Collin County Judge Faces Challenger in a Run-off Race
By Marla Crockett, KERA Reporter
Dallas, TX –
Marla Crockett, KERA 90.1 Reporter: This is All Things Considered on KERA 90.1. I'm Marla Crockett. To the surprise of many, County Judge Ron Harris finds himself in next Tuesday's run-off election against Keith Self. Some say after 16 years on the job, Harris has lost his enthusiasm and just wasn't an effective candidate. He denies that, but says he's heard the wake-up call:
Ron Harris, Collin County Judge: We have a very effective grassroots organization going on right now, and prior to that I really have some difficulty, after all this time, in asking people to give up their personal time to work for me, and that has all changed.
Crockett: Self, a retired Army officer and business developer from McKinney, virtually tied with Harris in the Republican primary. Sitting in a coffee shop in Allen, he outlined one of his top concerns:
Keith Self, Collin County Judge candidate: We need far more roads under construction. In 2004 we got 50 million, we should have received, if we had received the average, an additional 76 million dollars in state highway construction money.
Harris: That's an absolute perfect example of total inexperience. To get a road built you don't just go out there and start the paving machine. It has to have environmental clearance that can take three to five years. And you have to have the right of way.
Crockett: Harris cites as one of his accomplishments a billion and a half dollars in new roads, including the extension of the Dallas North Parkway and the Bush Turnpike. Another is his regional leadership on cleaning up the air:
Harris: The whole secret is we have to put the pieces together, the power plants, the cement kilns. Actually, off-road has moved up to 40 per cent of the total problem.
Self: Air quality would be most improved in this county, because we don't have a lot of smokestack industries, by decreasing the amount of time people spend on the roads, so we're back to building roads.
Crockett: These issues are a by-product of the fact that Collin County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state. So is another one of Self's complaints:
Self: The appraisal cap issue. Ron Harris openly and proudly says he goes to Austin to keep the appraisal cap at 10%. In the last primary election, 87% of GOP voters voted to lower the cap to 5% or less.
Crockett: Ed Housewright, who covers Collin County government for the Dallas Morning News, says even though the Commissioners Court doesn't control annual home appraisals and Collin County already has a relatively low tax rate, Self's argument still resonates with voters:
Ed Housewright, Dallas Morning News Reporter, Collin County Bureau: I think it's a big issue, because the county's grown so fast, most homeowners have seen their values go way up, which is great if you want to sell your house, but if you don't, you're stuck with a higher tax bill. He hasn't really presented details about capping it, but just the prospect of saying my house isn't going to go up 5, 10, 15% a year is attractive.
Crockett: Ron Harris:
Harris: My opponent will purport he wants a four per cent reduction in taxes. He is preying on the fears of citizens wanting someone to promise they'll give them everything they want and cut their taxes. And the two don't compute.
Crockett: One answer to that, Self says, is spending cuts at Commissioners Court. He'd start with a ban on longevity pay:
Self: Longevity pay is basically a bonus you get every year for the number of years you've been in your position. They win elections and then award themselves with bonuses. In most of the conservative political arena, and in fact, most of the Republican conservative arena, we're talking about term limits, not cash rewards for winning elections.
Harris: It's designed to retain people. But the court will take it off the commissioners, and I'll recommend capping all elected officials. It will not apply to staff, because it is a very effective tool.
Crockett: Last week Harris got the backing of the losing candidate March 7th, former Collin County Republican chair, Rick Neudorff. He was also endorsed by The Dallas Morning News in an editorial that accused Keith Self of distorting some issues. Self denies that and issued an appeal to Neudorff's voters:
Self: I don't believe that it's very easy, once you've voted for change, to go back and vote for the status quo. We need to bring out the 63% who voted for change.
Early voting ends tomorrow. For other run-off election coverage, go to the Voter's Voice page at kera.org. I'm Marla Crockett