TYLER, Texas (KETK) – In a Mineola matchup, Incumbent Senator Bryan Hughes is facing off against Democratic challenger Audrey Spanko. Both candidates born and raised in Mineola, are seeking to represent the 16 counties that makeup District 1.
District 1 includes Panola, Rusk, Harrison, Marion, Gregg, Upshur, Wood, Smith, Cass, Morris, Titus, Franklin, Camp, Bowie, Red River, and Lamar counties.
SENATOR BRYAN HUGHES (INCUMBENT)
Bryan Hughes served his first term in the Texas Senate when he ran unopposed in 2016.
Born and raised in East Texas, Hughes attended Tyler Junior College and the University of Texas at Tyler, receiving his BBA in Economics in 1992, becoming the first member of his family to receive a Bachelor’s degree.
“I’m finishing my first term in the Texas Senate, hard to believe in 2016 we were elected. We were thankful that folks around here trusted us with that responsibility and so I’ve tried to represent the values of folks around here,” said Senator Hughes.
Prior to becoming Senator of District 1, Hughes represented District 5 in the Texas House of Representatives.
Currently, he is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Administration and was recently appointed Chairmen of the Senate Committee on State Affairs, and serves on the committees on Criminal Justice, Education, Natural Resources & Economic Development, and Redistricting.
Democratic challenger, Audrey Spanko, is a licensed social worker. Spanko has received two degrees from the University of Texas, and over the last decade has worked for non-profits, healthcare facilities, and the Department of Family and Protective Services.
“For about 16 years, and have really come to understand how important Texas politics are and how impactful they are to individuals and they’re day to day lives, families, first hand experiences. I saw a lot of struggle working as a social worker and know that we could change that,” explained Spanko.
Spanko is an advocate for helping people find stable housing and access to medical care, working with children, women, and families in Texas. Describing the Northeast Region as home to compassionate, hardworking individuals who deserve better representation in Austin.
SOCIAL JUSTICE & POLICING
Riots and protests have dominated the news, with cities like Austin calling for police departments to be defunded. Earlier this year, Governor Greg Abbott expressed his disapproval. The Governor proposed any Texas city that defunds their police from now on will have their ability to increase property taxes frozen.
“Now more than ever, we are supporting the police,” Hughes tells KETK, “we want to back those guys, give them the support they need, their job is tough enough anyway, and with all that’s going on it’s especially challenging. So, that’s a big priority for us.”
East Texas was not immune to protests. When George Floyd died, protests and civil unrest spread to cities across the country.
“We should also increase the number of required officer training hours and ensure they complete annual cultural competency and implicit bias training. Our current criminal justice system is rife with racial disparities,” said Spanko on her website, “It unfairly punishes communities of color and targets young black men.”
Education is at the forefront of both campaigns. Hughes was the first co-author of a raise for Texas teachers. He calls the bill an investment to help local educators.
“There are two drivers are involved parents and great teachers, and we’re thankful to have both of those around here, but those teachers, they were long overdue for some help,” explained Hughes.
“We want to make sure they have the support they need but that investment to make sure that our teachers are taken care of to make sure the money is going in the classroom,” said Hughes.
Back in 2019, Hughes along with the rest of the Senate, planned to fix the education funding system in Texas with a 50 page plan. The four key components included adding a $5,000 dollar raise for teachers and librarians and creating an educator effectiveness program to determine merit-based pay raises.
Spanko agrees, “we need someone who is actually going to keep public dollars in public schools and making sure we are investing in the future of East Texas.”
For Spanko, healthcare has become a personal mission. At the age of 55, her father had a massive heart attack, while she was in high school.
“Had he not had health insurance, I’m not sure my father would still be alive. If we didn’t have access to a hospital, I’m not sure my father would still be alive. If we didn’t have access to an ambulance if the hospital was a little bit further. We’ve had four rural hospitals close in East Texas and had we been in one of those areas without that hospital, I’m not sure that my father would be alive with me today,” expressed Spanko.
The Texas Medical Association shows the state has the highest rate of uninsured residents with 5 million people without insurance, a number Spanko is determined to bring down.