Democratic candidates for the District 12 Texas House of Representatives seat, Marianne Arnold and Chris Miller, have more in common than running for office for the first time.

Coming from different generations but with similar views, the two will go head-to-head in the March 6 primary for a chance to face State Rep. Kyle Kacal, R- Bryan, in November. Kacal, who represents about a third of McLennan County, is running unopposed in the primary and was first elected in November 2012. Early voting starts Tuesday.

Arnold, 68, and Miller, 25, both want to put public education reform among their top priorities. Miller is an investigator with the Daniel Stark Law Firm and a Baylor University graduate, and Arnold is retired after more than 20 years as an accountant followed by 18 years as a plant-tissue researcher at Texas A&M University.

Appalled by the last two legislative sessions, Arnold decided to run to shift the focus from what she called “extreme issues” to areas the state should already have a stake in, including education, infrastructure and health care, she said.

“We need to cut back on high-stakes testing because we’re spending a lot of money on it,” Arnold said. “And we need a different way to rate schools so that struggling schools get help rather than punishment.”

Miller threw his hat in the ring after seeing a “constant barrage from the right to deconstruct Obamacare,” he said. His mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2016 and underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy, he said. Eight months before a major surgery, his mother’s employer told her they stopped covering retirees, he said. Without the Affordable Care Act, his mother would have died, he said.

“I understand there’s not much I can do with health care except for the state expansion of Medicaid,” Miller said. “It just got to a point where I said enough is enough.”

District 12 includes at least two school districts under the Texas Education Agency’s thumb for failing to meet state academic standards for consecutive years. Waco ISD has five schools facing the possibility of closure, and Marlin ISD is fighting to avoid closure overall.

“We have an incredibly unequal school system,” Miller said. “And state testing? It’s a test of how well someone could take a test, and that money should go to growing classroom skills and critical learning.”

But where the candidates differ is their backgrounds and in their approach to constituents and issues, they said. Arnold grew up in more economically disadvantaged surroundings, with a family that didn’t have money for orthodontics and a best friend who had her teeth pulled at 15 because her parents couldn’t afford a dentist, she wrote on the “About” section of her website.

“I’m a very rural person. I’ve lived in big cities and I understand big city problems, but I’m still a rural person,” Arnold said. “I collect eggs from my hens every morning and make my own pickles.”

An Eagle Scout, Miller was raised in a more affluent neighborhood, he said. But both see the difference in how more affluent school districts remain successful by receiving more state funding versus struggling school districts with high numbers of economically disadvantaged students, they said.

“My opponent is an incredibly sweet person. She’s very knowledgeable and intelligent, but I think I’m a better choice at conveying those messages,” Miller said. “I’ll work across the aisle, and my ability to work with people is a huge asset I have and I use it in my work as an investigator. Just because they don’t believe what I believe doesn’t mean there’s not common ground to be found.”

Miller promised regular town hall meetings to listen to voters and said he won’t hide behind his current job. And Arnold promised to represent District 12’s diversity and growth if she is elected. Being retired givers her all the time she needs to run for office and serve, she said.

“I’ve already been all around the district, and it’s a big district. I can spend my time as if it were a full-time job, running and campaigning,” she said. “The passion is equal. We’re both passionate about the issues, but I can put in the effort.”

Arnold helped campaign for Eugene McCarthy in 1968, former Texas Sen. Wendy Davis and a couple local officials, she said. She worked phone banks for former President Barack Obama and worked phone banks and went door-to-door for Hillary Clinton.

Miller also worked phone banks for Clinton’s presidential campaign.

“I think it’s time for a change in the Texas House of Representatives. When one group of people control all the levels of power, it’s just a record piece for corruption and self-dealing and you don’t really get new ideas,” Arnold said. “You have the same old ideas the leadership has and they’re becoming more and more extreme. Moderate Republicans have been forced out of politics, like Rep. Joe Straus, so you don’t get good conversations.”

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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