New district pits legislative veterans against each other

Sonny Long

Nov. 30, 2011 at 5:30 a.m.
Updated Dec. 1, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.

Todd Hunter knows Victoria is vital to his re-election to the Texas House of Representatives.

Redistricting placed Victoria County in Hunter's District 32 - potentially pitting him against Victorian and fellow incumbent Republican Geanie Morrison.

The veteran legislator made a beeline to the Crossroads on Monday, the same day he filed for re-election.

"My plan is to show Victoria I care, meet as many people as I can and learn from Victoria," he said. "I already joined the chamber of commerce. I've met some of the economic development folks.

"I take this seriously. It's a grassroots campaign.

Morrison, a seven-term representative, had commitments in the district all week, but plans to be back in Austin and file for re-election on Dec. 5.

She had represented District 30, which under the new redistricting map now only includes Wharton, Fort Bend and Austin counties.

Morrison knows she will have to work the areas that are new to her in District 32.

"I will be campaigning throughout the district to deliver my conservative pro-family, pro-business, pro-education message to the voters," she said. "I look forward to reaching out and getting to know the voters and community leaders in House District 32."


Morrison and Hunter said forcing two Republican incumbents to face off in the primary seemed a bit calculated.

"Rep. Hunter and I spoke last week after the map was released, and we both agreed that pairing two senior members is detrimental to South Texas representation," Morrison said.

Hunter also recalled the conversation.

"She thinks it's odd, too, that they've paired two senior Republicans. We were like 'why us?' Does it look a little bit like they don't want Republicans? That was the nature of the discussion. There was nothing negative."

And negativity in his campaign is something that Hunter plans to avoid.

"I am not going to say anything negative about Geanie," he said. "In this day and age, everybody tries to be negative, and I am just going to tell you about Todd Hunter.

Morrison said she and Hunter have a good working relationship.

"It is unfortunate that the federal judges chose to pair us in the redrawing of the Texas House map," she said.


Hunter emphasized that the newly drawn lines do not mean it's Victoria against Corpus Christi for control of the district.

"Basically, what they did was take my district, took San Patricio County out and put Victoria County in," he said. "It's not really Victoria versus Corpus Christi. "

The district doesn't include central Corpus Christi. The Nueces County portion of the district is the coastal portion of the county.

Hunter also pointed out that population-wise, it is a 50-50 district with Victoria County and the remainder of the district about even in population, in the 80,000 to 85,000 range.

District 32 also includes Calhoun and Aransas counties.

They both support Attorney General Greg Abbott's attempt to get an emergency stay overturning the interim redistricting maps drawn by the federal court.

"Unfortunately, redistricting has become more of a legal process than a public process," Hunter said. "Something needs to be done. The peoples' right to have a say has been taken away.

Morrison agreed.

"I'm disappointed with what the court did," she said. "I believe they disregarded the will of the people and drew a map that did little to respect the communities of interest rule or the county line rule.

"I support Attorney General Abbot's request for an emergency stay because House District 30 was completely dismantled," Morrison said. "I believe the map could have been redrawn in a manner that better protects communities of interest and did not require the cutting of a county line.

Morrison filed an objection to the new alignment immediately after the maps were released.


Morrison knows major issues will have to be dealt with by the next legislative session.

"I believe that the most important issues that the 83rd Legislature will face are going to be balancing the budget without raising taxes, the funding of education, economic development and the protection of our water resources," she said.

Hunter, who chairs the House calendar committee, noted several issues that will be at the forefront in the Legislature in 2013.

"Water will be an issue in 2013. North Texas and West Texas are really pushing for water rights, and we need to protect our area," Hunter said. "We don't need to give up rights then have to go out and seek the water ourselves."

The six-term Republican also sees energy issues high on the Legislature's list next session.

"The federal government will try to encroach on our Texas oil, gas and energy business," he said. "Texas will stand up to the federal government, but we may have to pass some laws to protect the oil and gas and the energy business."

He agreed the state budget, will continue to be a legislative focus. He said he did not see any tax increases, but will have to see how the sales tax does. Hunter noted the Eagle Ford Shale activity the last two years had helped in some areas of the state, including the Crossroads.

"If you look at the growth in Victoria and the surrounding counties, you have got a huge energy boom going on," he said. "We need to capitalize on that with some common sense laws that protect our area and make it good for us.

He plans to push for economic development focusing on jobs for the area.

Hunter noted legislation he authored during the last session will form a committee to study the development of the cruise industry on the Texas coast between Calhoun and Cameron counties.

"If you get a cruise line in this area, you are going to see a lot of travel tourism business because Victoria is the hub. You've got a port. You've got an edge," Hunter said.


Morrison sees her time in office as a valuable asset in her re-election campaign.

"We both will be running on our records during our time in the Texas Legislature," she said. "I am a well-rounded candidate having served on numerous important committees."

"I'm a senior member who knows the legislative process well and have a proven record of getting things done," Morrison said. "My seniority also has allowed me to serve on the powerful House Committee on Appropriations. I have enacted numerous pieces of legislation to help the Crossroads area, including the downward expansion of the University of Houston-Victoria.

"In addition, I have helped to build a strong network of colleagues to protect rural Texas."

Morrison authored the country's first Baby Moses legislation, which provides desperate mothers a responsible alternative to newborn abandonment.

Since its passage in 1999, all 50 states have implemented similar measures and hundreds of newborns have been saved nationwide.

In the fall of 2006, Morrison was recognized by the Texas Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators as Legislator of the Year and received the Texas Higher Education Leadership Star Award.

Hunter, too, has strong credentials.

A 2009 winner of the James Madison Award from the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, Hunter will be a featured speaker at the Open Government Conference Sunday in Austin.

"I am a very big supporter of open government. I am not a smoke-filled-room guy," Hunter said.

One of Hunter's biggest assets is his chairmanship of the House Calendar Committee. The 15-member committee decides the agenda that House members will vote on each session.

"Calendars is very powerful, a strong authority committee," Hunter said. "If you want legislation, being on that committee certainly helps."

"I am a senior member and in a chairmanship that can actually help. Sometimes I can open a door that others can't," Hunter said.

"That brings a lot of strength to the district. It is one of the most powerful chairmanships and committees in the Texas House of Representatives," he said. He is also a strong supporter and personal friend of Joe Straus, the Speaker of the House.



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