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Simpson, Merritt play up strengths at District 7 forum

By Glenn Evans
May 1, 2012 at 10 p.m.

Two Republican candidates for the District 7 Texas House seat held their strongest cards for the end of an hour-long forum Tuesday in Longview.

"After 35 years in business I know how to turn our economy and work with our leadership in Texas," challenger Tommy Merritt told a crowd of about 225 people, many of whom had spilled over from the Longview Chamber of Commerce Business Expo in the adjacent ballroom at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center.

Merritt was flanked by incumbent state Rep. David Simpson, who he will face in the May 29 primary.

"We have a conservative district," Simpson said, the businessman choosing to highlight his philosophical side rather than economics. "And I believe my values and the principles by which I operate better serve this district."

Though a challenger, Merritt would be no newcomer to the Texas House of Representatives. Simpson ousted Merritt in 2010 from the seat he'd held for seven terms.

Merritt said his seniority remains a currency to land him on the cash-controlling House Appropriations Committee.

Simpson, who likes to say he fought with and later joined forces with virtually every House member, said he is eager to reintroduce his controversial pat-down bill.

The measure drew national attention, and earned placement on the special session agenda call by Gov. Rick Perry. The measure would have subjected Transportation Security Administration agents to criminal assault charges if they groped passengers in airports.

"You shouldn't be treated as a criminal to travel or enter a public building," Simpson said. "The terrorists are winning. We need to treat people with dignity and respect."

Merritt accused Simpson of flip-flopping on whether the government should give incentives, such as tax breaks, to job-creating businesses.

During the legislative session a year ago, Simpson attempted to shift the multimillion dollar governor's Enterprise Fund, which gives incentives to businesses to move here or expand, to schools and nursing homes. Simpson continues to call the practice corporate welfare.

On Tuesday, both were asked what the state can do to encourage a shift to natural gas as an automobile fuel, complete with a network of filling stations.

"I do believe it's something that the schools should consider, converting their bus fleet," Simpson said, estimating the cost of a natural gas filling station at $50,000 and adding that county and city fleets joining the mix would bring growth.

"I don't want to see a particular subsidy, but I want to see a savings, that schools could perhaps achieve converting to natural gas, go to educating our children."

"David, did I just hear you flip-flop?" Merritt was swift to ask. "I thought you were not for incentivizing people into areas. ... We have to incent our businesses to create technology" in wind, natural gas and East Texas oil.

The event was sponsored by the Longview Chamber of Commerce and Longview News-Journal.



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