It was a night of drama and intrigue, with intense and thoughtful discussion. Well, at least some of that did happen.
With a few exceptions, the first Kaufman County Republican Candidate Forum was just what you'd expect from a county-level political event. Candidates struggling to differentiate themselves, and an audience of candidates' supporters but few non-committed voters. Both the greatness of our political system and some of its most frustrating parts all rolled into one event.
If you like political theater, well, it is fun, but if you don't, then it is probably worse than a plane trip with a toddler. If that is you, don't bother jumping to the whole post below :)
My initial thoughts and candidate breakdown...
The national political split between TEA Party folks and non-TEA-Party folks is certainly a problem all the way down to county level. And that could continue to be ugly until some truly conservative folks become more articulate and convincing instead of divisive and repulsive.
As much as I agree with most of the governmental goals, fiscal responsibility and general conservative values of my fellow right-wingers, it is absolutely unbecoming to listen to degrading language, pompous attitudes and petty personality squabbles from some of the most outspoken voices in the room. Tolerating that is part of the problem.
Another problem is that pretty soon Republican politics are going to be irrelevant in Kaufman County if the party leaders don't do something to bring a more diverse set of conservative value voters to the table. Of course that is easier said than done. But it is only at a personal level that Hispanic and African-American voters, who largely agree with conservative principles, can see that conservatism trumps racial, socioeconomic and cultural barriers and has solutions for problems those communities face.
If the remaining candidate forum events keep the same format, some of the candidates really need to work on getting their supporters to the microphone with questions. Only a few candidates were prepared with this kind of support, which made it a bit awkward. To that end, they should workshop the questions a little more too. Dumb or pandering questions don't really help your candidate.
Politics plays out like a soap opera, and everyone needs a villain. In this case, it seems that Republicans are all making villains out of each other. It is the primaries after all.
OK, quick candidate grades to stir the pot a bit ...
Texas Senate District 2 -
Bob Deuell - (A-) - I'm not sure if Dr. Deuell is really feeling some pressure or if he is just keeping his opponents in check a bit, but he definitely came across as the professional and seasoned politician of the group. He had a few interesting moments with questions from Bob Hall supporters, but nothing that he wasn't ready to turn into a positive. He didn't have a lot of charisma or vocal supporters in the room, but didn't need that either.
Mark Thompson - (C-) - Well, Thompson convinced everyone that he is passionate about guns, border control and toll roads. What he did not do is convince anyone that he would be able to work with anyone else in Austin to do anything constructive about his favorite issues.
Bob Hall - (B+) - Kudos to Bob Hall suporters for being out in force. Hall did pretty well for himself from the stage, and made good use of questions from his own supporters And he has the cleverest slogan. But I think his supporters didn't give him much help overall. Deuell has plenty of conservative support and experience to fend off any "not conservative enough" claims.
Texas House District 4 -
Lance Gooden - Didn't show for his hometown forum, or even send a representative to put out signs and send his regards. It probably doesn't hurt him, but doesn't look good either. I hear that he is about to get a big political payback endorsement, so maybe he is banking on that to boost his incumbent credentials.
Stuart Spitzer - (B+) - Spitzer (a personal friend of mine, so take that into account) is clearly more experienced on the campaign stage this time around. He was able to make use of Gooden's absence without being trite, and gave no reason to think he wouldn't be effective in Austin. Terrell is Gooden territory, but I was surprised that there weren't any Spitzer supporters available to ask a few good questions and give Spitzer some more stage time to open up about some policy ideas and principals.
Judge - 86th District Court
Rebecca Calabria - (B) - Calabria gave an impressive set of legal accomplishments and certainly gave no reason she wouldn't be a good judge. It is easy for that to get lost a bit in a four-way race, especially when the political side of things took over during the questioning period.
Casey Blair - (B+) - Came across pretty strong on being experienced in the courtroom on both sides of a variety of cases. If this case comes down to a runoff (likely) he may get in it by setting himself up as the person with the least Kaufman County baggage. That is, if anyone pays attention, of course.
Wade Gent - (B-) - The Gent name recognition carries some weight in Kaufman County for sure, and Gent, like Calabria, did a sufficient job of pointing out his experience. Things got derailed by some political grandstanding though. While Gent managed a direct answer to a question about a "Terrell Taliban" comment, any actual discussion of the Judge race got lost in the shuffle.
Rayme Shackelford - (B) - Stayed out of the politics and looked competent, but again, with four qualified people, standing out will be difficult.
Judge - County Court at Law 2
David Lewis - (B+) - Lewis clearly has experience as a lawyer and judge, and he was well able to make his case to stay in the job.
Bobby Rich - (B+) - (Another personal friend for what it's worth) Rich made a good case differentiating himself with experience in law enforcement before becoming a lawyer, and how that might be useful in the courtroom.
Laura Hughes - (B+) - Hughes showed her campaigning experience and was mostly effective in defending her job performance after some pretty serious allegations by her opponent. Clearly there is some bad blood between offices in the County Courthouse, so it might be more effective to just give us the lowdown. She was greatly aided by the presence of a large number of her staff cheering loudly.
Angie Tijerina - (C+) - Tijerina gave some experience credentials and clearly wants the job, but ended up spending a lot of time trying to throw up red flags about Hughes. That may get people asking questions, but there wasn't anything Hughes didn't have an answer for on this night. If you are going to bring up internal squabbles at the courthouse, we need some details. Vague accusations and inferences come across more as petty bickering than serious deficiencies.
Johnny Countryman - (B) - Simple approach to his qualifications and experience as the incumbent, but also without charisma. But I'm not sure if charisma is what you are looking for in a County Treasurer anyway?
Ronnie Oldfield - (B+) - Oldfield hopes that you do want Charisma, because that is part of what he is campaigning on. He is a Terrell guy, so most of the community involvement items he used as character reference were local to this event. He may want to narrow that down to a few items do dive into for other areas where he is less-well-known.
County Republican Chairman
Jimmy Weaver - (B-) - I like Weaver but he will want to come up with some distinct plans for what he wants to do to direct the party's future in a positive direction.
Jody Dellar - (A-) - Dellar came across well at the forum and stuck with her long history of Republican activism and experience. Will someone please ask her to explain how doing things like filing an ethics complaint on Spitzer in 2012 was conducive to unifying the county party? OK, that was her husband, but still.*
OK, enough pot-stirring from me. I will get some video clips up sometime this week so you can judge for yourselves. Next up is forum #2 in Forney Jan. 28.
Have a great Wednesday, everybody.
* No doubt Spitzer was wrong there, but the issue could have been solved with a simple phone call to correct a rookie mistake.