Grading the Candidates for Comptroller
Mon February 3, 2014 2:56 pm

UPDATE: Harvey Hilderbran just posted on Twitter that he has won the endorsement of TEX-PAC.

On Friday evening I attended the comptroller's forum organized by the Texas Medical Association. All four of the candidates in the Republican primary were in attendance: state representative Harvey Hilderbran; state senator Glenn Hegar; former gubernatorial candidate and nurse Debra Medina; and former state representative Raul Torres. In my mind Hilderbran carried the day: he was the most knowledgeable of the contenders, in part because of his chairmanship of the House Ways & Means committee, which gave him the opportunity to delve into the complicated tax issues that is part of the nuts and bolts of what the comptroller does. "I want to fix the office," Hilderbran said, and goodness knows it is in need of a lot of fixing. "I want to redefine the office and be a forward thinker."

The most interesting aspect of the forum was the lack of any platform by Hegar. He offered no substantive proposals, and it appears that he is banking almost entirely on his conservative credentials as the author of SB 2, the abortion bill, and his endorsements from conservative groups like the National Rifle Association and the Young Conservatives of Texas as well as the current comptroller, Susan Combs. An attorney by trade, he said, "I have worked in finance and accounting all my life."

Medina has been handicapped in the race from the beginning due to her lack of success in fundraising. She was critical of the way the office has been run, which she described as "a lot of inconsistency," adding, "the agency hasn't determined how the law is going to be applied." Medina gave a good account of herself during a discussion of the cost of health care. She obviously knows the subject. She is also an outspoken critic of the property tax system, which she describes as "broken."

Torres was the surprise of the evening. He based his candidacy on being the only CPA in the race. "We must return the office to the people," he said. "We need a 20-year plan. Where will we be in 20 years?"  Torres praised two former comptrollers -- the late Bob Bullock and John Sharp -- as innovators. He called for a spending cap and for following "generally established accounting principles." Given the problems that have plagued the comptroller's office in recent years, Torres had a point.

It should come as no surprise that several of the candidates were critical of the poor record of revenue forecasting by the current comptroller. Medina said, "We've all been struck by huge errors in revenue forecasting. The comptroller needs to provide the numbers on a regular basis."

Hilderbran has run a strong campaign and is in a good position to win. He has laid out several proposals, such as a taxpayer "bill of rights" and other pledges, and I think he is likely to win the TEX-PAC endorsement. His only real weakness in the race is that at times he hasn't been able to command the respect of his peers, and when his tax bill, HB 500, nearly blew up on the House floor late in the 2013 session.

* * * *

I want to make a few comments about endorsements in down-ballot races. Do they mean anything? Just remember that most voters don't know who these candidates are, or what they stand for, or whether they are any good. The main point I would make is this: If an endorsement is not accompanied by a check, it isn't worth anything. The check provides the value, not the written or verbal endorsement. Money is far more valuable than an endorsement.

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