Rabbi Neal Katz kicks off campaign running as an Independent against Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer

An independent running to represent most of Smith County in the Texas House of Representatives told a standing-room-only crowd on Monday night that he believes the community can do better in Austin.

Rabbi Neal Katz, who is best known for leading services at Congregation Beth El in Tyler, spoke to a crowd of about 250 people at his campaign kickoff at the Tyler Rose Garden on Monday night.

At the event, prominent community leaders voiced their support, including Shannon Dacus, chair of the Tyler Economic Development Council; Rick Rayford, the former CEO of Brookshire Grocery Co.’ and the Rev. Jerome Milton, from the Greater New Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church.

“My 15 years of community service and working with people from all parties has taught me that East Texans are better when we work together,” Katz said, “and so I chose to run as an independent because it was the best way for me to be the candidate that I want to be.”

Katz is challenging Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, the chairman of the Texas Freedom Caucus and a popular incumbent who has held the District 6 seat since 2013. Earlier this month, Schaefer handily defeated primary opponent Ted Kamel with 73.3 percent of the vote.

Katz immediately criticized Schaefer for his campaign fundraising from the political action committee Empower Texans. A donor from Midland created the group in 2006, and the group is a major supporter of Freedom Caucus and Tea Party candidates.

“In the past six months I’ve heard every reason not to run, but I can’t ignore the fact that our current representative acts on behalf of his West Texas funders and not his East Texas neighbors,” Katz said. “The last I checked, Midland was not in our district.”

In addition to being a rabbi, Katz has served in various capacities for more than a dozen nonprofits in the area, according to his website. He is a current board member at the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce, the Hospice of East Texas Foundation and the Texas Freedom Network.

Schaefer responded to Katz’s campaign kickoff with a statement criticizing his involvement with the Texas Freedom Network, a statewide organization that has a mission of promoting religious freedom, individual liberties and public education.

“Rabbi Katz is giving me an opportunity to contrast the conservative policies that make Texas strong versus the far-left policies of Katz and his Austin-based Texas Freedom Network,” Schaefer said in a statement. “It’s a clear choice between conservative or liberal.”

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