Counting those who spoke, more than 50 persons attended the approximately hour-long gathering, which featured candidates for offices ranging from Justice of the Peace to Congress.
Ronnica Ridgeway, who is challenging County Judge Dean Fowler in his bid for reelection, said the county should focus on “bringing in business,” thus bringing in tax revenue.
She said “cutting expenses is great” and praised the current Commissioners Court for doing so, but added that “we can’t operate with nothing (money-wise).”
She also addressed two rumors she said were circulating about her—one that she, the mother of two children, is not married, which she said was “news to me” as she has a husband.
She said “my opponent and his cronies and his supporters” evidently couldn’t find a marriage license for her in Texas, but she noted there are 49 other states in which to marry (she did not say where she had done so).
Ms. Ridgeway also cited a rumor that she was in a “carefully devised plot to sue the county.” She said if she was, it would be a county more “financially stable” than Upshur.
Fowler did not attend the forum.
Pct. 2 Comm. Cole Hefner, seeking reelection to a second term, said the county now has a balanced budget after 4-5 years of deficit budgets, that its budget has dropped about $2 million during his term, and that budget hearings have become “more open and transparent.” The county now needs to build reserves, he said.
He also said the Commissioners Court had reduced commissioners’ annual salaries by about $11,000, that the county is “now out of debt,” and that the court saved nearly $250,000 annually by going out for bids on employees’ health insurance. Moving that business back to Gilmer to a local insurance agency also boosted local pharmacies’ business since the prior carrier used mail-order prescriptions, he said.
Hefner’s opponent, Don Gross, cited his 43 years in public service in education and law enforcement and said he favored taking certain action “rather than raising taxes.” He pledged to make a “concerted effort to bring in business and new industry.”
He also said he would work to update the county’s emergency management plan, that he favored the court having a citizens’ advisory committee, and that he favored nighttime meetings of the court (which now meets usually at 9 a.m.).
Hefner defeated Gross by only 12 votes in the 2010 Republican primary.
Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer, also seeking reelection to a second term, said the court had turned the budget around, has “made a lot of progress” in 2 1/2 years, and is working on a “lot better. . . potential government.” In addition, “We’re on a plan to have reserves” and “we’ve tried to get rid of the waste,” he said.
Although the court has caught “flak” from county employees, Spencer said, “all we have done is cut (their) retirement” benefits.
He further said construction contractors want to come to the county.
His opponent, Karmen Kelley, cited her 36 years of service as a county employee and said the commissioner’s post should be a full-time job. She said she favored bringing in “economic development” and pledged, “I will not vote for an unbalanced budget. . .Although we are debt-free, Upshur County is still in a financial crisis.”
She said the county should have three months’ reserves, but doesn’t, and that 44 percent of county employees are leaving their jobs. Ms. Kelley said the county should quit being a “training facility” for employees who go elsewhere.
Karen Bunn, candidate for District Clerk, cited her endorsement by the office’s current holder, Carolyn Parrott, and her almost eight years’ experience working in the office. “Experience is valuable. . . I am the most qualified candidate,” Ms. Bunn maintained.
She also said she wanted “service options at the lowest cost to the taxpayers,” and asserted she could increase the office’s efficiency.
Her opponent, Kathryn Wilson, said “show me an employer” who hired someone based solely on that person’s experience.
She said leadership and character could be just as “profound and meaningful” as experience, and that “while I do not have hands-on experience” working in a District Clerk’s office, she has knowledge involving it because of her background as a jailer, law enforcement transport officer, and her work in real estate.
“I’m not going to be going into the office blind,” said Ms. Wilson, who expressed a “true willingness to learn this position” and a desire to allow people to access the office’s documents via computer from their home or office.
Brandy Vick, candidate for County Treasurer, cited her status as chief deputy in the Treasurer’s Office, where she has worked the past 8 1/2 years. She also cited her training in various matters. Her opponent, Todd Quinn, did not attend the forum.
Sherry Jewkes-Larsen, running for Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace, said she had worked for current Pct. 4 JP W.V. Ray since 2002 and that she is a “certified clerk.” She said she was accepting no campaign contributions, that a JP should be full-time, and that “I will be accessible.”
Her opponent, Gilmer City Judge Rebecca (Becky) Skinner, cited her 29 years in the judicial system, 17 as municipal judge and 12 as the City Court’s clerk. She said she has a “thorough knowledge of the judicial system” and that JP is a full-time post.
The only one of the three GOP candidates for Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace to attend, Cheryl Taylor, cited her current work as a nurse, her background as head nurse of a clinic, and her past work as a construction company’s safety facilitator in arguing “I have strong leadership skills.” She said she is a problem-solver, that she wanted people to know who their JP is, and to “have a fast response to their need” with regular business hours.
Other candidates are Wyone Manes and Kimberly Clift Stone.
Terri Ross, who although unopposed in the primary for County Clerk is expected to face Libertarian Peggy LaGrone in the November general election, discussed how she has overcome leukemia. She also cited her background of eight years as coordinator for 115th District Court, four years as an employee of the District Attorney’s Office, a businesswoman who “tripled sales,”and currently a title examiner who depends on the County Clerk’s Office in her work.
John Stacy, the only one of several candidates for the seat of Congressman Ralph Hall (who is seeking reelection) to attend, said he is in the health insurance industry and has “been coaching people through Obamacare since 2008.”
Stacy, running in a district which includes part of Upshur County, drew applause when he said the federal government is stealing money from “everyone alive,” and he also deplored “out of control government,” and that he supports the concept of state “nullification.”
Robert Talton, running for Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, said the current court is overturning 74 percent of jury trial decisions, which he termed a problem, and is finding in favor of “your larger corporations and your big government.”
“If you were a plaintiff, you lost 80 percent of the time” in the court’s decisions, said Talton, who said he wanted a “fair, impartial indpendent judiciary.” Citing his conservatism, he said he had practiced law for 37 years, and that he had a background as a state legislator, law enforcement officer, prosecutor, judge and city attorney.
Though unopposed for reelection, State Rep. David Simpson also spoke, praising Talton’s work as a legislator and urging that the state save money in good times to prepare for bad ones.
Sharon Russell of Rockwall spoke on behalf of U.S. Senate candidate Steve Stockman, who opposes incumbent John Cornyn and Dwayne Stovall in the primary. She said Stockman, a Congressman, votes “90 percent in accordance with the U.S. Constitution” and the GOP platform that mirrors it, and that he favors ending the funding of Obamacare.
Ms. Russell said she was tired of legislators saying they oppose Obamacare, but voting to fund it. She said Cornyn has “impeded progress” and agreed with forum moderator John Melvin Dodd’s assertion that on certain votes, Cornyn hasn’t stood up to Obama.
Upshur Countian Sandra Click spoke on behalf of Attorney General candidate Ken Paxton, calling him a conservative Christian who’s been in the Texas Legislature more than 10 years and who “wants to contnue what (current AG) Greg Abbott has done.”
She praised Paxton’s work against the controversial “Common Core” curriculum for public schools and cited his endorsements form numerous groups.
Bryan Slaton, representing State Comptroller candidate Harvey Hildebran, said Hildebran wants to make the office “more business-friendly” and bring back performance reviews for it. Slaton cited numerous endorsements for Hildrebran from such groups as the Texas Medical Association and Texas Association of Business.
Upshur GOP Chairman Cynthia Ridgeway, who would normally act as moderator for such forums, opened the meeting briefly before excusing herself because she was ill. She turned the duty of presiding over to former Upshur Republican Chairman John Melvin Dodd.