Come Jan. 8, 2013, one seat of the Texas State Legislature may be occupied by a pool professional.
Steve Toth, owner of Acclaim Pools and My Pool Xpert, both in The Woodlands, Texas, is the Republican candidate to represent District 15 in the state’s 150-seat House of Representatives.
In fact, he unseated six-termer Rob Eissler in the Republican primaries, garnering 56 percent of the vote.
“[Eissler] was probably the fifth most powerful guy in Texas,” Toth said. “We had a very cordial race. I don’t know of a cross word that was said between the two of us.”
There is no Democrat in the running, so Toth will face Libertarian Sterling Russell in November. Historically, District 15 votes 80 percent Republican.
Toth decided to enter public service after he was sued by another company for hiring its former employees. Though not related to state government, the experience had an effect on Toth’s mind-set. He and his attorney were able to get the suit thrown out of court, which gave him a sense of empowerment.
“I started thinking that I need to be more proactive for my business and for my industry, and not just passively take things as they come,” he said.
Over time, Toth found himself disagreeing more and more with the way things were done in the Texas legislature. For instance, he objected to a state law that requires service technicians to pass a test based on the 2008 National Electrical Code handbook, even though just a small portion applied to pools and spas. Companies were only allowed approximately a year for preparation.
“It led to us having to spend a ton of money — money that we didn’t have at a time when we’ve got a recession coming on,” he said. “It really impacted my business.”
When he first decided to run, Toth figured it was a long shot, considering Eissler’s tenure and stature. But the fact that Eissler headed up the House Education Committee served Toth well, as he frequently pointed to education as a troubled area. In addition, Toth was helped by support from the Tea Party and a general backlash against incumbents.
As the primaries neared, there came a moment when Toth realized he had a fighting chance. He personally had knocked on 6,000 doors and his volunteers another 7,000, but one particular home would prove memorable.
“A woman opened the door and I said, ‘Hi. I’m Steve Toth, and I’m running for ...’ and she cut me off and said, ‘No. I’m an Eissler supporter.’ But she was nice,” he recalled.
“My campaign manager was driving for me that day. I got in the car and had this smile on my face and he said, ‘What’s so funny about that?’ I said, ‘We’ve knocked on 13,000 doors, and that’s the first person who’s told me they’re a big supporter of my opponent.’ It was then that I really knew that we had it.”
Toth’s small staff and approximately 30 volunteers are taking a breather before they start pounding the pavement for the November elections. In the meantime, he’s already traveling to Austin, meeting lawmakers and doing preliminary work. “You have to build coalitions and relationships early on or else you won’t get anything done,” he said. “I want to hit the ground running.”
Toth’s main goal is to help small businesses, including those in the pool and spa industry. Fighting fees such as the state’s margin tax, which is based on income rather than profitability, is one of his first objectives. “Honestly, the best thing I can do for our industry is just say ‘no,’” Toth said. As he’s learning, he invites pool professionals throughout the state to contact him.
As all this takes place, Toth’s wife Babette, an MBA, is overseeing My Pool Xpert, a service and repair company. Acclaim Pools, a pool design/build firm, is essentially on hold during the legislative session, which runs from January to May, every other year. If he wins, he hopes to serve three terms at the most, then get back to his business. He doesn’t see a higher office in his future. “I can’t take myself that seriously,” he said.