By Phillip Williams – Gilmer Mirror, April 15, 2016
Some 11 candidates for state or Upshur County offices in the May 24 Republican runoff addressed a “Dinner with the Runoff Candidates” hosted by East Texans for Liberty in Gilmer on Monday night.
About 70 persons attended the gathering at the Assembly of God despite rainstorms before and during the dinner, said ET4L President Stacy McMahan.
Many of the sharpest remarks came from several candidates for two places as judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, most of whom criticized their opponents. The 11 overall candidates, who did not take questions from the audience, spoke for periods ranging from four to 12 minutes each after American Legion official Jerry Holsworth addressed the gathering concerning veterans’ issues.
Gary Gates, candidate for the Texas Railroad Commission, explained that it no longer regulates railroads, but instead deals with the oil and gas industry. He cited his investments in that industry, as well as his current work as a cattle rancher and owner of 4,900 apartments, and said “I believe the railroad commission needs a successful business owner.”
Gates said the commission’s budget is $180 million for two years, 85 percent of it funded by the oil and gas industry, so he believed the commission needed someone with a business background.
He pledged to fight governmental overreach by such agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency.
Cliff Todd, representing Gates opponent, Wayne Christian, said Christian is the “conservative candidate” who is “endorsed by virtually every conservative group in the state of Texas.” He said Christian will “promote responsible oil and gas production,” and that Christian was on the Texas House of Representatives committee which oversaw the commission.
Todd said the commission does not need “another regulator that is hostile to fossil fuels,” but instead needs someone “who understands the oil and gas industry.”
Mary Lou Keel, seeking Place 2 on the Court of Criminal Appeals, said she “far outstrip(s)” her opponent, Ray Wheless, in being qualified for the court since she is a “criminal law specialist” with certain experience.
Citing her 21 years as a current Harris County trial court judge in Houston, and background as a prosecutor there, she said Wheless had been mostly a misdemeanor court judge and that she had represented the state in 279 criminal appeals, compared to six for him.
“My opponent has no experience in any death penalty litigation,” and failed the test to become board certified in criminal law, she added. She also won a statewide bar poll in the race by 2-1, Keel said.
Wheless responded that Keel “didn’t say a word about conservatism” and that she was married to a Democrat who argued that “conservatives had destroyed the criminal justice system.” Wheless also cited his 15 years as a judge, which he said followed 20 years in private law practice.
He also said most judges are not board certified, and that the proper certification for the appeals court would be in criminal appellate law. Neither he nor Keel is certified in that, Wheless noted.
He charged that her argument over board certification was a “red herring” to detract from the “real issue,” which “is Judge Keel is not a conservative.” He cited his endorsements from conservative groups and State Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola.)
Brent Webster, candidate for Place 5 on the appellate court, cited his experience as a Williamson County prosecutor and said he had the “broadest background in my race.”
He said he had been concerned about rulings from criminal appellate courts on constitutional rights, saying it was the Court of Criminal Appeals’ job to protect such rights. I’m very pro-First Amendment and Second Amendment,” Webster added.
Terming himself a “constitutional conservative,” he said “I have been tough on crime.” He also said he was the only candidate with any statewide endorsements and that a former opponent endorsed him.
Webster’s opponent, Scott Walker, said he practices law in Dallas and Fort Worth, but formerly did so for five years in Longview. Citing his 18 years in law practice, he said he had written more than 100 appellate briefs and “you didn’t hear Mr. Webster tell you how many appellate briefs he’s written”–one at most. “That’s not being qualified,” Walker argued.
In addition, Walker said, Williamson County records do not show Webster as the attorney of record in a single criminal matter. In the meantime, Walker termed himself a “constitutional conservative” who believed in the Second and Fourth Amendments, saying police officers should not stop someone or search homes without probable cause.
In contrast to most of the judicial candidates, the two candidates for the Texas Senate’s District One seat, State Reps. David Simpson (R-Longview) and Hughes, did not criticize each other.
Simpson argued for “limited government,” saying he wanted to “get government out of the way unless you harm your neighbor. . .Punish the wrongdoer and then get out of the way.”
He also advocated stopping illegal immigration and securing the border, stopping sanctuary city policies and “handouts” to illegal aliens, ceasing “the one-size-fits-all” testing which the state requires for school students, halting “corporate welfare” and protecting religious liberty.
Simpson also advocated protecting East Texas water and property rights.
Hughes, discussing border security, said he had been “proud to support” appropriating money in the last two legislative sessions for more boats, more aircraft and 250 new state troopers. “If the feds refuse to act (on border security), we have to do something,” he said.
He decried the Obama Administration’s “war on coal,” saying the President’s “so-called Clean Power Plant” plan would shut down numerous current plants and drive up electricity costs. As an attorney, Hughes added, he is representing companies and ratepayers in suing the EPA over the war on coal, which he said is clean and plentiful.
Hughes also said he is “strongly pro-life,” that he “led the fight to defund Planned Parenthood in Texas,” and pledged to “push back against the feds” on the religious freedom issue. He noted the legislature has enacted legislation protecting pastors from having to perform same-sex weddings.
Mary Lou Bruner, candidate for Place 9 on the State Board of Education, cited her 36 years in teaching before retirement and faulted her opponent, Keven M. Ellis, for saying that “subject matter specialists” rather than “partisan radicals” (parents) should determine what will be in textbooks. (Ellis was reportedly unable to attend the dinner because of a prior engagement.)
Bruner said schools should teach phonics, grammar rules and multiplication tables. When she asked the audience “are you okay” with high school graduates being unable to write their names in cursive, many in the crowd said “no.”
Bruner also said she was the conservative in the race and that Ellis was using language in the Democratic Party platform.
Larry Webb, candidate for Upshur County sheriff, cited his 25 years in law enforcement, including the last 20 in numerous capacities with the Longview Police Department. He proposed programs to “educate the citizens we serve so they don’t become victims of crime.”
Webb said his opponent, four-term incumbent Anthony Betterton, contended that “we don’t have time for that. We don’t have the budget for that.” However, Webb said, the programs he proposes will not raise the budget and he will have time for them.
Webb, who said he received 49.1 percent of the vote in the primary, said he had helped put on citizens’ police academies, women’s handgun programs and church safety programs.
Betterton was reportedly unable to attend due to a prior engagement.
Mary Anne Farrow, candidate for Upshur County tax assessor-collector, said that while her opponent (Luana Howell) had worked in the tax office longer than she has, Farrow is “the most knowledgeable of every aspect of the tax office.” She said she had worked in each aspect, and can make the transition from the current tax assessor-collector (Sherron Laminack) without a “learning curve.”
She accused Howell of “feel-good sound bites,” but charged Howell’s proposals are “going to cost you a fortune.” For example, Howell’s proposal to re-open the old drive-through window at the tax office (which once housed Gilmer National Bank) would reportedly trigger $250,000 in electrical costs, Farrow argued.
If county commissioners reject Howell’s proposals, they will be blamed although they have managed to get the county back in the black financially, Farrow charged.
Howell was reportedly unable to attend due to a prior engagement.
Cole Hefner, a former Upshur County commissioner who now lives in Mount Pleasant and is running for Hughes’ District 5 state representative seat (which does not include Upshur County), said the state needs to “beef up” border security and “tell the federal government to get back in its place.”
He stressed the “right to life” and said families should be making the decisions on life-ending issues.
His opponent, Jay Misenheimer, was reportedly unable to attend.
Holsworth, District 3 commander of the Legion, said he was aiming his remarks at the politicians in the audience. He urged they “recognize that there are a lot of veterans out there,” and that funding for their programs are “attacked very frequently when the budget runs short.”
“These are things that we (veterans) have earned that they mess with,” Holsworth complained. He said the state’s Hazelwood Act, which allows children of veterans to use educational benefits that veterans do not themselves use, is dear to veterans.
James Watts, a 16-year-old Upshur County resident, was master of ceremonies for the evening.