May 4, 2020

Reopening Fever Gives GOP Runoff Rivals
Shot at Sharing Spotlight with Coronavirus

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

The hair-raising omnipresence of the coronavirus was more than evident last week when a Texas House hopeful beat an incumbent Republican to the punch by 24 minutes in a race to see who could get the word to voters out first on pleas for help for a hair-crafting industry in the reopening of the economy across the state.

State Rep. J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville had gotten off a shot earlier in the day on the only other issue that really matters any more to the GOP when he joined the chorus of conservatives who are blaming China for the pandemic and want to make the Asian nation pay for the historic devastation that the virus is leaving in its wake in the United States.

"China's failure to address COVID-19 and the subsequent cover-up have cost trillions of dollars in lost jobs, closed businesses, and suspended commerce," Sheffield declared in a Facebook post. "They MUST be held accountable!"

But House District 59 challenger Shelby Slawson sought to one-up the lawmaker who she's attempting to unseat in a primary runoff election this summer when she informed her Facebook friends at 4:26 p.m. that she'd fired off a letter to Governor Greg Abbott with a pitch for a green light for barber shops and hair salons to get back to business after being spurned in an executive order two days before.

The Republican governor had given restaurants, movie theaters, retail stores and malls permission to come back to life on Friday in the opening phase of an economic resurgence plan that won't allow the people who cut and color hair to return to their jobs until May 18 at the soonest as it stands now.

While a long list of other businesses like gyms and face-piercing parlors were forced to wait on the sidelines for at least two more weeks as well, cosmetologists and barbers have become the focal point of rally cries in Texas and other states for Republicans who want the country to be done with restrictions that were imposed in the early stages of the outbreak in March.

Sheffield moved without haste after Slawson posted her communique to the governor on social media with the publication at 4:50 p.m. of a letter that he'd sent to Abbott on the same day with the same basic message about the desire to get life back to normal as soon as possible in the swath of Central Texas that he's represented at the Capitol for almost eight years.

Sheffield is scrambling to come-from-behind in the overtime election that Abbott has rescheduled on July 14 after trailing Slawson by 16 points in round one when she captured 46 percent of the vote in a field that included a third Republican who'd accused her of playing dirty after he was eliminated from the competition.

As a physician who doubles as the official public health authority in Coryell County, Sheffield has received some attention while other candidates have been long forgotten as someone who's had the task of confirming that people in the area do indeed have the coronavirus after falling ill and testing positive for the disease. Sheffield serves on the House Public Health Committee that held the first and only hearing on the coronavirus before Texans started sheltering in place in the bigger cities almost two months ago.

There was absolutely nothing that the lawmakers on the panel could do about the public heath catastrophe that was about to change the world in a way that no one could have imagined at the time. But it was good for some publicity back in the district that would be all but impossible for candidates like Slawson who aren't medical doctors or research scientists to get after the state and the rest of the country shut down abruptly in the second half of March.

But an uprising on the right against the restrictions that Abbott had imposed for the sake of the public health in Texas has given legislators and candidates who weren't used to being ignored a fresh and timely platform to remind the voters who they are and why they're running for office in 2020.

Slawson came up with another weapon to use against Sheffield by the end of last week when she contended that he'd sided with the Democrats in a push for elections on mail ballots exclusively for the rest of the year as long as the coronavirus is still a threat.

Slawson's claim was a significant stretch based on her own assertion that Sheffield had depicted elections by mail as "an interesting idea" that will be a topic of conversation when the Legislature meets in regular session next year. Slawson said the views on the subject that Sheffield had aired at a tele-town hall the previous evening had reaffirmed him to be "the most liberal Republican in Texas" - a distinction that's also an exaggeration in light of the fact that a GOP colleague has been consistently ranked lower on conservative scorecards.

Sheffield "also said that the liberal states that already do mail in ballot only elections have the, get this, “security and proper vote counting solved.” Huh!? What?! Unbelievable!" Slawson added.

"Americans deserve elections that are FAIR, OPEN & HONEST. Voter ID and in-person voting do just that!" Slawson proclaimed. "Rest assured I will NEVER support an expansion of vote by mail in Texas."

Sheffield noted in the letter to Abbott on the behalf of barbers and hair stylists that small businesses in the rural district where he's based had been slammed by plunging prices for oil and agriculture products at the same time they'd been shuttered by the governor with a statewide stay-at-home that expired late last week.

Sheffield noted that three of the eight counties in his district had not anyone test positive for COVID-19. Sheffield told the governor that only two people had died in HD 59.

The Department of State Health Services running count of coronavirus infections showed Coryell County with 162 on Monday while Erath and Hamilton counties had reported 12 and five cases respectively with three apiece in Comanche and McCullough counties. But the death toll in HD 59 had risen to three by noon today based on the state agency tally.


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