Voters decide full slate of statewide, local races today

Published on Tuesday, 4 March 2014 00:00 - Written by

BY ADAM RUSSELL, 

It’s Election Day. Weather won’t stop voters from deciding a full slate of statewide and local races today.

Three Democrats and 26 Republicans are running in March primaries.

Ten local elected posts failed to draw challengers and will remain without contest, but there are eight contested local races to become the Democratic and Republican nominee for the November election. One position, to replace retiring County Court at Law Judge Thomas Dunn, garnered four Republican candidates.

Party primaries will decide all but one race, the contest between Democratic incumbent Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 Quincy Beavers and Republican Flor de Maria Nichols. Neither drew a primary opponent and will represent their party in November.

TEXAS HOUSE DISTRICT 6

State Rep. Matt Schaefer faces long-time lobbyist and businessman Skip Ogle for the Texas House District 6 seat. Schaefer is seeking his second term after he defeated long-time incumbent Leo Berman in the 2012 GOP primary.

Schaefer, 37, an attorney, developer and Naval Reserve lieutenant commander, said he hopes primary wins by like-minded candidates around the state will broaden a conservative foothold in the state House. He expressed frustration with House leadership’s unwillingness to utilize GOP numbers to pass conservative legislation during his freshman session.

Schaefer served on the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and the Defense and Veterans Affairs committees. He was among 40 freshman lawmakers in Austin last session.

Ogle, 47, is a former lobbyist with more than a decade of experience representing companies, such as Southwestern Bell and Suddenlink, and local entities, such as The University of Texas at Tyler, in Austin. He said he is entering the race to “lobby for the community” and will focus his efforts on improving the quality of life in his district, East Texas and the state.

While conservative policy staples, such as protection of innocent life, the Second Amendment rights and Texas residents along the Texas-Mexican border, would be a priority, Ogle said, he would try to rise above polarizing political rhetoric on wedge issues to find agreement among colleagues.

Political observers say the race represents a bellwether test for grassroots conservatives like Schaefer who are facing criticism from business leaders and Main Street residents who want conservative leadership that improves the community’s seat at the table in Austin.

 

COUNTY JUDGE

The race pits two-term County Judge Joel Baker against retired Maj. Gen. John Furlow, a local certified public accountant.

Baker, 45, has been in office during ups-and-downs within county government. He was judge as the court sought a solution to jail overcrowding and the state-mandated shipment of inmates to other counties. A $35 million, 384-bed addition was approved by voters. The added capacity will bring its inmates back to Smith County and is expected to give the justice system space for long-term growth.

He has overseen the purchase of several properties as the court sought creation of a “downtown campus” for all county governmental operations. Several department offices have been moved as part as a “pay-go” facilities improvement plan. Pay-go means the county did not incur debt to pay for improvements.

Projects included renovations within the courthouse, the new sheriff’s administration building and new or renovated offices for several elected officials. Pay-go projects represent a $10 million capital investment.

The county experienced an $11 million budget shortfall in 2010 due to poor economic conditions. In the end, the court cut $9 million from its budget and raised taxes.

Furlow, 57, wants to bring a “bottom-line, results-oriented approach” to county government. He has a 31-year military career and accounting and business background.

He believes the court needs to be more transparent and begin every budget process with a zero-based budget. He has pledged not to raise taxes but rather find efficiencies and ways to cut costs. Furlow remained critical of pay increases court members approved in 2007 and what he called a lack of “genuine transparency” regarding the number of executive sessions entered to discuss agenda items.

Furlow has been critical about the county’s lack of long-term planning with regard to roads and infrastructure, which he says will be critical for exiting from stagnant economic conditions.

 

DISTRICT ATTORNEY

Incumbent Matt Bingham, 46, faces 33-year-old attorney Austin Reeves Jackson, of Lindale.

Bingham became district attorney in 2003 after serving as assistant district attorney under 241st District Judge Jack Skeen Jr. He has prosecuted several capital cases and said he will continue “aggressive prosecution” of criminals if re-elected.

Jackson gained prosecutorial experience in Gregg County and is double-board certified in criminal and appellate law. He has been critical of Bingham’s fiscal management and the number of cases overturned on appeal because of prosecutorial error.

 

COUNTY COMMISSIONER

PRECINCT 4

This race pits two Democrats who got their political start on the Tyler City Council against each other.

Commissioner JoAnn Hampton is the senior member of the commissioners court and has experienced its ups-and-downs as well. She is seeking her fourth term on the court.

Mrs. Hampton said she has been an active part of major shifts in county policy and procedures that have opened government, enacted cost savings and efficiencies, while providing a voice for her precinct. She said she would stand by her experience on the court.

Former District 2 Tyler City Councilman Donald Sanders, 61, said his six-year tenure on the council and community activism translates into proven leadership and experience and has given him an open ear for the community.

 

OTHER CONTESTED RACES

Other notable races include a crowded race to replace retiring County Court at Law Judge Thomas Dunn. Candidates include attorneys, Jason Ellis, 31, James Huggler, 44, Brent Ratekin, 45 and Mike Patterson, 63.

If no candidate emerges with 50 percent-plus one of the vote, a May 27 runoff between the top two vote-getters will decide the race.

Certified public accountant and attorney John Jarvis, 46, faces longtime incumbent 321st District Court Judge Carole Clark.

Pre-law college student Noah Butler, 23, faces incumbent James Meredith, 57, who has been in office since 2002, for Justice of the Peace Precinct 3.