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Two years ago, the race to represent House District 105 was decided by 64 votes.
Republican Rodney Anderson went off to Austin to represent the district for a second consecutive session. His Democratic challenger, Thresa “Terry” Meza almost immediately began her campaign to unseat him in the next election.
“The joke in my campaign is that I just gotta go find 65 more people,” she said.
The district, which covers parts of Irving and Grand Prairie, is one of the Democratic Party’s main targets as it looks to flip Texas House seats in the upcoming election. In 2016, it went for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election by 8.5 percentage points.
Anderson is taking the challenge seriously but believes he will win. Last time around, people crossed party lines to vote for Clinton and himself. He expects voters to do the same this time as he points to a building on the corner of Northwest Second and Main Streets in Grand Prairie that has “Beto for Senate” posters next to his.
“They’ve got my signs on the building because, ‘It’s Rodney,’” he says.
Funding local schools
Anderson’s roots in the district go deep. He went Grand Prairie ISD schools and college at UT- Arlington.
“I’m from here,” he says. “I’m invested.”
He’s seen the area’s population boom. In order to keep it growing and jobs flowing, he says, the taxes need to stay low and the public schools strong.
Meza also grew up in the district, attending Irving High School before graduating from UT-Arlington. But as a former teacher who has taught every level from kindergarten to college, Meza holds Anderson’s feet to the fire on school funding.
“My opponent was part of the 2011 Legislature that voted to take out over $5 billion from public education,” she says. “That money still hasn’t been restored.”
If voters send her to Austin, Meza says, she would advocate for the state to pay more to fund public schools in order to reduce the burden on local districts. She says one thing she’d consider is pulling back the $800 million the state spends to send the Texas Department of Public Safety to monitor the border.
“I find that not fiscally responsible,” she said. “It’s $800 million for show.”
Anderson said he wants more money for public schools, too. He hopes that the public school finance commission, which was charged with finding solutions during the last legislative session, will provide a roadmap.
In the meantime, Anderson advocates for ending STAAR testing, which he says would save about $100 million a year, and allowing schools to operate more like charter schools, which have less regulation, to free up more money for the classroom.
He also takes issue with Meza’s characterization of his vote in 2011. The state was facing a large budget shortfall following the economic recession and difficult choices had to be made, he said. Since then, he’s worked to fund schools at a higher rate and opposed private school vouchers, an unpopular move among some in the Republican base. He has to vote his district, he said.
The candidates also are focused on stopping rising property taxes, which are driven up by the state’s decreased funding of public schools.
Anderson said he’ll work to provide property tax relief for his constituents. But, he said, Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to block local taxing entities from increasing property tax revenue collections by more than 2.5 percent without voter approval would limit high-growth areas like many in North Texas.
“I do not think 2.5 percent across all taxing authorities is manageable,” he said. “How are large-growth cities supposed to build infrastructure?”
He said moving the rate to 5 percent, from its current 8 percent, would be reasonable.
Meza said she wants to keep “local control” for people within her district’s taxing entities to make those decisions. A 2.5 percent cap would “tie the hands” of local officials who need to provide local infrastructure.
During their last faceoff, Anderson went after Meza in flyers saying she did not live in the district because she had a homestead exemption on a home in Tarrant County. Anderson says she still hasn’t fixed that.
Meza said the homestead exemption remains on that Tarrant County home, but she lives in an apartment in Irving within the district. The home, she said, was storm damaged in 2015 and is uninhabitable. She said she tried to take off the homestead exemption but was advised that she could keep it because of the damage. As long as she did not try to claim the exemption at a new home, she said, she was told the exemption could stay.
Terry Meza is in a tight rematch against Rep. Rodney Anderson in House District 105. In 2016, Anderson eked out a victory by 64 votes.
The Tarrant County Appraisal District allows people to keep the homestead exemption for two years if the owner plans to return to the home. Meza said that was not what was explained to her. She said she wants to sell the Tarrant home and buy in Irving, but can’t because it’s uninhabitable and she can’t afford the repairs.
“I’m getting hit from both sides,” she said. “On the one hand, he’s saying ‘you’ve got this home with an exemption’ but he’s also admitting that I’ve tried to have this work done.”
In December 2015, Meza hired Rios Roofing Company to repair the roof after the storm damage for a total cost of $29,814. The owner of the company claims that Meza never paid him the final $9,676 she owed.
In April 2018, a Dallas County Judge ruled in favor of the roofing company and ordered Meza to pay a total of $14,123. Anderson says she did not disclose that judgment on The Dallas Morning News’ voter guide questionnaire.
Meza says she paid more than $20,000 up front but the company was slow to do the work, sprang additional costs on her and left the job incomplete.
“My house is in worse shape than it was before,” she said. “I feel like I’ve paid him more than enough for work that he did and he knows he did not do the work.”
She tried to appeal the judgment but was denied. She said the case, which she described as politically motivated, was in mediation at the time she completed the questionnaire. She disclosed the mediation but not the judgment.
Meza is highly critical of Anderson, saying he doesn’t represent the majority-minority district. More than 45 percent of its residents are Latino, about 35 percent are anglo and about 13 percent are black.
Meza says Anderson’s votes in favor of the sanctuary cities ban, the “bathroom bill” and a proposal to ban Shariah law that was criticized as anti-Muslim show he is out of step with the district.
The district’s large Muslim population has grown into a political force in the years since former Irving mayor Beth Van Duyne began raising alarms that Muslims were setting up Shariah law court at an Irving mosque.
Anderson disputes Meza’s accusation. He regularly visits with Hispanic business groups where he knows not all the members will vote for him and tries to attend community events when constituents call on a representative from the state. Much of his work, he says, is constituent outreach for people he suspects don’t necessarily vote for him.
“We’ve had over 3,800 constituent inquiries in two years,” he says.
Anderson said he is proud to have supported the ban on sanctuary cities and sent hundreds of millions of dollars to secure the border. But now that there are Republicans in the White House and in Congress, “it is now our duty to ensure the federal government is properly doing its job.”
He also supported the bathroom bill because he doesn’t want transgender children in the same facilities as other kids. In the last session, he voted for the House version of the bill, which would require schools to provide a private bathroom for public school students who do not want to use multi-occupancy restrooms that match the biological sex on their birth certificates.
On his advocacy for the anti-Shariah law, Anderson says it “simply reinforced that the laws of our state and our country supersede foreign law.” But he did express second thoughts.
“We had a bill that really did make the Muslim community feel outraged,” said Anderson, who signed on as a co-author of the legislation in 2015.
If the issue came up again, he said, he would not sign on as a co-author and would reach out to Muslim constituents for their opinions.