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The 134 PAC Rural Debate Preview

Mayor James Decker

This coming Thursday's debate will be moderated by James Decker, the Mayor of Stamford, Texas. We asked him because he is extremely non-partisan and is a tireless advocate for rural places like Stamford. He thinks, writes and podcasts about local government, rural places, policies and priorities. We thought he would be the perfect person to lead our U.S. Senate Candidates in a discussion about rural priorities.

James is a native of Stamford, Texas (pop. 2,977). He attended Texas A&M University and Texas Tech School of Law and then returned to Stamford in 2009, after graduating law school, to open up a law practice on the downtown square. His passion for rural communities led him to run for City Council in Stamford in 2012. He was re-elected twice and then was elected Mayor of Stamford in 2018 and again in 2020 and 2022. Like all local offices in Texas, these roles are non-partisan. He takes that as a matter of pride. He is not a Democrat, Republican, or anything else. But he is a passionate advocate for rural Texas to ensure that rural people do not get left behind.

The topics the debate will cover will be rural broadband, economic development, healthcare, education and infrastructure. It will not be a direct debate between all candidates. With seven candidates expected to attend, that would be a nightmare to watch. Instead it will be conducted in a question and answer format of individual conversations between Mayor Decker and the candidates on these topics.

As we said, Mayor Decker has done a lot of writing about rural issues and priorities. He writes on his blog at West of 98 on Substack. He wrote a piece on rural issues in 2022 that is a good gauge of the sorts of things he will be asking about. He granted us permission to reprint it here. Although originally written with state government in mind, his observations are not just limited to state government. They also are important when considering who to vote for for national office.

We hope you will take the time to read up on what at least one rural Mayor thinks rural priorities are and join us for the Senate Debate Thursday January 18, 2024 at 7:00 p.m. on The 134 PAC Facebook Event Page


By James Decker

In the fall of 2021, I had the opportunity to discuss rural priorities with a handful of party leaders and candidates for statewide office in Texas, from both parties. In those discussions, I established Five Rural Priorities for State Government. I have encouraged all candidates and party leaders to consider these priorities in their campaigns and policy decisions moving forward. These are nonpartisan issues. These issues do not ask for special treatment for rural voters or rural communities. In fact, it is quite the opposite. These are very basic issues that run to the heart of a community’s ability to prosper and thrive in the future, whether rural, suburban, or urban. Statewide candidates should value rural voters and not take them for granted and rural voters should ask hard questions of the candidates who ask for their votes. I do not profess to have a corner on the market of rural policy wisdom, but I care deeply about the future of rural Texas. I encourage others to help shape this conversation, expand and refine these priorities, and take these issues to our leaders. If you’d like to discuss more (as an interested voter, a candidate, a party leader, a member of the media, or otherwise), please email me from this page.

I. Rural broadband

Rural broadband is not rural electrification, it is the modern-day railroad; it connects a community to the outside economy and its availability picks winners and losers; without accessible broadband, rural communities will wither and die like those communities bypassed by the railroad.

II. Economic development

We need to 1) create opportunities for good jobs, 2) create more remote work opportunities, and 3) prioritize good stewardship of our natural resources. That should be the focus of economic development rather than the historic tendency to toss a bone to a hungry dog, knowing he’s desperate, and call it economic development, regardless of whether it’s actually beneficial to the local community.

III. Healthcare

Rural healthcare has been in crisis for many years, starkly illustrated by Stamford’s hospital closure in 2018; we need state and federal stakeholders to make rural healthcare financially viable, or at a minimum, just not actively work against us; priorities should be emergency service and primary care providers; without minimal healthcare, it’s hard to ask people and industry to locate in a community.

IV. Education

Don’t make life unduly hard on teachers and rural schools with testing regimes, unfunded mandates, or other obstacles that drive good teachers out of the business; encourage more vocational training that can connect locally, so that local businesses can hire local graduates and local graduates can aspire to success locally, reversing the rural brain drain.

V. Infrastructure

TWDB, TDA, TPWD and all other state funders need to continue their good work and grow funding for local drinking water, wastewater, parks, and other projects. We need to find new ways to access funds (state and federal) for other major local needs that have enormous impacts on quality of life (streets, for example). Use the state’s best efforts to get all money that can be applied locally, particularly federal funding sources that are rarely accessed in Texas. Make it easier for locals to know what resources are available, and how to reach them.

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Jan 17

Thank you, Mr. Decker, for establishing a broad discussion about the priority of needs for rural Texans and their communities. As a city dweller, I find this list helpful in understanding where to focus my attention when thinking about those living in the vast beauty of Texas outside of our cities.

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