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Two Republican candidates for the Texas House District 53 seat introduced themselves to Llano County voters on Thursday, Feb. 8, during an informal meet-and-greet at the Kingsland Branch Library. Hatch Smith and Wes Virdell gave brief introductions, shared their concerns for the district, and talked about their positions on key issues, such as the region’s water supply and proper representation at the state level. 

The event was hosted by the Kingsland Chamber of Commerce.

“The Kingsland Chamber feels that it is important to offer our residents a forum in which both sides have a chance to speak and represent and let us know about the issues they care about,” Chamber Marketing Director Terri Schexnayder told before the event.

Smith and Virdell were together at the same political event in Llano County for the first time since campaigning began in January.

They’re vying for their party’s nomination in the March 5 primary to run in the November general election. District 53 includes 16 counties and around 200,000 residents. Of those, 22,000 live in Llano County.

Virdell spoke first after winning a coin flip.

Wes Virdell in Kingsland
Wes Virdell, a Republican candidate for the Texas House District 53 seat, chats with a Llano County resident at a candidate meet-and-greet held at the Kingsland Branch Library on Feb. 8. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

The Brady native talked about his idyllic upbringing in McCulloch County, his service in the U.S. Air Force as an intercontinental ballistic missile technician, and his time training fellow airmen. 

“I got to interact with thousands of troops for a 3½-year period,” Virdell said. “I learned a lot from it. I learned what bad leadership looks like. I learned what good leadership looks like.”

He enlisted shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and served until 2008. After leaving the Air Force, he worked alongside his family in a diesel repair business in Brady. By 2011, he began participating in state politics, attending meetings concerning gun rights at the Capitol. 

Virdell served as a volunteer Hill Country coordinator for the Gun Owners of America in 2021 and was hired as the Texas state director for the organization in 2022 following the Uvalde school shooting. 

He said he’s concerned with a lack of honest representation by the state’s Republican legislators.

“There’s lots of people that tell you that they are conservative and all that, but they have no history of being Republican,” he said. “We have to quit sending cowards. We have to quit sending spineless people who back down and won’t stand up for your liberties.”

Smith took the stage after Virdell and gave a brief breakdown of his extensive history in Llano County.

Hatch Smith in Kingsland
Republican candidate for Texas House District 53 representative Hatch Smith (right) with Save Lake LBJ advocate Fermin Ortiz at a Kingsland Chamber of Commerce-sponsored political event at the Kingsland Branch Library on Feb. 8. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

“I grew up just down the road in Llano,” he said. “I employ a lot of people here, I have clinics here, a hospital here, I’ve ranched here all my life. I have generational friends here. I’m acutely aware of what is going on in Llano County.”

Smith spoke about his family’s deep ranching roots in the area, which reach back to the 1850s. He also shared his background in finance and investment banking during which he worked with small banks across the country after attending Cornell University and Southern Methodist University.

He returned to Llano to get into the family business of ranching. In 2019, he helped keep the Llano Hospital from being closed and negotiated a partnership with MidCoast Central Medical. He is now the CEO of the hospital and has opened additional clinics in Llano County.

Smith said he was galvanized to run for office after seeing a lack of dedication to rural infrastructure while serving on the Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors and the Governor’s Broadband Development Council.

“Six months ago, I had no idea I’d be running for political office. I’ve never had huge ambitions to do that. But having been on the governor’s broadband council, the LCRA, and now working in the healthcare industry, I saw that there is not enough attention and there aren’t enough people fighting for some of those things in rural Texas,” he said.

His main concern for Llano County and the rest of the district is water. He believes that changes have to be made at a state level to ensure water stability for District 53.