You’re voting for more than a candidate
February 19, 2014, 10:00 am by Phil Schoch
Every race on the ballot deserves attention, but a few here and in neighboring Burnet County are exceptionally important because they may involve not only who’ll do the job, but how local political campaigns will be conducted in the future.
There is a deep and serious divide in area Republican politics; while personalities may be part of it, the central issue is whether those in public office and party officers should be involved in competitive primary election campaigns by making endorsements, organizing candidate slates or campaigning for favored candidates.
Proponents correctly argue that neither Texas law nor state party rules prevent them from doing so. Additionally, they point out that elected officials may be particularly knowledgeable about the abilities and performance of other elected officials whose work entwines with their own. For example, the District Attorney may know more than the general public about the effectiveness of the Sheriff or a District Judge about the District Clerk.
Others, including the publisher of this newspaper, look at the endorsements by District Attorney Wiley "Sonny” McAfee as perfect examples of why elected officials should attend to their own duties and stay out of the races of other Republicans. Although McAfee is doing a superb job as DA, he is no more qualified to make an endorsement in the Burnet County Judge’s race as George Clooney is to tell us who should be President. So why has he jumped into the middle of a very contentious election with all four feet?
We don’t know – except he may feel indebted to Johnnie B. Rogers, a lobbyist who was also a member of the Texas Republican Party’s Executive Committee when he organized support for McAfee and a ticket of other primary candidates in 2012. Rogers’ wife, of course, is Linda Rogers, who was then chair of the Burnet County Republican Party and now is a candidate for Burnet County Judge.
Arguments that crime fighting is a key qualification for county judge are reduced to hot wind when the facts are that this judge doesn’t hear felony criminal cases and 34 percent of Burnet County’s budget is already designated for public safety, an amount not readily increased without raising taxes. Of course, there’s also the point that all three Burnet County Judge candidates support law enforcement and – probably – are also in favor of world peace.
The more serious problem posed by such endorsements is that they may eventually present conflicts of interest. Should inappropriate actions by any county judge rise to the level of criminal prosecution, it’s the District Attorney’s responsibility to pursue them.
However, there is nothing eventual about the ethical questions raised by the District Attorney’s endorsement of 424th District Judge Dan Mills. In the American judicial system, judges are supposed to be impartial referees who make sure the law is correctly applied and trials are conducted fairly. They should not be seen as part of a "team” with either prosecutors or defense lawyers.
Candidates should be free to form slates, run together, endorse one another, and otherwise mutually support the election of those with whom they share philosophies and goals if they openly declare that intention. There’s also nothing wrong with individual citizens supporting groups of candidates.
The trouble comes when party leaders and elected officials aspire to become kingmakers, deciding who should run and who shouldn’t, supporting some while intimidating and attacking others. Inevitably, this work is sheltered by secrecy and denials so most voters never realize power is becoming concentrated in the hands of a few who not only run the party but wield undue influence in the government – and usually not for the commonweal.
We can make sure our rural Texas county doesn’t become a place, like Chicago and New Jersey, where political bosses reign and consultants weasel out of their holes with bags of dirty campaign tricks every election season.
Insist that the county Republican Party prohibit its own officials and Republican officeholders from making endorsements and meddling in intramural races.
That’s not the rule today. So please be especially careful who you vote for in this year’s primaries. Don’t just choose a familiar name. Know who – besides the public – they may serve. However unfortunately, the truth is often hard to come by because many prefer to hide their alliances, a puzzling situation if they’re proud of them.
Perhaps the dirtiest and most divisive campaign is being waged for judge in the 424thJudicial District, including Llano, Burnet, Blanco and San Saba counties.
We believe Evan Stubbs, who is challenging the incumbent for this office, will not waver in his commitment to keep the judge’s office out of destructive party in-fighting, but will concentrate on his own responsibilities and bring a high standard of probity to the bench.
A scurrilous letter filled with misleading and false information sent recently by incumbent Judge Mills to households in the district accuses other conservatives on his enemies list – including this newspaper’s publisher – of being opposed to holding "criminals personally accountable for their conduct” and – incredibly – of trying to steal the court from conservatives.
This reminds us of the ugly and automatic response of many of Barack Obama’s supporters that criticism of the President is "racist.”
While we concur with those who believe Mills knows the law and applies it well in criminal cases, we do not think he has a monopoly either on that or the will and ability to hold criminals completely accountable for their misdeeds.
We believe Stubbs is a conservative who will apply the law fairly and be appropriately tough at sentencing. Serious crimes and sorry criminal histories deserve harsh punishment.
Equally important, we believe Stubbs truly respects the need to keep judicial offices as distant as possible from politics.
Don’t overlook the down ballot races. Many are important and contentious.
Buried at the end of the ballot are propositions, all of which we believe deserve a vote of YES. Although they will not directly change the law, they are a straw poll of party members that may encourage desirable legislation.
Particularly important is one regarding the Franchise Tax, which – unless you are a small business person – you may not be familiar with. Because it taxes total revenue – not profit – businesses often are taxed even if they lose money. It’s not only the most unfair tax ever devised by man or beast, the so-called "margins tax” discourages business growth and jobs. Please let lawmakers know it should be abolished by voting YES.
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