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GOP candidates take on Robson Ranch forum

Republican candidates at every level of government fielded a flurry of questions from Robson Ranch voters Wednesday night.

The retirement community hosted a candidate forum during its Republican Club meeting and invited GOP contenders for U.S. Congressional District 26, Texas House District 64, Denton County Precinct 4 commissioner, Denton County district attorney and Denton County district clerk.

Much of the debate centered around finances and a candidate’s level of conservatism.

U.S. District 26 incumbent Michael Burgess and his Republican opponent Veronica Birkenstock debated over the national debt ceiling. Congress is expected to vote on a bill to lift the debt ceiling later this week.

Burgess said he has voted in favor of bills that raised the debt ceiling before, but that legislators needed to replenish a depleted military. Birkenstock said the country needs to learn to live within its means and cut some entitlement programs.

On the state level, Texas House District 64 incumbent Lynn Stucky and his primary opponent Mark Roy agreed that property taxes needed to be reined in.

Stucky said the best way to get property tax relief was to revamp the school finance system and use a consumption tax to pay for a portion of public schools. Roy agreed that reforming public education funding would help, but suggested the state do away with standardized testing and the hefty fees paid to testing companies that come along with it.

Each of the four Republican candidates for Denton County Precinct 4 commissioner (Jim Carter, Brenda Latham, Itamar Gelbman and Dianne Edmondson) all had different approaches to lowering the county’s property tax burden.

Latham said the county should be able to lower its tax rate as more people come into the fast-growing county. Gelbman said he would audit the county departments and cut expenses in the budget. Edmonson said she hoped to bring more businesses to the area that could contribute more property tax dollars. Carter said he wants to bring more automation to the county to reduce employee costs.

Residents asked U.S. District 26 and Texas House District 64 candidates if they would align themselves with the Freedom Caucus, a right-wing, conservative group in the U.S. Congress and Texas Legislature.

Birkenstock and Roy said they identify with the Freedom Caucus as conservatives. Birkenstock said she hoped to join if elected. Burgess and Stucky were worried that members of the Freedom Caucus must all vote the same way on an issue and didn’t want to “give away” their votes.

Outside of legislative issues, District Attorney Paul Johnson and his primary opponent Brent Bowen took some legal questions. Both men said they support the death penalty, but diverged slightly when it came to opioid addiction in Denton County.

Johnson said drug possession remained the top crime in the county and added that the county’s first-time offender drug court, which allows people caught with drugs once to complete a six-month program and have the offense expunged, was successful.

Bowen said he’s seen a slight uptick in heroin over the past few years, but cocaine and methamphetamine remain the top drugs used in the county. He added that the first-time offender drug court should come with a treatment component.

Early voting begins on Feb. 20 and election day is set for March 6. For more information, go to www.votedenton.com.

CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.