The Williamson County Republican Women held a candidate forum today for GOP candidates for County Commissioner and County Attorney. Candidates attending were Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman, Precinct 3 Commissioner Val Covey, candidate for Precinct 3 Greg Windham, and the three candidates for County Attorney: Dee Hobbs, Rick Kennon, and Jeff Maurice.
Commissioner Birkman's opponent, Lee Ann Seitsinger, declined to attend. Observers at other forums that have indicated that while Ms. Seitsinger seemed to be a nice person, she seemed uninformed and was unable to answer questions about the issues. She has attempted to make the county's road bond debt an issue in this race (as has Precinct 3 challenger Greg Windham.) The bonds in question were approved by voters back in 2000 and 2006, and while Ms. Seitsinger registered to vote in Williamson County in 2004, according to public records, she did not vote in the 2006 bond election. (One might excuse this if the bond vote were held during one of those 'stealth' elections I so deplore, but no, this was during a general election that included a highly contentious gubernatorial race.)
Ms. Seitsinger also neglects to mention that other Texas counties with populations the size of Williamson have large cities which take on bond debt for road construction. In our case, the county rather than the cities have taken on the infrastructure bond debt. When we compare total infrastructure bond debt, Williamson County is not at the top as Seitsinger claims, but at the middle of the pack for similar-sized counties.
Both Birkman and Covey were able to talk a great deal about their work on behalf of Williamson County. Despite 69% growth across the county, they have worked to provide infrastructure, keep taxes low, and maintain a balanced budget. Because of their work on the court, the county's bond rating rose from a negative AA to AAA, which allowed them to refinance the bond debt.
Commissioner Covey also discussed the work she has done to implement deadlines for TXDOT's environmental review processes. One issue that has proved especially costly for Williamson County has been the often frustrating extensive red tape imposed on road construction by both state and federal agencies.
Precinct 3 challenger Greg Windham formerly ran against Covey as a Democrat in 2008 and served briefly as the Williamson County Democratic Party Chairman in 2010. In response to a question about the U.S. Department of Justice' threats to sue Williamson County over Spanish-English translators, Windham said that while he personally doesn't think citizens should be allowed to vote unless they speak English, he thought that Wilco should cooperate with Obama's DoJ and make “peace” and cultivate a relationship.
(FYI: The Department of Justice states that for every precinct with a 5% or more hispanic surname ratio, there must be a Spanish speaking poll worker. As many Texans know, there are plenty of folks here who have Hispanic surnames and don't speak a lick of Spanish. In my years as an election judge, I have only had one Spanish-only voter, and she simply read the ballot & instructions, which are all in Spanish and English.)
Of the three candidates for County Attorney, Dee Hobbs is currently a prosecutor in the Wilco CA's office, Rick Kennon is a former prosecutor and family law attorney with 27 years experience, and Jeff Maurice is a corporate attorney. Hobbs is well-liked in Williamson County and obviously very familiar with the workings of the CA's office. There is some nervousness amongst GOP voters about his possible loyalties to the incumbent Jana Duty. Duty's tenure has been characterized by intense controversy, numerous lawsuits, etc. Still working in the CA office, no doubt Hobbs is treading carefully, but he did make a few statements today that seemed to indicate he would have a more positive working relationship with the Commissioners court and specifically praised Birkman for her efforts.
Rick Kennon, who touted his experience working for both the Travis County D.A. and the Texas Attorney Generals office, stated that he is the only candidate with experience in all legal areas that the County Attorney's office handles. Kennon emphasized he will bring a fresh start and an opportunity to re-set relations between the County Attorney's office and the Commissioners Court.
Maurice ran for Williamson County Commissioner back in 2010 as a Democrat, and only this year began to affiliate with the Republican Party. I asked the candidates why they switched parties and if they were planning to support Republicans all the way up the ballot. In response, Maurice stated that he had always been conservative even if he had a history of affiliation with the Democrat party. He did not indicate whether he would support a Republican for President.
In response to the same question Greg Windham said he switched parties because the Democrats wanted to “take my guns, take my babies, and kiss my men.” He also railed against GOP Governor Rick Perry and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst.
Although the candidates for District Attorney were not included in this forum, Windham and Maurice took several shots at incumbent DA John Bradley. Red herring anyone?
It was an interesting day...