On social media, in print media and broadcast media, campaign rhetoric has swirled since Brownwood businessman Steve Fryar’s announcement two weeks ago.
Fryar, 53, announced on Aug. 17 he will run as a write-in candidate against Paul Lilly in the race for Brown County judge in the November election.
Lilly, 49, defeated longtime incumbent Ray West in the Republican Party primary in March. Speculation quickly spread after Lilly’s primary victory that a move was brewing to draft a write-in candidate.
A couple of names including Fryar’s emerged before Fryar made it official.
Both candidates have accused each other of mudslinging, and both have expressed confidence they will win in November.
Lilly, who originally is from Fort Worth, teaches criminal justice at Howard Payne University and previously served as chief of HPU’s police force. Lilly has been in Brown County since 2011. He visited the Bulletin Wednesday and gave his reaction to Fryar’s write-in candidacy and statements Fryar has made, and restated some of his campaign platform.
“I have a healthy agenda,” Lilly said. “There’s a lot that I want to get done, a lot that I believe needs to be done. We’ve been kind of lax many years in my opinion.”
Lilly said most of his ideas are “self-funding or grant-funded. I’m very cautious about committing any county money to any new projects. … I don’t want to over-burden the taxpayer at all.”
‘Stop all the trash talk’
Lilly said he wants to challenger Fryar to “stop all the trash talk, stop trying to belittle me in other people’s eyes, which I have not done to him. I challenge him to do just like I’m doing now, and like I did in March, and that’s to run an honest and ethical Christ-centered campaign.”
Earlier, Lilly “shared” on Facebook a claim from a Lilly supporter who asserted that “West is back running for county judge under the name Steve Fryar as a write-in candidate. What a joke!”
Fryar, who has been staunchly Republican, said in an earlier interview he asked West where he was supposed to file as a write-in candidate but had no other conversation with West about the topic.
‘Slap in the face’
Lilly said he’d heard talk about a possible write-in candidate before Fryar filed. “I didn’t know whether it would materialize or not,” Lilly said. “I had hoped not, because it’s kind of — in my opinion and in the opinion of a great many — a slap in the face to those who participated in the primary process. That’s what the primary process is for. … The real election for this office was held in the Republican primary in March and the citizens made their choice.
“ … I will not participate in any debates or forum. I won the Republican primary. If he wanted to debate, he should have been in that primary. I’m not participating in any of that. That’s already happened.”
Fryar said earlier he had seen no need to run in the primary because he supported West and he believed West would win.
Lilly said while he believes he will prevail in November, “I’m not overly confident. I take any opponent very seriously. … I’m just hoping everyone comes to the polls again in November to keep Texas red.”
Social media posts have claimed a controversy is brewing because the Brown County Commissioners Court will face the issue of whether to grant tax abatements to wind turbine companies.
Commissioners have not discussed that topic in recent commissioners court meetings.
“I don’t know what’s suddenly brought that back up,” Lilly said. “I’ve faced quite a bit of questions about that from both sides. I’m not sure where that resurfaced. That’s been a settled position for a while now.
“My position is this: what an individual does with their own private property is their business if it’s outside city limits and it’s not in violation of health and safety code or anything like that.
“However, I am not in favor of the government subsidizing private investments with regard to the wind turbines. But again, if the turbine companies and the landowner reach an agreement amongst themselves, what they do is their own business. I am a staunch supporter of individual property rights. I don’t think the government should subsidize those.”
Lilly said he believes he brings “the best vision to the county. I’ve stated my first-quarter goals and objectives and I’ll release them each quarter as to what I hope to do for the people.
“I have over 27 years of experience in government services. I’ve been teaching criminal justice full time since 2011. I have an excellent education in that profession with a bachelor’s degree in law and government, a master’s degree in criminal justice and government administration and a doctorate in forensic psychology and criminology. I think that far surpasses my opponent’s education and experience in that regard.”
Lilly said his first-quarter goals include the creation of a veterans court, which he hopes would be funded by a grant and at no cost to local taxpayers.
Lilly said a veterans court “is in no way an excuse for criminal behavior from veterans or anyone else. It doesn’t let anyone off with any lesser punishment. What it’s designed for, is to recognize that our veterans sometimes suffer from PTSD issues that cause them to behave in a manner they wouldn’t ordinarily behave.
“It allows a court to recognize that, and works to get them the help they need, especially when being behind bars is not the answer.”
Emergency management, fire marshal services
Another first-quarter goal, Lilly said, is to expand the office of emergency management. “We’ve had three floods since I’ve been here,” Lilly said. “We desperately need to make sure that we recoup any FEMA funds that are available to us. We’ve been doing a fair job of that but we can certainly improve on it.”
Lilly also said he sees the need to “get a better grip on our fire marshal’s services for the county.” Lilly said he has talked with Brownwood Fire Chief Eddy Wood and Fire Marshal Buddy Preston.
“Buddy is already overworked so we’re going to sit down and re-explore that after the first of the year,” Lilly said. “I’m not speaking for them in any way but the subject has come up.”
Lilly said possible options could be having a part-time county fire marshal or blending the fire marshal’s office with the office of emergency management.
Lilly also said he wants to “do the county’s part to reach out to the new municipal development districts, and do whatever we can to help them bring in additional businesses — which means additional tax revenue … and also brings in more jobs.
“I’m not sure what the county can be doing but I’m certain we can be doing more. We’ve never really taken a large role in that. I definitely want to step up to the plate and be doing our part like the cities do their part.”
Responding to criticism
In an earlier interview, Fryar criticized Lilly’s job history, saying, “I’ve never gone to a DPS office to get a new license outside of Brown County. My opponent can’t say that.
“I haven’t worked at 20 different places. I haven’t been fired from numerous jobs and then turned around an sued them for unlawful (termination).”
Lilly gave a lengthy response, saying he was fired from one job — as chief of the Caldwell Police Department in 2009.
“I was dismissed after I refused to participate in some issues that I felt were unethical behavior,” Lilly said. “I can’t go into it any further than that. I was put in a position where I had to either compromise my ethics or stand my ground and stand with my officers, and I chose to stand my ground, and of course they showered me the door.
“I wear that as a badge of honor and wouldn’t change a thing. When God closes one door he opens many others.”
Lilly continued, “I know Mr. Fryar is spinning everything that he possibly can. I believe he probably knows he’s an underdog in the campaign. I heard some of the statements that he’s made …even Steve knows, if you have 22 law enforcement jobs as he said in 27 years, it’s not because you’re a bad officer. Twenty-two agencies don’t hire you if you’re a bad officer.”
‘A testament to the services’
Lilly said his job history is “a testament to the services that I provided. In my early years I provided, as we all know, community policing services to agencies so that they could qualify for federal grants. And then I moved into the field of being an interim, or a chief who comes in an repairs troubled agencies. I’m proud to say that when I finished with one I would have one or two more waiting in line to hire me. So that’s actually the best resume that anyone could ask for.”
Lilly also said he was previously contracted by the U.S. State Department and the Department of Justice; was commissioned by the U.S. Marshals Office as a Special Deputy United States Marshal; and served during the 2009 presidential inauguration.
“Nobody likes to have their record distorted like that,” Lilly said of Fryar’s statements. “I served 27 years in uniform and that is a service to my country. I don’t know that Mr. Fryar has ever worn a uniform a day in his life, but he sees it necessary to come out and try and tear my career down and try and tear my services down.
“I’m proud to say I have three distinguished service medals, I have 2 purple hearts and I even have a medal of valor. That should show that I’ve paid my dues and I’ve served my country well with regard to the uniform that I wore.”