NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Big Money, Different Philosophies Mark Senate District 10 Race

District 10 is one of the most expensive state senate races in Texas history, and in Tarrant County it’s coming down to the wire as Republican Rep. Mark Shelton battles to unseat Democratic State Sen. Wendy Davis.

In a small office building near downtown Fort Worth the phones hum. Volunteers for State Senator Wendy Davis’ reelection campaign are on the phones. Surrounded by fast food and sodas, they’re calling supporters with offers for rides to the polls and requests for volunteers.

Three miles away at Republican Mark Shelton’s campaign headquarter,s the frenzy is much the same. Yard signs are stacked near the door. College students who’ve returned from block walking stuff mailers in envelopes.

Before Election Day, Shelton, 55, a Forth Worth pediatrician and Davis, 49, an attorney and former Fort Worth City Council member, expect to spend a combined $6 million or more to win this senate seat.

A lot of the money is paying for TV ads, some of the nastiest of the season.

Several Shelton ads accuse Davis of hiding her business partner’s work as a lobbyist and her contracts with public entities that also lobby the legislature.

A menacing voice in one adclaims, “Davis profits from peddling her influence as a state senator.”

Another shows an image of Davis while intoning: “Legislators who sell their influence should not be reelected.”

On the other side, a Davis ad features a rape victim and targets Shelton’s vote against a bill Davis passed for more testing of rape kits.

“My rape kit was tested and that’s the only reason my attacker is in prison,” the woman says. A male voice adds, “Mark Shelton was one of only eight legislators who voted against the bill and let rapists go free.”

Sorting out the facts behind the ads and the mudslinging isn’t easy.

On the claim of influence peddling, the Texas Ethics Commission lists Davis’ business partner Brian Newby as a lobbyist for the Cantey Hanger law firm where both he and Davis do work, but the commission has not found Davis in violation of ethics laws. (Related Story: Davis Waited Two Years To Disclose Relationship With Lobbyist.)

Shelton claims Davis has refused to provide a list of public entities who’ve hired her. Her campaign initially said she couldn’t provide the list unless her clients agreed. Then, at KERA's request, the campaign identified the clients as the Benbrook Water Authority; the Tarrant County Water District; the Fort Worth ISD, the DFW Airport Board and the North Texas Tollway Authority.

“I comply 100 percent with all of the requirements the state has in place,” Davis says.

In response to Davis’ ad about the rape kits, Shelton explained his vote by saying there was no state money to pay for increased testing.

“I am in favor of the concept of testing the rape kits,” said Shelton,” but there was a not a stable source for funding.”

The claims and counterclaims underscore several facts about this very close race.

Both major parties have a big stake in the outcome. If Davis loses her seat Democrats in the Texas Senate may be unable to block Republican measures like schools vouchers or abortion restrictions.

The battle itself is largely over philosophy. Shelton wants to limit public spending and regulations on businesses. Davis believes government has an obligation to provide basic services and adopt regulations that hold businesses accountable.

Davis labels Shelton an extremist for voting against bipartisan bills like the one that would have added 80,000 more Texans to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

“The other Republican doctors in the House and Senate voted for it but Mark voted against it,” she says.  “He is an Austin voice listening to Rick Perry and some extremists."

During her four years in the Senate, Davis has often focused on consumer issues: air monitoring near gas wells: funding for contraception and cancer screening through the Women’s Health Program; a review of insurance rate increases before they go into effect.

Shelton claims a lot of what Davis wants is bad for the economy.

“She’s filed numerous bills for taxes, fees and increased regulation,” he said.

Shelton says he voted for cuts to the Women’s Health Program because money went to Planned Parenthood which is affiliated with abortion clinics. He says CHIP and Medicaid need to be reformed.

“The current Medicaid and CHIP program is dysfunctional and there is no reason to expand a dysfunctional program,” he said.

The issue that most clearly illustrates the gap between Shelton and Davis is funding for public education.

Davis filibustered the bill that cut $5.4 billion from schools last session. She vows to restore that funding and eliminate the high cost gas well exemption to pay for it.

“No one group should be so powerful that they’re entitled to those tax incentives forever,” she said, as she cited the number of teachers who’ve lost jobs because of budget cuts.

“And when we’re thinking about these difficult choices that we’re presented with – children, the future of Texas - I think we made the choice in the wrong place in the last legislative session,” said Davis.

Shelton is proud of working on the state budget that included the education cuts because it didn’t raise taxes. He says Davis’ idea of eliminating tax exemptions isn’t the way to pay for schools.

“For us to restore money to education or health care we have to get the economy growing,” he reasoned.

“So the big question is not how we are going to spend the money. The big question is how we are going to get the money. You don’t do that by increasing taxes and increasing regulation on businesses,” said Shelton.

No new taxes, limited regulation on businesses and restricted use of state savings in the Rainy Day Fund. That’s Shelton.

Making regulations more consumer-friendly, eliminating some tax exemptions to create funding, using Rainy Day savings for education. That’s Davis.

Both believe their messages are right for Tarrant County.

Senate District 10 stretches from Northeast to South Tarrant County and includes parts of Fort Worth, Arlington, Colleyville and Mansfield.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.