By David Wilfong, NDG Contributing Writer
With early voting already underway, and the presentation of candidates moving down-ballot, the crowd was smaller at the Monday Night Politics (MNP) forum hosted by the Dallas Examiner in the African American Museum at Fair Park. But there was a sense of optimism in the audience as before the event began, news of Democratic early voting numbers began making the rounds of conversation.
The evening began with Chris Spellmon, Democratic candidate for Texas Railroad Commissioner. Spellmon is running against Roman McAllen in the primary before facing off against Republican incumbent Christi Craddick or challenger Weston Martinez in the general election.
The Texas Railroad Commissioner is one of the statewide offices that doesn’t get as much attention as most, but it is a powerful office in Texas. As Spellmon explained, part of the reason for is the antiquated name of the office itself. Today the office oversees the oil and gas industries, which in Texas is a cornerstone of the overall economy.
“The name is not relative to the time,” Spellmon said. “The name started over 100 years ago when they monitored the railroads.”
Spellmon said one of the first things he will do is move to change the name of the office to “Texas Energy Commissioner” to reflect better what people are voting for, and part of what he said needs to be an improvement of “transparency” in the office. Along those lines, his biggest agenda item is to implement a recusal system for the “quasi-judicial” office, so that oil and gas executives are not able to influence the decisions which affect their financial interests. He also wants to see each county given authority over fracking activity in their jurisdictions.
In the race for Justice of the Peace (JP), Precinct 4 Place 1, incumbent Norris “Stretch” Rideaux is facing challenger Mike Jones in the Democratic primary.
Jones said he wants to increase accessibility for the public by improving the online access to the JP court with an online docket system and enhanced informational access.
“They have these things in other places,” Jones said. “We should have it here. We want to go ahead and take the extra step to make it educational as well.”
“The City of Dallas has IT services, and they are responsible for that,” Rideaux said, adding that for improvements he would move to create a night court if bailiffs can be scheduled.
In the race for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4 Place 2, incumbent Katy Hubener is facing challenger Sasha Moreno in the Democratic primary (as well as Fred Jackson, who was not present). The most intense exchange of the evening, Moreno put her legal career at the top of the list for why she should be elected.
“I am the only candidate in this race licensed to practice law,” Moreno said, repeating the assertion several times throughout the exchange. Among the other things Moreno said she wants to bring to the office are night court, alternative legal solutions to keep people from getting to court in the first place, and informational access for defendants (including availability in their language).
She conceded that Hubener had begun some of these services, but asserted it was only two months ago, an assertion Hubener was quick to rebuke.
“We began doing it since 2013 when the law allowed us to,” Hubener said.
Hubener reminded the audience that Moreno was licensed to practice law in California, not Texas (Moreno practices federal law, so she is only required to be licensed in one state). She also said that the only criticism brought forward was that she was not an attorney.
“I don’t think that’s a fair criticism when I’ve done a great job,” Hubener said.
None of the candidates for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 1, were present at the MNP forum on Monday night.
Voters are going to have their hands full when it comes time to vote for the office of Precinct 4 Constable. There are a total of seven candidates vying for the position, five of which were present for the forum.
Bryan D. Woodard, Edward Wright, Sam Allen, Kevin Solomon and Sha Steger Wright took the stage to round out the forum presentations. All candidates appearing come from lengthy law enforcement backgrounds, though they pointed out that one of the candidates not present was not a licensed peace officer.
Woodard is currently working in the Precinct 2 Constables office, and has become well-known on social media for trying to improve the perceptions of law enforcement.
Wright has been with the Sheriff’s Office for 29 years. Having filed more than 200 cases, he points to a 100 percent conviction rate and community services for youth beginning in 2008.
Sam Allen, a Cedar Hill resident who works in Balch Springs, points to programs he has done for youth and domestic violence victims in Balch Springs and says he will just “slide it over” to his new assignment.
Solomon has experience both specifically in the Constable’s office and management experience. He is one of a very small percentage who has done writs and executions, which he says points to a thorough understanding of the work involved.
Knight points out that she is the only female in the race, but “I am the most qualified, I just happen to be a lady.” She is also currently in a Constable’s office (Precinct 1) and has implemented training programs for other officers in the past.
MNP will be held again on March 5, focusing on school board candidates who will be up for election in May. MNP is always free to the public and begins at 6 p.m.
Early voting continues until Friday, March 2 from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. and the Election Day is Tuesday, March 6 during the same time frame.