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Candidates for Hays County Judge highlight issues at candidate forum

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The race for Hays County Judge came to the forefront last night in a multi-office candidate forum, sponsored by the San Marcos chapter of the League of Women Voters, as partisan candidate sniped at each other’s positions on a variety of issues.


Candidates for a host of Hays County public offices gathered in San Marcos to make their respective cases to the voting public. They touched on a variety of issues, including the scope of county power, local growth rates, and the ever-contentious question of how to spend tax dollars.


The event featured an unusual number of contested positions. In all, would-be officials trying for 10 elected jobs got some sort of time before the public, including those vying for three of the five seats on Hays’ Commissioners Court.


Of these, the debate between the candidates for Hays County Judge featured the most action, with a long line of Hays residents stretched out to take a turn at asking pointed questions. The bulk of these were directed toward current Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton, a Democrat, who defeated sitting Judge Liz Sumter in a March primary.


The League’s forum called for a general question and answer session after two questions delivered by Evans.


Barton’s opponent Dr. Bert Cobb, a Republican, slammed the current court for what he saw as its disorder. “The things that have gone on the past have been disgraceful to me: Rancor, ill conduct. I think that we have to have a cooperative spirit,” he said in response to a question about building consensus on the court. “We have to look out for doing what’s best for the entire community— for the entire county.


“The judge does not run the county,” he added. “The judge is in cooperation with commissioners and with the other county departments to see that the citizens have their needs served in an efficient way.”


He also dismissed the idea of broader county powers, should the Texas Legislature decide to grant them. “That sounds like more government to me,” he said. “That sounds like more control and a loss of local autonomy.”


Here, Barton turned Cobb’s answer on its head. “I couldn’t agree more that local governments need to determine local needs. That’s why we’re talking about local authority for…county governments,” he said.


“It’s crazy that out in areas that look like a city by any other definition…but just happen to be out in the county, that we have no authority whatsoever to prevent a race track or prevent a heavy industrial user to go in right next to existing homes,” he added. “It’s not good for property values or anyone.”


He also faced a series of questions about everything from water rights to his salary as a county commissioner. On the former, he told the president of the Hays-Trinity Aquifer District board Jimmy Skipton that he wasn’t yet sure how he felt about a potential “super district” that could replace the current water regulatory bodies in Hays County. On the latter, he repeated his claim that he hadn’t been in favor of a pay raise for elected officials, and offered documents which he said he had filed before that vote as confirmation.


Cobb’s son, John Cobb, provided the most direct accusation leveled against Barton. “On January 15, you had a (political action committee) that reported a $1,500 balance and then in February you report $4,370 coming out of that PAC into your campaign fund but there is no further reporting on that (organization),” he said. “When I’ve inquired about that, they’ve clearly stated that you have refused to file that information on who your campaign contributors are.”


Barton responded that the accusation was “simply not true.”


“I have not refused or declined to file (information on) who my campaign contributors are,” he added. “That’s on file with the Hays County Elections Office; you can look it up online.”


After the event, Barton elaborated for In Fact Daily. “I don’t know what the hell he is talking about,” he said. “I think that’s pretty typical diversion tactics. I have filed all of my campaign finance reports…that is something that can easily be verified. In fact, I filed more information than is required by law.”


Though he acknowledged that a political action committee was created by Hays citizens who had wanted him to run for county judge last year, he said that that fund has since been shuttered. He noted that he doesn’t have a separate PAC and that the other fund had nothing to do with his campaign.


“From my perspective, when you get up and ask a really vague question that nobody can understand that’s out of the blue, that’s usually (to) divert from real issues at hand,” Barton said.


Early voting opens on Oct. 18. Election Day is Nov. 2.

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