000 to 120,000 new jobs. “We must take advantage of this opportunity while we have it, and I have the experience to take us forward,” he said.

Citing his familiarity with the state’s political procedures, Stick said he is the only candidate who has a reliable record as an effective legislator. “I am a proven Republican who votes in the Republican primaries. My opponents rarely, if ever, do,” he said. “I have the ability to help move Texas forward in a way that’s positive and beneficial for everybody.”

According to online records from the Texas Ethics Commission, Stick raised more than $90,000 last year and had more than $52,000 cash on hand as of Dec. 31, 2003. He reported collecting $10,450 and spending about $40,000 on his 30-day report filed earlier this month. Elkins filed a report on January 15 stating he had neither received nor spent any contributions. No report could be found for Michael Davis. Democrat Mark Strama, who seems likely to face Stick, reported borrowing $25,000 for political purposes last year, but had no cash on hand as of Dec. 31, 2003.

Council approves higher density zoning for West campus

One group endorses plan; another opposes it

The Austin City Council has approved high-density residential zoning for another site near the University of Texas campus. The change from MF-4 to MF-6-CO at 713 W. 26th Street will allow for construction of a 55-unit complex that developers hope will attract UT students eager for the convenience of being able to walk to their classes.

The site is currently occupied by a single-family home with a garage apartment and parking lot. But under the plans submitted by the 26th Street Partners, the lot would be converted into a five-story building with eleven apartments on each floor. The building would have a central courtyard and a three-level parking structure with enough room for 125 cars. One level of parking would be below ground, one at surface level and one above-grade. The maximum height of the building will be 75 feet. “I feel like we are entirely appropriate to the scale of the neighborhood,” said architect Jim Nutt, “particularly in light of what we will see happen in that area in the next ten years. We feel like we are sort of on the leading edge of that.”

Agent Jim Bennett told Council members the developers had reached an agreement covering several aspects of the building, including improvements to the streetscape and sidewalk, with the University Area Partners. UAP Vice President Mike McHone said his organization endorsed the increased density that MF-6 would bring. “We have worked long and hard with the university to try to accomplish a goal of bringing the students back to the university neighborhood,” said McHone. “It is vital that the student body return to the campus. Envision Central Texas has endorsed the addition of density by building up, rather than out. This is an excellent opportunity for the Council to show that it is committed to that long-range goal for the five-county area.”

The project is within the UAP neighborhood. But a recently organized neighborhood organization, the West Campus Neighborhood Association, opposed the zoning change. A representative of the WCNA argued that a height of 75 feet was too tall and would not be compatible with the rest of the neighborhood. The WCNA suggested a maximum height of 60 feet and also called on the Council to require more parking. Although 125 spaces for 55 living units does comply with the city code, the group contended that each unit would likely house more than two occupants, each with his or her own car. Bennett, told Council members that attempting to change the design to address WCNA concerns at this stage of the process was not feasible. “Had they been organized, we would have been glad to have met with them to try to mediate any problems that they have,” said Bennett. “But we’re already committed to an agreement on this property (with the UAP).”

The Council voted 6-0-1 to approve the upzoning on all three readings. “If we can ease the transportation burden by placing more students in taller structures near campus,” said Council Member Brewster McCracken, “then that is a positive step to take from a transportation and urban planning standpoint. It would be consistent with what the overwhelming majority of the respondents in the Envision Central Texas survey said was their vision for what is the proper land use planning in Central Texas. So, I am impressed with this proposal and I’ll support it.” Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman abstained from the vote. She requested additional information about the design and aesthetics of the project.

Press conferences this morning . . . Congressman Lloyd Doggett is set to announce “major federal funding” for an East Austin improvement project at 10am today. Joining him for the announcement will be Council Member Raul Alvarez and Jorge Guerra, the owner of El Azteca Restaurant. The announcement will take place at the restaurant, 2600 E. 7th Street . . . Becky Armendariz Klein, one of two Republican candidates for the same seat Doggett hopes to win, CD 25, is holding a press conference to launch her candidacy at 9:15am in the Bluebonnet Room 1 of the Doubletree Hotel, 303 W. 15th Street. She will also be doing an announcement in McAllen . . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The Urban Transportation Commission will hear a request to reduce the number of lanes planned for Escarpment Blvd., which runs through Circle C. Michele Haussman of Drenner Stuart Wolff Metcalfe von Kreisler said those who live in the area have a lingering fear that the road will be expanded. Since that’s not what the developer plans, the transportation plan should reflect reality, she said. The UTC is also scheduled to hear requests for changes to the plan for RM 2222, North Lake Creek Parkway and Manor Road. The will meet at 6pm in the 8th Floor Conference Room at One Texas Center . . . The Executive Committee of the Planning Commission will meet at 5:30pm in the 3rd floor conference room at 1011 San Jacinto. The Zoning and Platting Commission will meet in Room 325 of One Texas Center at 6pm. The Resource Management Commission is scheduled to meet at 6:30pm in Room 304 of City Hall . . . HEB revamping ponds. . . Environmentalists have complained recently that the HEB Grocery built in conformance to SOS standards has in fact been polluting the aquifer because its structural water-quality controls were not capturing runoff. Joe Pantalion, acting director of the Watershed Protection and Development Review, said, “After talking to their engineer and city staff, HEB took it upon themselves to retrofit their facility to improve the design and avoid recurring maintenance problems.”

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