OCTOBER 17, 2020 06:04 AM

Arlington voters, here’s our recommendation in closely contested Texas House race

Alisa Simmons, Democratic nominee in Texas House District 94 in Arlington.

If a closely divided Texas House is going to be productive, it will need plenty of members in the middle, willing to compromise and work with the other party.

Alisa Simmons, the Democratic nominee for Arlington’s House District 94, brings a commendable record of service to the district and the area overall. But she’s not a fire-breathing partisan or ideologue, and that would be a major step up from incumbent Republican Rep. Tony Tinderholt.

Throughout an interview with the Star-Telegram Editorial Board, Simmons stressed that she’s ready to get to work on solutions. She brings a core of center-left policy ideas but is open to input from all sides.

Simmons, 57, brings firsthand knowledge of how the pandemic has crushed small businesses. She’s had to reduce the small workforce at her promotional-products firm. As a small business owner, she’s got a good sense of what it will take to revitalize that key portion of the economy.

And she has specific ideas to combat the pandemic, mentioning the need for increased coronavirus testing in Arlington. She also called on police and city code compliance departments to do a better job of monitoring capacities at restaurants and other businesses. It might not be popular, but with yet another spike seemingly in the works, we’ll need new steps to try to slow the spread.

Simmons is eager to work on criminal justice issues. As the head of the Arlington NAACP chapter, she’s well-versed on the kinds of reforms the Legislature must consider after the killings of Atatiana Jefferson, George Floyd and others. One intriguing proposal she mentioned is for special prosecutors to handle cases in which officers use deadly force, taking the politics around police and the local district attorney out of the mix.

The idea, currently used in New York, needs a thorough vetting — who appoints the prosecutor and who pays for it are key questions — but it’s the kind of policy creativity that might help move the ball on a difficult issue.

In other areas, Simmons has some studying to do. Asked about the coming massive budget shortfall, she staunchly defended public education spending and said the Legislature needs to close tax loopholes, especially for corporations. But she was unable to identify specific loopholes. It’s a common dodge, and it obscures the reality that difficult cuts, painful tax increases, or both will be necessary.

She’s also advocating for a full-time Legislature. While there may need to be a bigger role for lawmakers in a coronavirus-style emergency, this isn’t a debate the House and Senate needs to spend time on in 2021.

Despite those points, Simmons would make a vastly better legislator than Tinder Holt, who did not respond to an invitation to meet with the Editorial Board. The 50-year-old Arlington incumbent touts himself as one of the most conservative House members. But plenty of officeholders manage to be staunch conservatives without embarrassing Texas, as Tinder Holt did last year with his 2017 bill to criminalize both women and doctors in cases of abortion.

If anything, that kind of extremism hurts the pro-life cause with reasonable people who are otherwise open to more restrictions on the procedure.

The issues facing the next Legislature are huge. All of Tarrant County needs serious lawmakers ready to get to work, strike reasonable compromises and deal with the crises spawned by the pandemic. For this southwest Arlington-based district, Alisa Simmons is that candidate.

Also on the ballot is Libertarian Jessica Pallett.