Candidates in the March 4 Republican Party primary addressed a packed Adams Street Community Center Monday night and touted their experience, qualifications and backgrounds — and while the candidates forum was civil, a few gave measured responses to newspaper ads and online comments that had challenged their qualifications.
The Brown County Republican Women's Club sponsored the forum, which attracted an audience of nearly 200. Thursday night, the Pecan Valley Republican Women's Club will sponsor a forum at Ranger College.
Candidates were given three minutes each at the microphone. After every candidate had spoken, moderator Sammy Stewart read questions submitted by audience members.
Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace incumbent Bob Wall was the first speaker and also the first candidate to draw a challenge to his record. Wall said he believes no one is above the law and no one should be exempt from obeying the law and paying his dues. "I absolutely do not subscribe to the good old boy network," Wall said.
Wall said a candidate had told of talking to someone who wasn't treated fairly in Wall's court. Wall said he's had fewer than a dozen of his cases appealed and each of his rulings have been upheld on appeal.
Challenger Michael Holder, after describing his 30-year experience in law enforcement, said he did not participate in a large political ad that raised several challenges to Wall's record in office. Holder said the individuals who paid for the ad "have been threatened with retaliation." Holder said he hopes to changes the atmosphere of Precinct 2 "and the entire courthouse."
John Lawson, who is also a challenger for Wall's seat, said constituents deserve a justice of the peace "who will be diligent, compassionate and respectful." Lawson said he will be a full-time justice of the peace.
In the race for district clerk, Cheryl Jones, who works in District Judge Steve Ellis' office as assistant court coordinator, said she is the oldest and most experienced of the three candidates seeking the office that will be vacated by retiring incumbent Jan Brown. Jones said she has more than 37 years of diversified experience, pronouncing the word "diversified" slowly and with apparent deliberation.
While Jones did not specifically say so, she could have been responding to a challenge in an online forum from someone who claimed Jones does not have 37 years of experience as she had previously stated, as, the person stated, Jones has worked for five years in Ellis' office.
Brenda Arp, court coordinator in County Court-at-Law Frank Griffin's office, and Sheena Cantwell, who currently works as a deputy district clerk, are also running for the office.
Arp cited her broad experience in working previously in the sheriff's office and her current experience in working in Griffin's office, and said she'll strive for open communications. Cantwell she is the only candidate who can say she has worked in the district clerk's office and was trained by Brown, the current office holder.
County Judge Ray West said it's difficult to "squeeze 36 years into three minutes." West, citing his experience and background, said it's valuable as county administrator to have an attorney's eye for details in contracts.
Challenger Dennis Graham listed several of his ideas including what he said is the need for an outside audit. Graham said he believes he's helped bring positive change as a member of the water improvement district board and believes he would also bring change as county judge.
Ronnie Lappe, also a challenger in the county judge's race, said some in the courthouse have suggested "it's time for a change." There are people who are dissatisfied with West, Lappe said. Lappe also said he wants to know "why there hasn't been a person of color (employed) in the courthouse in the past 30 years."
Sometimes, Lappe said, department heads already have their minds made up who they want to hire.
Griffin, who is also up for election, said the race is about experience. "I run an efficient court," Griffin said, adding that he's never been reversed on appeal in family court and has been reversed only once in criminal court.
Griffin said the race isn't about forming a work crew, and, Griffin said, he has no legal authority to do so.
Challenger Sam Moss, who works in the district attorney's office as first assistant district attorney, said a work crew can be formed. "We've done it in the past. We have to have the courage to re-implement it," Moss said.
Moss said he wants to build on the record of what good people have already accomplished and help move the county into the future with new, young leaders.
Also speaking were Precinct 2 Commissioner Joel Kelton and challenger Adron Beck; Precinct 4 Commissioner Larry Traweek and challenger David Carroll; and Precinct 3 Constable C.T. Ham, challenger Jason Cockerham, and, speaking on behalf of challenger Roy Parrack, Don Holland. Holland said Parrack was unable to attend because of a prior engagement.