ROCKWALL (THE TEXAS TRIBUNE) –– There are no hard-hitting ads or abrasive exchanges in the GOP primary race for the newly drawn House District 33, which encompasses fast-growing Rockwall County and the outer north, east and western edges of Collin County.
Former judge and lawyer Jim Pruitt and Scott Turner, an ex-NFL player turned businessman, have had a respectful but competitive race. Since the other parties haven’t fielded any candidates, the winner of next week’s GOP primary is all but guaranteed a spot in the Texas House come January. Those watching the race say it’ll be a close call between Pruitt, an established Republican, and Turner, a relative newcomer with a charismatic streak.
Before redistricting changes took effect this year, the areas the two are seeking to represent were parts of other districts. The population in the region has skyrocketed over the last decade, though, creating the need for a new district. Like its predecessor districts, the new one is also conservative. GOP voters there want more transparency in government. They are angry about gas taxes being diverted to non-road purposes. And local Tea Party sympathizers say the 2011 Legislature resorted to budgeting tricks instead of making real cuts.
Migration to the suburbs in the district means there is also a demand for quality education and reliable water sources, along with transportation and infrastructure needs.
The difference between Pruitt and Turner and their backgrounds largely amounts to experience.
Pruitt put himself through undergraduate political science studies at the University of Texas at Dallas and the Baylor School of Law by working nights in a Houston oil refinery. Today, the 56-year-old is a mediator and family attorney. He helped to create and presided over the Domestic Violence Court in Dallas County, an experience that brought him into close contact with the Legislature.
“The big difference is from day one, I can get down there and start with the job. There won’t be a learning curve,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt points to his time as a presiding judge as proof he can be the fiscal hawk voters want.
“I made criminals pay for their own court costs. The courts I ran had big profits. That’s a manner of making people pay and not just get off with a free ride,” Pruitt said. “My wife’s the district attorney. We believe in law enforcement.”
The Pruitts have four children. Their youngest is entering kindergarten in the fall.
Turner grew up in Richardson. In 1995, he joined the National Football League after graduating from the University of Illinois. Turner played nine seasons as a defensive back with the Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers. He retired in 2005 after a leg injury and returned to Texas in 2007 to continue his motivational speaking business. He is also director of business development for Systemware, a content management software company in Dallas.
Turner said he developed an interest in politics while playing for the Redskins. He spent his 2004 off-season working an unpaid internship with former U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.
“That was on my dime, but I loved it,” Turner said.
Now 40, Turner said his conservative politics are rooted in his Christian faith. He is the corporate chaplain at Systemware and a deacon at his church in Plano. He and his wife are raising his 11-year-old nephew.
“It’s not a label. It’s a lifestyle,” Turner said. “We need more servant leaders, because servant leaders have the character traits of humility, of integrity, of accountability and transparency.”
Pruitt has a long list of supporters in nearly every civic and legal department in his home county of Rockwall, where his wife, Kenda Culpepper, is the district attorney. Meanwhile, Turner of Frisco in Collin County has the backing of several conservative groups, including the Texas Association of Business‘ Business and Commerce Political Action Committee and Republican state Reps. Ken Paxton and Jodie Laubenberg.
Rockwall County Sheriff Harold Eavenson said Pruitt’s mediation history and years of involvement in local Republican circles give him the edge.
“You can’t discount experience. It counts for something,” he said.
State Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, also supports Pruitt, whom he has known for more than a decade. Deuell said he is concerned nearly half of the Texas House will be made up of freshman and sophomore lawmakers next year, so a track record is important.
“He’s got a background in some policy issues that [Scott Turner] doesn’t have. I have nothing against Turner. He’s a very likeable guy who would do well if he got elected, too,” Deuell said.
Collin County Judge Keith Self, a major Republican player in the area, said Turner represents a generational change in the party.
“The voters are looking for a passionate person who will go down there and shake things up,” Self said. “The days of accepting experience are over.”
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.