Freshman State Senator-elect Campbell talks education, 2013 session

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist DEREK RASOR

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on November 30, 2012 at 7:22 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 30 at 7:41 PM

AUSTIN -- One of Central Texas' newest state senators will have a front-row seat in the upcoming legislative session. Drawing the first pick of desk assignments among her fellow freshmen, Campbell selected her spot between State Sens. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) and Glenn Hegar, Jr. (R-Katy).

Friday marked the end of a week of freshman orientation for the physician from Comal County, who spent Friday scouting office space with her chief of staff inside the Texas Capitol.

Of the five newly-elected state senators who will be sworn into office, Campbell is the only one who hasn't previously served in the Texas House of Representatives.

"I'm not housebroken," said Campbell, sitting down with KVUE Friday. "There is a lot of new faces, unfamiliarity. I am just coming in from an emergency room to the legislature, but everyone has been very welcoming, full of a lot of information that I've just touched on."

As an ophthalmologist, Campbell never opened a practice, choosing to do missionary work in Ghana, West Africa. Campbell said she joined other American ophthalmologists traveling to Ghana every year from 1993 to 2000, taking part in a program to provide surgical procedures and eye care to impoverished Ghanaians.

Working as an emergency physician for the last 23 years, Campbell draws parallels between her career and new job as part-time legislator.

"It's pretty much a natural bridge. As a physician, it's service," said Campbell. "You still work with people who have a myriad of problems, and you're trying to help them with them. In the Senate, on a broad scale, we're trying to deal with our state, keep it strong."

Campbell's election followed a Republican primary that rocked the establishment, toppling former state representative and Texas Railroad Commission member Elizabeth Ames Jones and long-time Central Texas State Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio).

It's a story not unlike that of Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz, who defeated Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, despite Dewhurst's strong support from Gov. Rick Perry and other Republican leaders.

"I was always a byline," said Campbell. "I knew I could win it because like me, so many people are just tired of the same old politics. Whether somebody really was conservative or not, if they had been in the government, they were perceived as status quo. They wanted a fresh message, fresh blood, a new outlook."

Along with voters approving a second term for President Barack Obama, the November election saw Democrats make a marginal gain in the U.S. Senate while Republicans maintained control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In Texas, 40 new state legislators will cast votes for the first time, marking the largest freshman class in decades. Democrats gained enough seats in the House to break the Republican supermajority, but not enough to significantly challenge Republican majority.

"I'm part of the most conservative group coming in. It will be the most conservative Senate in Texas History," said Campbell. "It's a weight, believe it or not, because the people who voted to put me here, I work for them. They have issues and I have a passion, the same passion they do. So while I work here, I have a duty and I'm duty bound to keep Texas the best state that we can."

As state senator, Campbell will face a 2013 budget battle in which education will play a key role. State legislators cut $5.4 billion from public education in 2011.

However, improved revenue projections heading into the 83rd Texas Legislature have many speculating what the next session could bring.

"The process seems to be failing in spite of the fact that we've got great teachers, great minds in our youth, but we need to marry that with a great process," said Campbell. "We've got funding issues, testing issues, and how we can engage our children so that when they graduate they are already capable of being productive members of society. So finding a good process that works for public education and getting it funded is a priority."

"If there is funding on the horizon, that's good," said Campbell. "Whenever you've got more children enrolling and we haven't funded their enrollment, it does stretch the dollar that's already there further than what's anticipated. I look forward to really being part of a discussion to see how we can come up with a solution for school funding."

Describing herself as a supporter of parent choice, Campbell said she hasn't formulated a specific policy position yet when it comes to school vouchers. Campbell argues vouchers would have little effect on rural school districts where there are few private options and on prospering suburban districts which already attract families, and believes inner-city district could have the most to gain.

"When we talk about school vouchers, the way I look at it is empowering parent choice. So whether it's a school voucher or a taxpayer savings grant or something else, I am open to that," Campbell said. "I think at this point, let's put all the issues regarding that on the table and let's look at it."

In addition to education, Campbell lists water, transportation and health care reform among the upcoming issues of importance to both SD-25 and the state.

"We have to rein in and reform Medicaid," said Campbell. "It is a growing, expanding problem that had good intentions, but it's not working. And we have to bring it all in under a budget."

It's a tall order for a legislator making her political debut in the state's upper house and Campbell predicts the biggest challenge will be adjusting to the pace of legislative action.

"I'm used to talking fast, walking fast, driving too fast," said Campbell. "When I say that I'd like to get a highway fixed, it would be great to be able to just fix it like that, but when you go through committees and approvals, it's good that you have to research it and look into it, but it's going to be slower than I anticipate."

Campbell said she's busy soaking up the information overload of orientation and despite the challenge there are many things she looks forward to once business gets started in January.

"Bringing in a conservative impact, really trying to make a difference on those things that will strengthen my district and strengthen Texas," said Campbell. "I feel like I'm drinking from a fire hydrant right now and I'm on an exponential growth curve. That doesn't scare me. I made it through medical school, I don't think this is going to be a chore."

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