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Road to victory hard to follow for challenger

Nov. 3, 2006

By BRIS FIRTH
Reporter

It's the political version of David versus Goliath.

In the 2006 lieutenant governor elections, a position in Texas second only to governor, veteran Republican David Dewhurst is running against rookie Democrat Maria Luisa Alvarado.

Both candidates are emphasizing state-funded public education reforms in their campaign, but their approaches are far from similar.

Alvarado, a former research director for many universities, including the University of Texas at Austin, said she wants to establish a constant source of funding for public schools.

Currently, state schools are funded by taxes and the lottery, which can increase or decrease circumstantially, Alvarado said. She said that without a consistent source of funding from the state budget, the education system can fail its students.

"We risk fulfilling the American dream without a solid education," Alvarado said.

Texas has one of the largest economies in the world, Alvarado said. She wants to find out where the sources of money are.

"If elected, I will get to the bottom of what our state treasury consists of," Alvarado said. "And see if there's enough funds to improve schools and teacher pay."

Current Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, if elected next term, will try to implement a plan to address the needs of Texas children, said Enrique Marquez, Dewhurst's campaign spokesman.

The proposition, called "Dewhurst Texas Children First Plan," will focus on protecting Texas children from harm, abuse and Internet predators. It will also ensure that Texas children are healthy while providing safer schools, Marquez said.

During his time in office, Dewhurst reformed Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services, Marquez said. He also led the charge to pass a reform raising academic standards and increasing teacher pay $2,000.

The campaign approaches of the two candidates also differ. Dewhurst is running a focused media campaign, Marquez said. His TV campaign ads are running in Dallas, Austin and Houston.

Alvarado is focusing more on a grassroots campaign. She said she decided in June 2005, when she announced her intent to run, to target the voters not tapped in to.

"I knocked on doors, went to underrepresented voters and had lots of small lunch meetings," Alvarado said. The personal approach helped her win the Democratic majority in March, Alvarado said.

While Alvarado's main platform is education reform, Dewhurst is campaigning his "Jessica's Law" proposal.

The law, based on a girl who was abducted on Feb. 23, 2005 and brutally raped and buried alive by a previously convicted sex offender, is Dewhurst's creation.

The statutes of the proposed law state that a convicted sex offender, whose victim is under 14, will be sentenced to a mandatory 25 years in prison.

Currently, there is no mandatory sentencing period for convicted sex offenders, said Jordan Powell, a Greenville sophomore. Powell is actively involved in Baylor College Republicans.

"We need a law like 'Jessica's Law,'" Powell said. "When you have rapists turned free after only 90 days of jail, something's wrong."

Powell referred to a case in Vermont in which Judge Edward Cashman gave a 90-day sentence to a man who repeatedly raped a girl for four years, starting when she was 7 years old.

"There needs to be a mandatory sentencing period," Powell said. "They can't be let loose on our streets."

Powell said he sees this election as a sure victory for current Dewhurst. It's the first time in history the Democratic Party hasn't put a strong candidate in against the Republican Party.

"It's a tell-tale sign the state the Republican Party is in Texas now," Powell said.

The Lieutenant Governor position is widely considered to be the most powerful position, more so than even the Governor, in Texas, Powell said, and the Democrats haven't been able to put in a real opponent.

He said this is because Dewhurst has "worked both sides of the aisle" while in office.

Alvarado said she is working to make sure more Texans get involved in the voting process.

"Our citizens are more knowledgable than our elected officials believe," Alvarado said. "I just want everybody to vote, whether you vote for me or not."