Editor’s Note: The interview took place on 12/13/23 via Zoom. Below is a transcription of the interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity. Janis Holt is a Republican candidate for Texas House District 18, currently represented by Ernest Bailes. Bailes, who was first elected in 2016, defeated Holt in a four-person race during the 2022 Republic Primary with 56.2% of the vote. Holt is a Trustee for the Silsbee ISD School Board, a former public school teacher, and the former SREC Committeewoman for Texas Senate District 3. She lives in Silsbee, Texas with her husband Alton. They are owners of Hi-Tech Air Purification Systems, which provides air purification systems for homes, businesses, and military installations. Holt’s website can be found at holtfortexas.com.
Garrit: In September, the SREC (State Republican Executive Committee) supported a resolution asking Speaker Dade Phelan to resign his position as Speaker. Since then, the Lieutenant Governor and the Attorney General have also called on Speaker Phelan to resign. How do you feel about the infighting between Phelan and other statewide officials and the state party, and do you think Phelan should resign, or do you think the House should vacate the chair?
Janis: Yeah, there is a lot of infighting going on, and it’s funny because I was just talking to a friend of mine about this on a phone call right before I got online with you. We were talking about this. I think right now, the primary is going to flesh that out as far as what are the voters in his district going to do about Dade Phelan? I do believe there are some issues there with the Democrats chairs of the committees as well as the issue about the back and forth between Attorney General Paxton and Dade Phelan. The timing of the impeachment process was very suspect, in my mind, and I think in the minds of a lot of people. So, what are they going to do about that? And then the SREC came out on this resolution to vacate the chair. I mean, to me, it’s kind of a moot point right now since we’re past session. Although, I don’t think the Speaker’s duties end at session, but I think we need to wait and see what the voters of his district say. I know he’s got two challengers. So, we’ll let the voters of his district decide, and then we’ll move forward from there.
Garrit: To that point, your district is really close by House District 21, which is Phelan’s district. Your town, Silsbee, is right next to the district. While you campaign, do you plan to support any of Phelan’s challengers, such as Alicia Davis or David Covey– who, like yourself, also served on the SREC?
Janis: David Covey and I are good friends. I’ve known him a long time, but I am not supporting or speaking for or against David or Alicia. They have their races to run. Like you said, Silsbee is very close. I’ve known Dade Phelan a long time, and I’ve known the Phelan name for even longer. It’s a well known name. There’s Phelan Boulevard right in the middle of Beaumont–they just have a name in the community. [Covey and Davis] have to win their races on their own. I’m not weighing in one way or the other on that.
Garrit: Going back to the SREC. The SREC has also received some criticism recently over a failed resolution for the Republican Party of Texas to “Have no association with any individual or organization that espouses or tolerates anti-semitism, pro-Nazi sympathies, or Holocaust denial.” Now, the SREC did pass two resolutions, one supporting Israel and one denouncing anti-semitism, but what are your thoughts on the one regarding association?
Janis: You know, I was really surprised at that. I followed it a little bit when it was coming out, and there [were] a lot of arguments back and forth about supporting that resolution. I don’t understand it. I would have supported that completely. I don’t think that the Republican Party of Texas should not be associated with anyone who espouses those anti-Semite comments or beliefs. Me, personally, I would never support anybody who did that or any organization that did that…. I did not listen to the debate on it. I haven’t had a chance to. I’ve been so busy in the district to really sit down and listen to the debate that went on when they were discussing that resolution. But I find it very disheartening that they could not come together and agree that that is not a good thing that we support any organization or any person that has those anti-Semite viewpoints.
Garrit: Shifting the focus a little bit to your race. You ran for Texas House District 18 last cycle and got second out of a four person race. Why are you running again, and what’s different about this time compared to last time?
Janis: As you said, there were four of us that ran, and I came in second with 26% of the vote last time. The reason why I’m running again is basically the same reasons. I believe that the constituents, the people here in House District 18, deserve someone that’s going to be a fighter for the values that we have as Republicans. We are the third most conservative district in the state of Texas. Out of 150 districts, we are number three, with an 84% conservative record– or belief structure. We have a representative that is nowhere near 84% conservative in his voting record. He continually fails on all of the conservative metrics. He scores D’s and F’s on all of those metrics. So, that’s why I’m running. I believe that the values that the people have here in House District 18 deserve a fighter that’s going to fight for those values, and that’s why I’m running.
Garrit: One of those issues is school choice and education savings accounts (ESA). Representative Bailes is an outspoken opponent of school choice and education savings accounts, and he supported the Raney Amendment to remove ESAs from House Bill 1. What are your thoughts on ESAs, school choice, and parental empowerment?
Janis: Sure, parental empowerment is a good phrase. I believe that we do need to empower our parents to be able to find the best educational situation for their child. I don’t know what’s best for someone else’s child. I only know what’s best for my children, when they were young. My husband and I made those decisions about the education setting for our children, and everyone deserves that right, whether they want [their children] in a public school, a private school, homeschool, something in between, or a charter school. They should have the right to be able to do that, and I’m speaking as a former public school teacher as well as a current school board member. I believe that that has to happen. We have to make sure that our public schools are funded. We’re mandated in our constitution to provide a free and public education to our students. So yes, we need to make sure that we’re doing that, but we also need to give opportunity through education savings accounts to allow people to be able to find a better situation for them, if they’re not able to flourish in a public school setting… whatever their issue is. Maybe it’s a physical issue or a mental issue or something else that a parent feels like [their children] would be better educated in a smaller setting, or a public school, or maybe religious education. They have that right to be able to do that…. This is a very strong issue across the nation, not just here in Texas. So, we have to be able to offer that to them. Ernest Bailes, the current state representative here, did vote to remove [ESAs] through that amendment you referenced, and that’s a problem here. In House District 18, 88% of his constituents wanted school choice, and he went with the 12% that didn’t want it. That’s what I was talking about. The constituents can trust that I’m going to vote with the way they feel in this district. That’s what we have to fight for, and that’s why I’m running.
Garrit: Governor Abbott has made a promise to primary opponents of ESAs and has endorsed challengers to several incumbent state representatives. Has the governor spoken with you at all about a possible endorsement?
Janis: Yes, we’re in discussions with the Governor’s office about his endorsement.
Garrit: Keeping on with this topic of education. Are there any other reforms you think should be made to education in Texas, primarily with public education. Because a common argument you hear from a lot of these rural Republican legislators is that school choice and ESAs will take money out of public education or hurt the community that public schools provide to these areas?
Janis: There’s two things that I want to mention. One, you kind of touched on, the argument has been made that there’s no opportunity, there is no other place for the kids to go. Well, I believe if school choice and education savings accounts do come up, then there will be opportunities, because this is a free market system. There will be institutions, there will be opportunities, that will pop up where students will be educated. Now, the accountability side of it is something that concerns me. We just don’t want an education center popping up and there’s no vetting of the teachers. So, I think that’s a concern. That will have to be addressed somehow. We have to make sure that there is some kind of an accreditation on those to make sure that they’re vetted. So having said that, the other part is about the education accountability. In public schools, we have the STAAR test. Now, I think the STAAR test needs to go away– let me just be clear about that. I think we need to do something about that. There are many norm-referenced tests that can be used. That can be used across the board, whether it’s a homeschool, private school, charter school, or public school setting. They can use those norm-referenced tests in order to rank the students, follow their education, and decide whether the school setting is up to par and whether their kids are learning. I think if you have a common denominator across all education sources… then if a parent wants to homeschool or if they want to go to “School A” but “School A,” “School B,” and “School C” are all using the same norm-referenced tests, then they will be able to see– if they decide to move from one to another– whether their kid has improved because they’re able to compare apples to apples. I think the education accountability needs some work, and that’s what I would be focusing on too.
Garrit: Another issue that was really big in this most recent special session was border security and Colony Ridge. From what I understand, Colony Ridge is in your district. So, can you speak about Colony Ridge, what it is, and what legislation should be done to address it and border security?
Janis: Border Security is a problem. The federal government is failing to secure our border, which is their job. So, now we here in Texas are having to step up and use Texas dollars in order to secure the border. Personally, I feel like we need to be sending a bill to the United States government for the job that we’re doing instead of what they should be doing, but that’s a whole other topic. Colony Ridge and other areas like it have popped up all across Texas, but Colony Ridge is one of the largest settlements– I guess we can call it that– in Texas. So, it has been the focus– so much so that Governor Abbott did add it to the last session because of the violence that’s going on there, because of the health codes that are being violated, because of the cartel activity, because of all of these things that are going on. It became a piece of focus for Governor Abbott, and he put it on the call. So what it is is a developer, Trey Harris is the developer, back in 2014-2015, somewhere along in there, began purchasing land. He started with a five acre tract. When Ernest Bailes took office, a law was passed in order to allow Trey Harris to set up an MMD, a municipal management district. Those are commonly used for cities and municipalities. They use them in order to be able to have a board that will make decisions in order to grow a city, to bring in businesses and things like that…. This was passed in the Senate and the House as part of a consent action agenda. So it just kind of flew by under the radar, there wasn’t any discussion on it. After that, Trey Harris was then able to expand it. Now we’ve got somewhere around 65 square miles out there of land, and there’s anywhere from 40,000 to 75,000 people living in this area. Well, when you have an influx of that many people, it’s going to affect city services, county services, the health services, the school systems. All of those things are being affected. I went to a town hall here recently in Cleveland, which is the ISD that governs this area that Colony Ridge is in, and they were talking about the fentanyl issue. At the end of the night, they gave everyone that attended a container of Narcan [Naloxone (brand name: Narcan) is an “opioid antagonist medication that is used to reverse an opioid overdose”]. I’d never heard of such a thing. That’s how critical this issue is–they gave every parent, and anyone who was there that wanted one, a container that had that Narcan in it because of the fentanyl overdoses that are happening in Cleveland ISD, at the high school and the middle school level. Thankfully, no one has died in these situations–they’ve just had overdoses. But the problem is huge. That ISD has gone, in the last four or five years, from around 6,000 students to now pushing 12,000 students. So, they’ve doubled the population of this ISD in four to five years. If you can imagine how crowded the hallways are, they’re shoulder to shoulder as you go down the hallway. The city and the county services are stretched to the bare minimum. The healthcare system? The Same thing. They’re not equipped. They’re trying to be. They’re trying to catch up as quickly as they can, but they’re having trouble doing that. The citizens are very frustrated. The residents that live in Liberty County are very frustrated. The roads are bad. Then, of course, the ISD issue that I mentioned. They had a bond issue in November also, and it failed again because the people are tired. But that means all these kids are in portable buildings. There’s just portable buildings everywhere. That’s not a good situation. So, where’s the school choice for those kids? They don’t have a choice. That’s the only option that they have for most of the parents there. So, it’s a big problem. This border security bill that was just passed, allocated, I think it was 40 or $45 million to the DPS to put more patrols, specifically in Colony Ridge. Well, why is that? Our current state rep says there’s not a problem down there, but why did he sign the bill that put $45 million to DPS to go patrol if there’s not a problem? It’s because there is a problem. That’s why it’s needed. Because the criminal activity, the fentanyl, the drug trafficking, the human trafficking– all of that stuff– is going on out there. The cartels are there, and it’s bad. There are pop-up businesses all over the place that are not being regulated by any kind of authority, tamale stands and taco stands– you name it. None of this is being regulated. So, what do we do about it? I can sit here and complain about it, but you got to be able to offer a solution. So, we’re working on solutions to both sides of this– to the illegals being able to purchase property; to the unregulated pop up vendors that are out there. Because our small business owners are being taxed and regulated to death, and no one is doing anything about these pop-up stands. I mean, do they have healthy situations going on there? Are they washing their hands between money transactions and cooking food? I don’t know. No one goes and checks. So, it’s a big problem, and Ernest Bailes was at the beginning of this. At the very least, he’s done nothing about it for eight years, and now it’s festered and we have what we have out there now.
Garrit: Moving on. As you have campaigned around the district, what are some other issues or concerns that have come up from voters you’ve talked with?
Janis: The main thing is this border security and the Colony Ridge issue. That is a huge issue all across the district, especially in Liberty County and East Montgomery county. It’s talked about in the other two counties, Hardin County–my home county–as well as San Jacinto County, but its primary focus is in Liberty and East Montgomery County. But other things they’re talking about is just the fact that they feel like it’s time for a change. They want somebody that’s going to fight for their values, conservative values– our values that we all share. I have almost two decades of working within the Republican Party and trying to promote these values. When I talk about that, that’s what’s resonating. It’s the fact that someone cares about the conservative values and will fight for them, and that’s what I’m gonna do.
Garrit: You’re not the only one in the race challenging Bailes. According to the Secretary of State’s office, Stephen Missick, who also ran last time and got about 5.8% of the vote, is running. So, we talked about you and Bailes, but why should voters vote for you over for Missick?
Janis: The reason why I feel like I would be a better representative than Mr. Missick… I don’t know him real well. I’ve met him on the campaign trail a couple of times. His focus is he’s been on the border working as a chaplain in the military. But my experiences that I have had through our Republican experiences and my Republican values in the fight that I’ve had for almost two decades, I think positions me better to be able to handle the issues that are going on. I’ve been fighting in the trenches for almost two decades on those very things. I know how hard it is to work to get this legislation passed, and I’m ready to make that fight. I believe that I’m the better candidate because of the experiences that I’ve had in the Republican Party and the Republican Women, specifically, fighting for these values for over two decades.
Garrit: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we end the interview?
Janis: It is time for a change in House District 18. As I mentioned earlier, we are the third most conservative district, and we deserve someone who’s going to fight for the shared values that we all have here in House District 18. I believe that I am that candidate because I’ve been doing it really all my life, but specifically in the last 18 years. I’ve worked hard year round trying to get those values to our state representatives and our senator and get people elected that will do that. Now’s the time for me to do it. Now it’s time for me to step up. I have the time, I have the ability to be able to do it, and I have the passion for it, and that’s why I’m gonna win in March in the Republican Primary.