Houston Chronicle: For Hilderbran for Texas comptroller

February 6, 2014

From the Houston Chronicle:

The Texas comptroller is the state’s chief financial officer – its chief accountant, tax collector, revenue estimator and treasurer. It’s a big, demanding job, one that requires keeping track of the $100 billion that the state budgets each year, as well as predicting the tax revenues accurately despite our manic-depressive economy’s mood swings. (Had the current Comptroller, Susan Combs, done a better job of estimating revenue in 2011, our schools wouldn’t have had to endure $5.4 billion in cuts.) The office is no place for amateurs or grandstanding.

Of the four Republican candidates, Raul Torres has the most impressive financial credentials: He’s a CPA (as well as a former member of the Texas House). We like his calls for 20-year financial planning and the use of generally established accounting principles. Unfortunately, with little campaign money or name recognition, he’s likely to come in dead last in the race. And Debra Medina, the tea-party leader who last ran for governor, appears to be out of the running as well.

State Sen. Glenn Hegar, of Katy, has amassed more campaign money than any of his opponents, and also has claimed many major endorsements. A lawyer by training, his financial experience has come mainly from his short time in politics: He’s chaired the state Senate’s Subcommittee on Fiscal Matters, as well as the Sunset Advisory Committee. In the senate, he’s best known as the sponsor of the abortion-restricting bill that Wendy Davis filibustered against.

Unfortunately, Hegar seems to be running for some office other than state comptroller. In one video ad, after he proclaims that he’s been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, we see him at a firing range, shooting his Kinder America handgun; a few seconds later, he fires a fully automatic M-16. His campaign website gives few hints what he’d actually do as comptroller – except for a petition to create a sales-tax holiday for guns and ammo. Since when is that the most pressing fiscal issue facing Texas? And why is he running for comptroller? If his passion lies in expanding gun rights, he could do that better if he stayed in the Senate.

Harvey Hilderbran, the other serious contender in the race, is no slouch when it comes to gun rights: The NRA gives him a lifetime A rating. But that, thankfully, isn’t the centerpiece of his campaign. His video ad offers a promise to protecting Texans from IRS intrusion and “big-government liberals.” Admittedly, that’s not the most pressing issue facing the comptroller’s office, either.

But at least it’s relevant. And at least Hilderbran seems eager to discuss some of the wonky but important parts of the comptroller’s office – things like improving the office’s customer service, protecting Texans’ personal data and conducting performance reviews.

Though Hilderbran has no formal fiscal training, his experience goes deeper than Hegar’s: He’s been on the House’s tax-writing Ways and Means Committee for eight years and has been its chairman for four.

Whichever Republican wins this primary will face well-funded Democrat Mike Collier in the general election. Collier has real-world financial credentials: He was until recently the chief financial officer of Houston-based Layline Petroleum and is a former partner in the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCooper. Collier will have an easy time pitching himself as a candidate with both the experience and independence to serve as a watchdog.

Of the Republican field, we believe that Hilderbran is best able to face Collier in a general election. Hilderbran isn’t a perfect candidate, but at least he’s interested in the position that he’s running for. Texas can’t afford a comptroller who’s gunning for some other job.