Two of the four Texas House District 60 candidates considered by most as the frontrunners took aim at each other during Thursday's Palo Pinto County Republican Party forum.
Palo Pinto County rancher and veterinarian Dr. Glenn Rogers, of Graford, told more than 100 people in attendance at Holiday Hills Golf Club, and others watching online, that the race is being bought by Jon Francis and his wealthy family members and supporters, inferring that while Francis might not be directly accepting political action committee and special interests money, he is indirectly receiving hundreds of thousands of Empower Texans dollars.
Pulling out and holding up a $100 bill during his closing remarks, Rogers stated, "There's two things money won't buy. It won't buy happiness and it won't buy an election."
Rogers referred to the mid-January campaign finance reports where Francis listed $610,017 in contributions, including $500,000 coming from his in-laws – Farris and Jo Ann Wilks, the Cisco couple who are two of the biggest financial backers of Empower Texans that has funneled huge sums of money into political campaigns and conservative causes.
A number of other Wilks family members are listed on Francis' campaign contributions report.
"Ninety-eight percent of those (dollars) came from Wilks family, employees and companies," Rogers stated. "Two percent came from people like you and me."
The campaign donations have helped Francis fuel an aggressive media campaign that has included television ads in some markets within the eight-county district. Rogers said this race could be one of the most expensive ever for a rural Texas House seat.
Rogers listed reported political contributions of $104,226 for the reporting period that ended Jan. 15 that included monies from PACs such as those related to his veterinarian profession and the Mineral Wells Tomorrow PAC. He said PACs like those are able to strongly advocate and lobby for like-minded people, professionals and organizations.
The other two candidates, Christopher Perricone and Kellye SoRelle, trailed far behind in their reported campaign contributions and expenses.
But money wasn't the only issue Rogers raised against his opponent. He tried casting Francis as not being the President Trump-supporter he claims. Rogers referred to a past newspaper article that quoted Francis as calling the president a Democrat who "lies more than Obama."
Francis took Rogers' statements in stride. Able to follow Rogers' closing remarks with his own, Francis said he would not apologize for his family's financial success. "It's an American dream," he said.
a Cisco businessman finance director for Wilks Development, Francis said he has over 500 individual campaign contributors "and growing daily."
"The only coalition I am interested in is the people of this district," he said.
As for President Trump, Francis said he backed, supported and campaigned for U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in his 2016 presidential bid. Cruz is among those endorsing Francis in the Texas House District 60 race.
However, he said he fully supports Trump and will work toward his re-election in November.
"I think he's the best president we have ever had in our history," said Francis. "I am a Republican with core beliefs that are unshakable."
Before that, the four candidates fielded eight audience-submitted questions, screened and approved by aides of the candidates, on various issues.
On the question of whether the candidates supported constitutional carry of weapons, all four said yes. Saying he preferred the term "permit-less carry," Perricone questioned Rogers on his position based on a recent Granbury forum.
"I am for constitutional carry," said Rogers. "I said I had concerns about training."
Rogers related his position to someone who buys a car but must first demonstrate they have learned how to operate it safely and lawfully before they can legally drive it. He said for gun owners, he supports not requiring a carry license or fee.
The candidates were asked their positions on taxpayer-funding lobbyists and organizations.
SoRelle said that was an issue, "I am kind of on the fence on."
Francis said he is not "on the fence" when it comes to taxpayer-funded lobbying. He called it the "use of public against your best interests. It has to do with fairness. I think we have to eliminate it."
Perricone agreed, citing the Texas Municipal League as an example of an organization using taxpayer monies often against the public's best interests.
"They are so detrimental to the rights of citizens," he said. "These entities that use taxpayer monies, they don't represent you. They have their own interests."
On their abilities to build consensus and work with others politically in Austin, Perricone said he has "stood strong" as Mineral Wells' mayor the past two years but blamed continuous 6-1 votes on local policy – his always being the lone dissent – the result of "liberal-minded" individuals on city council. The controversial mayor has had little to no success on passing his own policies and ideas, including rejection of an ordinance he proposed to make Mineral Wells a "sanctuary city for the unborn."
While banning abortions in a county with no abortion clinics and where no elective abortions occur, the ordinance also criminalized certain other activities such as giving advice or help to someone seeking an abortion. The city attorney recommended not adopting the ordinance because federal law superseded it.
"My entire career has evolved around building relationships," said Rogers.
Rogers said his ability to build consensus is evidenced by endorsements by all members of Mineral Wells City Council, the mayor excluded, the Palo Pinto County sheriff and all members of Palo Pinto County commissioners. He said he has the backing of the Brownwood mayor and Brown County commissioners.
SoRelle said as a Hood County attorney "she argues for a living" so therefore she "can manage it."
Francis responded by saying he is one who will stand up for the people of the district, even if he is the only one standing. He said in closing if he is voted to go to Austin, "I will be friendly, but I will not be their friend."
The primary election is March 3, with early voting beginning Feb. 18. There are no Democrats in the race, so barring an unlikely independent candidate the Republican primary winner will win the seat in November.