Grassroots America Videos Offer Insight Into Sheriff Runoff Election
By TIM MONZINGO
Close to 100 Smith County voters watched the remaining two sheriff candidates' previously private interviews with the Grassroots America: We The People organization Wednesday evening.
Candidates Chris Green and Larry Smith, who won 38 percent and 44 percent of the vote, respectively, in May's Republican primary, face off in the July 31 runoff.
The Grassroots interviews were conducted April 20 with all four original sheriff candidates to determine who would claim the organization's endorsement.
"We counted on the candidates' lack of preparation," organization president Doug Shyrock said. "We wanted to see the people behind the show."
In two, hour-long interviews, members of the organization questioned the candidates on issues discussed in 10 debates that occurred before the May primary election.
The tapes were made available after Green aired concerns that the interviews, which were conducted separately, were biased in Smith's favor. Smith agreed to have his interview publicly shown.
The interviews were never intended to be shown to people outside the organization's board members and a select few observers, Shyrock said.
The presentation began with Green's interview, a large portion of which was devoted to a statement he made early on about allegations that his campaign office phones had been tapped. In his interview, Green indicated he believed he was the target of concerted efforts to discredit and deter him from continuing in the race.
Green presented the interviewers with a history of his training and law enforcement experience. He presented plans for overhauling the sheriff's office should he win the election.
He criticized Smith for a number of things, such as what he said was inconsistent membership at Green Acres Baptist Church.
He also alleged that Smith violated campaign laws for federal employees by purchasing a website for his campaign while still employed by the government, a violation of the HATCH act. Green, a retired game warden, also criticized the former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officer's level of involvement in investigating the 2010 church arsons, as well as a pipe bombing case.
Smith's interview was shown second.
Initial questions in the interview addressed many of the issues Green brought up during his interview.
In the video, Smith was asked if he ever ordered or participated in illegal wiretaps or private investigations into other candidates in the race, which he denied.
He also was questioned about Green's criticisms of his involvement in the church arsons and pipe bomb case, each for which he gave detailed accounts of his actions.
Derrell Cooper, a self-proclaimed Green supporter and former Smith County commissioner who watched the recordings Wednesday, said he believed a portion of Smith's interview coincided with Green's allegation of bias.
Cooper said the questions directed at Smith seemed to be mostly related to Green's allegations as opposed to original questions.
"I just want it to be fair and I don't know why it has to be so secretive," he said of the interviews and tapes. "I think the public would get a different reading than they got from the endorsement if they saw the tape."
Cooper said he wished the tapes would be made more public than the single showing Wednesday night.
The organization made it clear that Wednesday's showing will be the only showing available. Cameras and recording devices were not allowed to be present during the interviews.
Jimmy Isham, a Smith supporter in attendance, said the interviews did not change his opinions about either candidate.
He said he still supports Smith and feels Green lacks the experience necessary to be sheriff.
"I don't think this will change anybody's mind who's voting for Larry," Isham said.
He said he was disappointed by what he saw as Green's attempts to repeatedly discredit Smith.
Though the organization officially endorses Smith, Shyrock said Wednesday's event was in no way intended to be a campaign event.
"(The tapes) allowed us to safeguard the process and hold ourselves accountable," he said.
He added that he was disappointed in people criticizing the recordings as a means to undermine any candidate.