Democratic challenger

Lampasas Democrat Clayton Tucker, 28, is campaigning to be the next person to represent House District 54, which covers West Bell County and all of Lampasas County. He is running against incumbent Brad Buckley, R-Salado.

Texas Democrats need to pick up nine seats next year to gain control of the state House. Their path to the majority may come through Bell County.

Lampasas Democrat Clayton Tucker is vying to be the next person to represent House District 54 — which covers West Bell County and all of Lampasas County. Tucker, 28, announced his campaign Friday.

So far, he is the sole candidate to announce a campaign against state Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Salado. The primaries are March 3.

Health care

Tucker — a former kindergarten teacher and environmental researcher who now works as a statewide organizer for Our Revolution Texas — recently told the Telegram he decided to jump into the race after watching a family member and his partner struggle to get her insurance.

“Shortly after that, Rep. John Bucy (D-Austin) got an amendment on the budget for Texas to accept Medicaid expansion,” Tucker said, recalling an effort among House Democrats to attach the expansion on House Bill 1, the state’s two-year budget. “That’s our money. We’ve already literally paid for it.”

The amendment failed in a 66-80 vote, with Buckley dissenting.

“That kind of planted the idea in the head,” Tucker said, explaining why he decided to run.

Buckley, a veterinarian who lives in Salado and operates a clinic in Killeen, pushed back.

“I believe the amendment offered was a $1.1 billion amendment that was basically presented on budget night,” said Buckley, who serves on the Appropriations Committee, which oversees the budget process. “That is not the process. There is a process of committees and hearing. The process needs to be followed when you’re looking at sweeping policy changes that impact the budget of the state of Texas by $1.1 billion.”

Health care, the first-term legislator said, will be a top concern for lawmakers next session — one that needs all options explored.

“A wholesale transformation of our health care system in Texas is something worthy of a bigger discussion than a simple budget amendment given one night on the House floor,” Buckley told the Telegram.

Texas is one of 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the Texas Tribune reported.

Tucker suggested that if lawmakers created a public buy-in option for health care it would help save taxpayers money. Even expanding Medicaid coverage could help cut costs, he said.

“With property taxes, as a state, we way too over rely on them. If we expanded Medicaid that would free up counties’ resources” Tucker said, adding that, for example, Bell County spends 2.17 cents of its 45-cent tax rate on indigent health care.

It could be used by local governments to receive cheaper — and possibly better — health insurance, Tucker said.

“We create this public option then you’ll start seeing these savings,” Tucker said, explaining that at his job he trying to calculate how much Texans could save through a state public option.

Other issues

Education is another top priority for Tucker.

“Education is the profession that creates all other professions,” he said. “If we don’t lay that foundation, nothing else really matters.”

Water and environmental issues also will be key issues in Tucker’s campaign.

“There are a lot of people, particularly in South Bell County, are running out of water,” Tucker said. “That’s partly because we’ve regulated oil more than we’ve regulated or protected groundwater. … If we run out of water, that’s it.”

The Trinity and Edwards Aquifers — both of which extend to South Bell County — have seen significant drawdown in recent years.

Groundwater in Bell County is managed and regulated by the Belton-based Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District — which was created in the late 1990s by the Legislature and later confirmed by voters. Bell County’s neighbor to the south — Williamson County, one of the fast-growing areas in the nation — lacks a groundwater conservation district.

Buckley — along with Bell County’s two other legislators, Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, and Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple – pushed for a bill that would have studied the Trinity and Edwards aquifers in Bell, Burnet, Milam, Travis and Williamson counties. It died in the Senate.

Winning a red district

Tucker recognizes District 54’s electoral history. A Democrat, Layton Black, last represented the district in 1996. Buckley won the seat with 53.8 percent to Democrat Kathy Richerson’s 46.2 percent in 2016.

But that 7 percentage point margin, Tucker said, is revealing.

“In 2018, the GOP watched its margin of victory get cut in HD 54 from 13 percent in 2016 to 7 percent,” he said in a statement Friday. “The campaign we’re building has the momentum to fight for our district and to win in 2020.”

Buckley said he’s ready to run on his successful record. He pointed to several accomplishments including public education finance reform, overhauling property taxes, tackling veteran and rural issues, and getting more funding for Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen.

“We feel like we had a great session that we spoke and addressed many of the needs facing Texans — especially those in House District 54,” Buckley, 53, said

The filing period for candidates planning to run in the March 3 primary begins Nov. 9 and runs through Dec. 9.