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In this series, Texas Tech Public Media sits down with candidates across the board to discuss issues facing their constituents.

Conversations with Candidates: Kade Wilcox for House District 84

Kade Wilcox - House District 84
Kade Wilcox

House District 84 covers much of Lubbock County at the state legislature and will have a new representative following this year's election. For our “Conversations with Candidates” series, we invited the four Republicans vying for the seat to our studio to ask questions constituents care about. Kade Wilcox is a local businessman on the ballot.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: Let's start, just introduce yourself. Tell us more about you.

Kade Wilcox: My name is Kade Wilcox. I’m happily married to a beautiful lady named Lacey. I have a wonderful 11-year-old, my little girl is Selah. She's creative, she's funny, super smart, really stubborn – really just a great kid. My son, 9-year-old Case, will turn 10 in March. Unfortunately, he's like his dad, you know, both good and a lot of the bad. So he and I get in a lot of trouble with Mama and sister. And I absolutely love it.

I've been in West Texas, my entire life – grew up in a rural community called Nazareth. So my values and my beliefs, my conservative convictions, have really been shaped by the people that I've been really blessed to grow up around and be shaped by. So I’m really thankful for that. I moved to Lubbock 11 years ago, and we're on staff at a church here locally called Redeemer Church. At the same time, my wife and I started a little side business and that business kind of took off. Now I'm the CEO of a company called Primitive.

I'm an entrepreneur. I own six or seven companies. I love building teams, love building businesses, love serving people in that way. And I’m really excited to earn the opportunity to represent West Texas. This place I really, really love. I said last night to someone that I love West Texas like Coach McGuire loves Texas Tech football. You know, I’m just really into West Texas. I think this an incredible place.

I think we have amazing opportunities in our future. I think we have real challenges that we need to address and to solve, but I think for the most part, this is a wonderful place. And it's a real honor to vie for this position as the next state rep in House District 84.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: Speaking of Coach McGuire, let's go to the next question. Tell us about a politician, past or present, that you look up to.

Kade Wilcox: I love Ronald Reagan and I love Theodore Roosevelt.

I've read so many books on Theodore Roosevelt. I loved his tenacity. I love the spirit. You know, he's quite the intellect. He was a ferocious reader, I mean, read hundreds and hundreds of books a year. I just love his willingness to focus on the things that really mattered. I mean, his energy.

I love Ronald Reagan for his ability to cast a vision, for his charisma and energy. You've never seen it before, you'll never see it again. A president that's able to actually bring so many people together around a common goal and a common vision.

I mean, when you win 49 of 50 states, that says a lot about that level of integrity and unity that he was able to create. And in the current kind of political environment, you look at someone like that and you really admire it. I'm super optimistic and hopeful that someday we'll see that again. But we have a long ways to go.

I think in the public discourse, the way we handle ourselves as leaders, the way we speak to people, the way we disagree. We're humans, and we're all gonna have different ideas. We're gonna have different convictions. But the fact that we are all humans ought to really help us speak to each other and to treat each other with dignity and respect. And so I really admire Reagan for that kind of leadership.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: Why are you running for House District 84?

Kade Wilcox: It's really simple. I love West Texas. I love this place. I've been here all my life, I'm here now. I'm going to be here in the future. I really believe you're either creating the future or you're inheriting someone else's. And when I look at my children, when I look at my friends and their children, I think about all these incredible opportunities that we have in West Texas.

I want to be a leader who is engaged in the process of not just protecting our values, but really advancing them. I'm hopeful and optimistic. I think that what we represent, and I think that what we have, ought to be shared and promoted. I want to tell the West Texas story. This place is special, these people are special. What we believe in terms of our values are special. And I think, even politically, that as conservatives, when we look at our worldview, when we look at how to solve complex societal problems, I really think the conservative perspective of being really concerned with the truth, and doing the work to help all people thrive and flourish is really meaningful. And I want to be a part of that process here locally, and in this case, as a state representative,

Sarah Self-Walbrick: What experience do you have with statewide politics? And did you follow the most recent legislative session?

Kade Wilcox: I am not a politician. I mean, I've worked on some campaigns and been loosely affiliated with politics in that way. I'm a husband. I'm a father. I'm a small business owner. I'm an entrepreneur. So in terms of being engaged in politics in the past, it's really been kind of on the edge. So this is the first opportunity that I've had to run a campaign and to really earn the opportunity and trust of folks to elect me as their next representative. So I feel like the last 10 to 15 years of my life working in vocational ministry, working in leadership, doing the work of starting businesses, and managing businesses and making good decisions and making bad decisions and learning a little bit from that success, and a lot from failure really equips me for this role. I hope folks give me the opportunity to do so.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: You're running for a position that's long been held by a well-respected Republican. As a fellow member of that political party, how would you be different?

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, it's a really good question. I really admire Mr. Frullo, who served this region for a long time, really well, did incredible things for Texas Tech, for public education. So, I really respect and admire him.

I don't know what I'm necessarily going to do different than Mr. Frullo. But some of the things that are really, really important to me are the things that I hear from voters. I've been campaigning for over 60 days at this point. I have connected to well over 1,000 people. And, you know, you start to hear over and over and over again, what is most important to individuals. They care about a strong and resilient economy. They care about border security.

I was talking to an individual that's been in law enforcement for a really, really long time. And I said, is it really true about the border being open and the crisis that's happening there? You know, how does that really impact Lubbock? Because you hear it from voters a lot. And so I was asking him, he's like, Oh, unquestionably from sex trafficking to gang violence to drugs.

So, when you hear people talk about the importance of securing the border, which I have for over 60 days now, it's a real thing that's impacting our community. People talk a lot about public education – District 84 is really fortunate to have some remarkable public schools–but those public schools have real challenges. They have amazing opportunities ahead of them. But they also face challenges every single day.

I've had the opportunity to meet with every single superintendent in the entire region, but specifically HD 84. And I've loved learning from them and listening to them. When you hear the governor talk about school choice, that conversation is really starting to heat up, you know, that public education is going to go through some changes. So that's important. People talk about infrastructure. People talk about Texas Tech. These are things that real people in this district are thinking about on a daily basis.

So when you ask me, you know, how do you want to be different? I want to focus on the issues. I don't want to be distracted by the political sideshows. I don't want to be sucked into the vortex. I've been to Austin a few times since this campaign started and the moment you get there, it just feels like a different environment. I don't have time to get dragged into that mess. I love being a husband. I love being a father. I love being a business owner. So from a representative standpoint, I have a real desire to understand what the issues and opportunities are, to roll up my sleeves and do really, really good work and then come home. Because I'm a West Texan, I'm not an Austinite. I don't want to be in politics vocationally for forever, I have no desire to be a career politician. So those are the things I hope to bring to the table and some of the things I hope to really focus on.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: If elected, what legislation would you prioritize?

Kade Wilcox: I love this question. And I hate to be a cop out. But I mean, all of it. I've talked to thousands of people at this point, and it's all important. I met with a retired teacher this morning and what's important to her is teacher retirement. I met with a superintendent this morning, and what's important to them is public education. I've met with local elected officials on the county level, what's important to them is property tax, and having good budgeting and serving their people and dealing with the legislature.

I have a meeting tomorrow morning with someone who's really concerned about the power grid and ERCOT. So, those issues are important to everyday people who live in this district who think about these things. So, while I appreciate the question, like, what's the most important thing? Honestly, I don't think there is a most important thin. I think it's all important and I'm really excited to focus on those things.

In politics sometimes, and you experience this in forums, and to the other candidates credit, you get, like, 60 to 90 seconds to answer really complex questions. I'm tired of the oversimplification of politics. I'm tired of the talking points. I'm tired of entire political beliefs trying to be summed up on Twitter. And something I've really enjoyed in this campaign is the opportunity to actually sit down with people, converse with people, to lean into their knowledge, to lean into their expertise. We're not going to agree on everything. I've had so many meetings where I'm like, I don't believe that's true. But I love learning from them. And I love listening to him. And I think they feel the same way with me. And I really want to bring that level of leadership, and attention, and character to this opportunity, if elected, and into West Texas, specifically.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: I want to touch on some key issues that area voters will likely consider as they choose who to cast their ballot for. Let's start with the permanent university fund, or PUF. To put it simply, that's money that is taken largely from our part of the state, and is given to the University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems – but only those two schools. Would you like to see that change? And if the answer is yes, how would you propose doing that?

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, absolutely. The simple answer is yes, I would love to see it change. I mean, for all the obvious reasons, right? We're exporting our resources out of our region, and the resources leave, never to be seen again. So absolutely, I think we should evaluate it.

I think from a practical standpoint, and what you actually do to do that, it's all about relationships. I mean, I try to be really practical. And so while I think that we absolutely have to evaluate the PUF fund and do everything we can to include other great signature universities, like Texas Tech in that kind of mix, that's a really hard thing to do. If you look at the makeup of the legislature, you've got a lot of… it’s just a lot of dynamics, right? And so practically speaking, it's a very, very hard task – one that we should attack, one that we should do, one we should advocate for. But let's be realistic about how long that's going to take. And you know, how you get there is a great question. And we’ve got to look at that.

I think even more importantly for Texas Tech is what Representative Burrows and what Governor Abbott had been talking about in terms of trying to increase Texas Tech's endowment by a billion dollars. So while we're working on changing the dynamics of the PUF fund, let's focus on other things that actively, and in real time, position Texas Tech to be stronger.

It does a lot in terms of our AAU status. It does a lot to fortify and submit us as a tier-one university. And so while we're fighting the PUF fund, and I think we should, let's also be about doing things that matter now. And I think what Representative Burrows and what Governor Abbott have talked about in terms of increasing the endowment will help Texas Tech now and I think we need to do that, too.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: You've already touched a little bit on public education, but I do want to hone in on that a little bit more. What are your priorities with public education?

Kade Wilcox: One is to affirm and to acknowledge the incredible leadership that we have in our schools in West Texas, in our administrators, in our volunteer school board members and our teachers, in our students. West Texas is unique in the sense that it has remarkable public education, whether it's the students, but again, the administrators, the teachers.

So one, I want to celebrate and acknowledge the great schools that we have. I think the other thing that I really want to focus on is ensuring that public education has the resources it needs to be able to kind of evolve with an evolving economy and workplace. So my real desire and passion for public education is to make sure that we're positioning administrators and teachers in a place where they get to invest in the student and they're not, you know, their hands aren’t tied behind their back with all these other requirements from the state or whatever, that prevent them investing their time and attention and talent into the student.

Standardized testing is important; all assessment is important. We have to evaluate standardized testing. I think we need to completely overhaul it, so that it frees up the teachers to invest in the students vocationally. Every student is different in their gifts and their strengths, their weaknesses, and helping them uncover those while they're in high school is tremendously important. Some of them need to go be welders, and nurses and HVAC. Some of them need to go to university and be physicians and CPAs. All of those things. But if a teacher doesn't have the time, the space and the creativity allowed to them to evaluate that in a student, it's hurting the student. And the very nature of public education is to help the students.

I think, you know, school choice is going to be, you heard it from the governor, it's going to be a major priority in the legislature coming up in 2023. My position on school choice is where I have school choice. You know, my wife and I are the parents of an 11 and 9 year old, and we get to determine what's best for our kids, whether they go to a private school, whether we homeschool, whether we go to a public school. And so in some regards we already have a really healthy, in West Texas, an acknowledgement that the parent is responsible for the student. I think the other thing that's really powerful about West Texas is there's really friendly transfer policies amongst the schools, particularly in this district, and so parents have an option there.

I’m absolutely against vouchers, or maybe long term, that's something we can look at, but until there is an extremely viable financial model for funding public education, I am opposed to vouchers – not forever. But we better have an airtight solution to public education, finance, before we start going down the voucher track.

LISD (Lubbock Independent School District) is 75% of students economically disadvantaged. We have an obligation, a moral obligation, to help them rise out of that level of economic despair. The only way to do that is help them have a world-class education. So, man, there are so many things related to public education I'm excited about. The most important thing about public education for me is not listening to the special interest groups, but listening to the teachers and to the parents and to the administrators, leaning into all of their their knowledge, their skills, their expertise.

Then West Texas being a part of the school choice conversation. It's not a one size fits all. Lubbock County is not Harris County, it's not Travis County, it's not Dallas County. And so what we can't let happen in West Texas, is that legislators along the I-35 Corridor are creating schools, public education policy that are built for those school districts, that are going through some real challenges and then making our schools in West Texas just have a one size fits all solution. So it’s super complex, lots of things there. But I’m really excited to be engaged in the public education space and the conversation and to really protect what's most important to us Texans.

*a note for clarification: The Texas Tribune reported that 71.9% of LISD students are considered economically disadvantaged. Read their full reporter here.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: Lubbock largely avoided the effects of ERCOT’s power failure last year, but we have since joined that electric grid. A lot of area voters are worried about that. What changes would you like to see to the state's electric system?

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, really good question. First of all, I think we have to evaluate our increasing dependence on wind and solar. One of the reasons, and look, I hate the simplicity of you know, these 30-second answers, but one of the real challenges behind the power grid was that we have increased our reliance on wind and solar. When those variable forms of energy are not able to produce energy, it really presses the grid. So I think we need to evaluate our increasing dependence on renewables, because it's one of the major factors that led us down this path.

Second, is that those providers of variable energy sources have to have backups. In the last legislative session, they made a recommendation that those companies, solar, wind, they recommended they have backups. I think we have to require them to. If they're not able to dispatch the necessary energy for the grid, then they need to have backup sources of energy so that we don't have grid failures.

I think another thing we need to do for those companies is to make them, require them, to provide a minimum amount of electricity. So when you have these big, huge, peak moments where you need energy they have to provide a certain minimum power. I think we need to do that. And then because we've invested so many resources, we've incentivized investment into renewables.

Consequently, you have a lot of deferred maintenance, if you will, on existing power sources and now they're behind. We haven't invested the necessary resources. And so we need to get caught up to make sure our power plants are up to speed. So when we have winter storms like we had last year, we're able to absorb it.

So, I think those things are the things we need to look at. I'm sure there's a lot of other things. But if we started with those… You know, I'm a small business owner. I don't have the luxury of kicking problems down the road for three, four, five, 15 years. You'd be amazed at the number of people I've talked to, and you say, “What's important to you?” and they go, “Oh, we've been talking about that for 30 years.” And that's the problem. When you're a small business owner, you don't get to say, “Man, we have a real culture problem within our company. Let's address it 30 years from now.” And so some of these things may sound really simple, but I think simple things work. And we need to kind of go back to the fundamentals and I think that's true of the of ERCOT, and in the power grid and all these things.

*A note for clarification: While all energy sources were impacted by the extreme winter weather event last February, thermal sources such as coal, gas and nuclear lost nearly twice as much power due to the cold than renewable energy sources did–which contributed to just 13% of the power outages. More details on the role renewable energy played in ERCOT’s power grid failure can be found here.

Sarah Self-Walbrick: Since there are no democratic challengers in this race, the upcoming primary election is incredibly important. For our final question, why should voters cast a ballot for you? 

Kade Wilcox: I really appreciate that question. First of all, I’ll be a relentless fighter for our personal liberties and a limited government. You know, we've seen in the last several years how threatened some of our personal liberties are. We've seen a government continue to get bigger and bigger and bigger, and as a government gets bigger and bigger and bigger and more involved in our personal lives and our businesses, we have more challenges. And so I'll be a relentless fighter for personal liberties and a limited government.

I will be a passionate voice for the values of West Texas and the things that matter for us. I love this place and I will do everything within my leadership power to advocate for the things that are important to West Texans. And then I give voters my word that I will be a leader that leads with character and integrity and conviction. That you can trust my word and that I will never forget who I represent. So, I love to earn folks trust. I know that's hard to do over a little bit of a radio interview and so I'm really easy to find online, you can just google Kade Wilcox. My website is KadeWilcox.com.

My favorite part about campaigning has been meeting with people and listening and learning, and so if you're listening to this, and if you're wondering who to support in this race, I would love the opportunity to meet with you, to learn from you, to share my vision with you. But just really humbled even to run for an office like this, even the opportunity to have the possibility of getting to represent this beautiful place in West Texas in Austin for the things that matter to us is really the honor of my life.

Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at saselfwa@ttu.edu. Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.

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Sarah Self-Walbrick is the news director at Texas Tech Public Media, where she leads the news team and focuses on underreported stories in Lubbock. Sarah is a Lubbock native and a three-time graduate of Texas Tech University. She started her career at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
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