Current state Rep. Phil Stephenson will face Democratic challenger Jennifer Cantu in the race for District 85.
Voters will decide Nov. 6 whether they would like to keep Stephenson, of Wharton, in the state legislature or welcome Cantu, of Rosenberg, to the political arena. The winner will represent the southern part of Fort Bend County, along with Wharton and Jackson counties.
Stephenson, 73, is serving his fourth term as state representative. He has been a certified public accountant for more than 40 years and has served on the Wharton County Junior College board of trustees. Stephenson said his platform for this election is education, water, transportation, public safety and health.
“I don’t run to just sit in a chair. I run to get something done so I can help fix issues so future generations don’t have to worry about the same problems,” Stephenson said.
With education, Stephenson would like to continue working on the Teacher Retirement System, TRS, as well as better pay for teachers and school finance. A good education is the foundation for nearly everything, he said, because children who have a good education can help the local economy grow.
Stephenson also said he is conservative and does not want to raise taxes. He would like to see a better plan to fund schools such as using sales tax.
Stephenson said a challenge he faced this past year was rebuilding after flooding that was brought on by Hurricane Harvey. About 1,300 homes and businesses were flooded in Wharton after the storm last year, and most of the funding the affected areas of his district received for recovery was from grants and nonprofits. He said his district did not receive state aid, and he plans to address that issue in the next session.
Projects he also wants to continue working to improve include transportation, such as better and safer highways for state Highway 35 and U.S. 77.
This is the first election for Democratic challenger Cantu, 42, a physician and early childhood intervention specialist. What spurred her to run for District 85 is close to her heart, she said.
One of her 6-year-old twin daughters was born with an autoimmune disorder that required early intervention and therapeutic sessions. Cantu said state leadership, though, has changed eligibility requirements, leaving children waiting longer to receive help.
“In time, if you don’t treat something, it will get worse,” she said. “That was one of my trigger points to run.”
Cantu said her platform is based on public education. Some rural communities are not teaching subjects such as Algebra 2. The needs are different in Fort Bend and Wharton and Jackson counties, she said, and she would like to address issues that pertain to the different needs of each school district.
She said all who are involved in the education system – teachers, retired teachers, students, paraprofessionals, nurses, students – should give their perspective on what needs to be done in order to create a better education system.
“Public education has always been our greatest equalizer, but only if it is fair,” she said. “Everyone needs to have a seat at the table. I do believe that we either earn a seat at the table or we become the dinner.”
Cantu said she also would like to see more affordable and accessible health care as well as rural development.
Cantu admits she is not an expert on all subjects and said she welcomes and invites those who are experts – such as in the oil and gas industry – to help her better understand the issues so she can better serve her community.
Cantu said she feels she is representative of her district and is aware of the issues of the community.
“If I am going to vote on something, it’s because that’s what my district needs,” she said.