Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes, left, and Democratic challenger Audrey Spanko

Incumbent Republican State Sen. Bryan Hughes and Democratic challenger Audrey Spanko say they’re ready to fight for East Texans at the statehouse.

Hughes and Spanko are running to represent District 1 in the Texas Senate, which includes Gregg, Panola, Rusk, Harrison, Marion, Upshur, Wood, Smith, Cass, Morris, Titus, Franklin, Camp, Bowie, Red River and Lamar counties.

Hughes, from Mineola, is finishing his first term in the Senate and previously was a member of the Texas House for District 5 between 2003-17. He identified a number of areas he wants to continue to focus on should he be re-elected: secure elections, supporting law enforcement, border security, redistricting, Second Amendment rights, the economy and protecting the unborn.

“There is lots of work to do,” he said.

Redistricting, the re-drawing of representational districts that will take place after the census is complete, is going to be a big fight, Hughes said.

“In the next legislative session, we’ll be drawing the district lines for the Texas House, the Texas Senate, for the U.S. Congress,” Hughes said. “That has to be done right. We have to make sure that East Texas conservative values are represented in that process.”

Jobs and economic development also are issues Hughes said he will focus on if re-elected. Texas has a strong economy even with challenges from the coronavirus pandemic, Hughes said.

“We have to make sure that Texas and East Texas stay a place where jobs are being added because good jobs, that means people and families are being blessed and doing better,” he said. “So we have to keep taxes down, keep regulation down.”

Hughes attended Tyler Junior College, the University of Texas at Tyler and the Baylor University School of Law. Outside of his legislative work, Hughes is in private practice and has been involved with anti-abortion efforts. That’s also something he plans to continue in Austin, if re-elected.

“We also want to make sure that Texas is doing everything we can to protect innocent human life,” he said. “That little unborn baby in her mother’s womb deserves the full protection of the law. I’m proudly pro-life, and I’m thankful to be endorsed by Texas Right to Life and every pro-life, pro-family organization in Texas.”

During the last legislative session, Hughes chaired the administration and state affairs committees and was a member of the criminal justice, education, natural resources and economic development and redistricting committees.

One of the things Hughes is proud of from his time in office is working to increase the death benefit to families when a law enforcement officer or first responder dies. Hughes said he was thankful to have high support from law enforcement organizations and police officers in his bid for re-election.

“Our law enforcement is under attack like they have never been,” he said. “You’ve seen what the radical left wants to do to law enforcement. I want to be there to stand up for them and make sure they have the tools they need.”

He also said he was glad to have been the first joint author of a bill last session that provided pay raises to Texas teachers.

“We all recognize that the two most important things for student success are great teachers and involved parents, and we’re thankful for our teachers,” he said. “We want to reward them and retain them, keep them teaching, so it was a long-overdue pay raise and other systems put in place to reward our teachers.”

Spanko, also from Mineola, is a licensed social worker who has worked for nonprofit organizations, health care facilities and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. She is a graduate of the University of Texas.

She said she’s running because, in her job, she’s seen the connection between policy and laws in Texas and how they impact East Texans.

“I really think that there is a strong need for change and elected officials who have been closer connected to the issues that many East Texans are facing and make sure that we are really addressing the needs that are so prevalent,” she said.

Spanko said East Texas has some of the worst health outcomes in the state and even across the nation. She wants to make sure more Texans have the health coverage they need.

“No. 1 issue that I want to focus on is making sure that we expand Medicaid and we increase medical coverage for East Texans and Texans all over this state to make sure that we are really investing in a healthy Texas and healthy East Texas and doing everything that we can to provide health coverage,” she said.

Spanko said she also is running to increase the state’s investment in education. She noted the last legislative session’s push for more education funding, but says more is needed.

“Last session there was an increased investment in public schools and restructuring of taxes and finance to make sure that there’s additional dollars for teachers, but I think that we need to do everything that we can to continue to increase that investment, and we need to make sure that those dollars remain in public schools and we’re investing in public education,” she said.

She also wants to raise the minimum wage, because East Texas has a lot of residents who are living on that type of salary and barely getting by.

“More than 50% of the population makes less than $50,000 annually, and I think we need to be investing in folks,” she said. “So we need to raise the minimum wage and we need to make sure that employers are held accountable to providing benefits and taking care of their employees.”

Spanko entered the race to try and make some change and to really work for East Texans, she said. She encouraged everyone to get out and vote and make their voices heard.

“A vote for me is a vote for someone who’s actually going to step up and fight for East Texans,” she said. “Sen. Hughes has, I think, become complacent with his role, and he has had a number of years to really help move the needle on all of these issues, make sure that we’re investing — the results show that he hasn’t put in the time or energy to making sure that we take care of East Texas. We all deserve so much more, and I’m ready to fight for it.”

Early voting runs through Oct. 30. Election Day is Nov. 3.