Marilyn Tennissen Jan. 21, 2014, 11:49am

In 2012, Judy Nichols stood up at a town hall meeting in Beaumont and said she could not expand her business because of the costs of the Patient Affordable Care Act.

Her comments at that meeting were written about by the Southeast Texas Record and picked up by national media. Nichols continued to blast Obamacare and other problems facing the country until she decided to do more than talk.

Nichols is now a Republican candidate for the Texas House of Representatives District 21. She will face Dade Phelan in the Republican Primary. The candidates spoke Jan. 16 to the Press Club of Southeast Texas.

Nichols owns three Papa John’s Pizza franchises in Southeast Texas and employs 49 full time employees. Under the Affordable Care Act, if she had one more employee it would put her in the same employer bracket as giant companies like ExxonMobil, she said.

“I was planning another restaurant, and had the land and had invested $250,000, but now its on hold,” she told attendees.

She says the requirements of Obamacare on small businesses are “onerous.”

Nichols says she has the ability and the skill sets needed for public office.

“I’m not a politician,” Nichols said. “I will be a citizen legislator.”

When asked about her views on Medicare expansion, Nichols said if business taxes were reduced, employment would go up and more citizens would then be able to get off Medicare.

On public education, Nichols said she supports the use of vouchers. Students are bored, she said, and choice will drive innovation and provide a wider variety of learning styles to be implemented in the classroom.

“We are stuck in a 1950s model of education,” she said. “Kids love to learn, they just want to be excited.”

Dade Phelan

Beaumont native Dade Phelan, 38, is a commercial real estate developer and broker. He graduated from the University of Texas in 1998.

Phelan is a former staff member of State Senator Tommy Williams, U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey and the Texas District and County Attorney’s Association.

Phelan said that when he heard Alan Ritter was not seeking reelection, he knew that with his experience his campaign could “hit the ground running.”

He is two time Perry appointee to and current president of the Lower Neches Valley Authority, and believes that water is one of the major issues facing the state.

In education, Phelan believes there is a need for more vocational training.

“We should have more opportunities for ‘in lieu of university’ training. Some kids are getting left out,” he said.

Another issue on Phelan’s mind is the state’s infrastructure. He said the funding formula doesn’t work and currently includes rail and ports as well as roads.

When asked about the financial mess the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association is facing, Phelan said lawsuits against the agency have left it nearly bankrupt.

“The director had free reign,” Phelan said. “He allowed the settlements and approved the 66 percent contingency fees to the lawyers.”

On education vouchers, Phelan said he supports them but believes there should be more accountability and that parents need to be more involved.

“If the parents aren’t engaged, then the kids won’t be either,” he said.

Phelan said the Texas Rainy Day Fund should never be used to fund education.

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