On Friday, Lufkin Independent School District board of trustees president Trent Ashby announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for Texas House District 57.

Ashby said he is following the encouragement of others to seek the nomination.

“I believe the good people in East Texas deserve to have a strong voice in Austin, someone who understands our unique interests and who shares our common values — values such as faith, family and friendship,” Ashby said. “I’ve always been interested in public service, and I’ve always thought that public service is a noble calling, but it’s not something that I feel should be decided by an individual. To me what’s important is the people around you who believe in you. If they encourage you to seek public office, then it’s something you should consider. My desire to run for this office has not been out of selfish interest because countless people have approached me about the unique opportunity we have with our new House district and that it’s important to have someone from Angelina County to step up and represent our values in Austin.”

Having served on the Lufkin school board for the past five years, Ashby said his interest in the state representative seat also comes from realizing firsthand “how unfairly the state government can treat parts of society.”

“Couple that with the fact that I feel strongly that we need a conservative voice in Austin that represents our values,” Ashby said. “Those two facts combined point me in the direction of serving our citizenry here in East Texas in Austin. I think that’s where I can make the biggest impact for those people who are blessed to call themselves East Texans.”

Background

Ashby was raised on a diversified livestock operation and dairy farm in Shakerag, Texas.

“I learned the lesson of hard work at a young age,” Ashby said. “I learned if you want something in life you have to work hard and commit to it.”

Growing up, he was active in 4-H and FFA. He was named Texas 4-H president and Texas FFA state vice president in his senior year of high school. He attended Texas A&M and graduated in 1996 with a degree in agricultural economics. He was also elected by the student body to serve as a yell leader at A&M, which he said was a highlight of his college experience.

Ashby and his wife, Nickie, married 14 years ago after meeting at Texas A&M.

Following graduation, Ashby received a call from former Congressman Jim Turner, a Democrat from Crockett, asking him to work for the East Texas constituents in Washington, D.C.

“I jumped at the chance to work on some issues that I cared deeply about, like veterans, agriculture and forestry,” Ashby said. “I didn’t care for the partisan bickering, but I did enjoy bringing a social and fiscal conservative view to his staff that helped ensure balance in the office. Looking back I laugh, because everybody used to joke about him hiring a Republican to serve on his staff. In 2002, after he announced his retirement, I jumped at the chance to move Nickie and my infant son home to Lufkin. Looking back, I think losing conservatives like Turner was a huge blow to Democratic Party in East Texas.”

Although he admits to voting in both Democratic and Republican primaries in the past, he said the Republican party more closely resembles his own personal beliefs.

“Over the years, I have felt the Democratic party has moved away from any values that I share or I thought I might have shared,” Ashby said, adding he believes in less government involvement and a low tax structure, and that he is pro-life without exception. “I’m a strong conservative.”

Ashby worked for Turner for six-and-a-half years before moving to Lufkin in 2003. At that time, Ashby immediately became involved in public service.

As well as serving on the LISD board of trustees, Ashby volunteers his time on the Lufkin/Angelina County Chamber of Commerce board of directors, United Way board of directors, Museum of East Texas board of directors and the Texas Lyceum board of directors. He is a member of the Lufkin/Angelina County Economic Development Partnership executive committee, and he is active in the Lufkin Host Lions Club, the Angelina County A&M Club and the Texas Forestry Association.

“Lufkin and Angelina County have been such a blessing to our family,” Ashby said. “They have given us so many opportunities to get involved and to meet some of the greatest people that I have ever known. When you move into a community like Lufkin, people are going to ask you to get involved and make a difference. I so appreciate those people who pushed me to get involved right off the bat.”

He is the president of Community Title, which has operations in Angelina, Nacogdoches and Polk counties.

Ashby and Nickie have two sons, Garin, 9, and Grant, 6, both students in Lufkin ISD.

Most importantly, Ashby said, the couple actively participates in their sons’ school functions and their church, Harmony Hill Baptist.

“We made the decision to move back to East Texas because this is where we wanted to raise our family and worship and work,” Ashby said.

Ashby said his top three priorities in running for the House seat are strengthening the education system, maintaining a pro-job growth economy and fighting to protect East Texas water rights.

Education

As president of the Lufkin school board, Ashby said he saw firsthand how the most recent state legislature failed to provide equitable funding for all Texas children.

“I think it is critically important that we have a strong voice in Austin that understands the issue of education and the importance of equity in funding our public schools in Texas,” Ashby said. “Our current system is unfair, and no one can explain to the good folks in most of our school districts in East Texas why their kids are funded at a lower per-capital value than kids in our wealthier suburban areas. We need to fix it. I intend to go to Austin and fight tooth and nail for our kids.”

He said unfunded mandates in the schools, as well as at the city and county level, have had unintended consequences.

“There’s been a lot of lip service given to local control, but unfortunately, the allotted results have been in the form of unfunded mandates on our local school districts,” Ashby said. “One of the first things I would do is work to ensure that we curtail unfunded mandates that are passed down to our local governments, not just schools. That creates financial hardships on local taxing entities, but yet they have to enact whatever the mandates are. That comes with a cost.”

When it comes to committee assignments, Ashby hopes to serve on the Public Education committee within the legislature, as well as Natural Resources and Appropriations.

Economy

Ashby said for the future of Texas economy, a low tax structure must be ensured.

“We can’t tax our way to wealth,” he said. “We have to have pro-job growth policies that allow businesses to free up capital and to invest that in business expansion to create jobs. You don’t do that with higher taxes.”

He added he believes the legislature must also protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits.

Water Rights

With his agricultural background in high school, college and working on Turner’s staff in Washington, Ashby said he understands the value of one of East Texas’ most important natural resources — water.

“The current drought in Texas has raised the level of interest on water issues. For years we’ve been worried about Austin changing our water laws. I think it’s essential that we have capable leadership that understands the issues and, more importantly, has a desire to use water as the silver bullet for economic development.”

He said protecting water rights would entice businesses to expand into the local region for job growth.

The Next Step

Ashby’s next step is to hit the road meeting the constituents from all six counties in the district.

“My beat-up 2004 Ford and I are going to embark on a long journey stretching from the eastern side of San Augustine County to the western boundary of Leon County, across Interstate 45,” Ashby said. “We’re going to take our message of a principle of conservative values, pro-job growth economy, strong education system and protection of East Texas water rights, as well as a litany of other East Texas issues that are important to the voters, and we’re going to talk about it. We’re going to have an honest conversation with the voters about issues that matter to them. Then I’m going to listen to what’s on their minds. We’re going to hit the ground running, and we’re going to hit it hard.”

The 82nd legislature re-drew district lines for congressional and state legislative seats, which were to be implemented on Sunday. But according to an Associated Press article, a U.S. federal judge ordered Texas not to move forward with redistricting plans due to a coalition of Democratic politicians, minority groups and civil rights activists that have sued the state, saying the Republican majority drew the new political lines in a way that discriminates against minorities.

According to the plans, the new House District 57 includes Angelina, Houston, Leon, Madison, San Augustine and Trinity counties, ousting incumbent Republican James White from Tyler County. Incumbent Republican Marva Beck of Leon County has not yet suggested whether or not she will run again this year.

“I’m getting in the race to win it,” Ashby said. “Not for myself but for the future of East Texas.”

Melissa Crager’s email address is mcrager@lufkindailynews.com.

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