Tommy Mann Jr.
The Orange Leader
A standing room only crowd had the rare opportunity to hear the candidates seeking to become the next Orange County Judge speak out in a public forum earlier this week.
The Orange County Republican Party held a debate on Tuesday night at the Raymond Gould Community Center in Vidor for its four candidates which are running for the position of Orange County Judge. The event was packed with fellow-party members, candidates seeking state and county positions, as well as various Orange County employees curious to who see which candidate might gain the inside track to becoming the next Orange County Judge.
Patricia Kemp, the former chairperson of the Orange County Republican Party, served as moderator to the four candidates, which includes Mike White, the former Orange County Sheriff, John Dubose, the former Orange County Commissioner of Precinct 3, Mike Hamilton, the former State Representative of District 19, and Brint Carlton, who currently works for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Carlton was unable to attend but participated via cell phone which was then supplied through the public address system.
Kemp presented a series of questions and each candidate had two minutes to respond, including the first question, what is each candidate’s plan for future economic development in Orange County?
“We need to start changing the way people perceive Orange County,” Hamilton said. “We have the resources that no other county in Texas has and we have the people. We need to focus on getting the jobs to come here, and we need to change the attitudes that others have on Orange County.”
White stated he wanted to work closer with local businesses and to bring more jobs to the county, while Dubose’s plan is to work closely with the Orange County Economic Development Corporation because it already has the information and contacts needed to help bring more jobs to the county. Carlton agreed that growth is necessary but had another suggestion to make it happen.
“I am open to any and all opportunities to grow Orange County, but we need to keep the young people here instead of moving our of the county,” Carlton explained. “We need to be able to utilize our skill-set, such as opening new small businesses, but we need to do a better job of selling Orange County and getting people to bring businesses here.”
Another questioned posed to the candidates was, as Orange County Judge, was how would they reduce expenditures based on the county’s $3.1 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year?
“Some of our issues will be tough to deal with,” Dubose said. “But we will have to reduce costs all around the county. The county has managed to live with reductions before, and it can again. It’s not going to be easy or a quick fix, but we can overcome that deficit.”
“We will have to determine what are the programs we need, and what we don’t,” Hamilton said. “If money is short, then you have to hold some back. You can’t spend what you don’t have.”
White said he knows budget concerns will be an issue for the next county judge and its citizens.
“Budgets are short right now and to the bone already,” White stated. “I think it is going to be tough and it is going to hurt. We may have to make cuts and tighten our belts, but Orange County can be great again.
Another question asked of the candidates was closely related to the budget deficit question and asked each candidate if a reduction of force in county employees was a possibility and would they consider a reduction in benefits as an option to create savings for the county?
“Nobody wants to lose their job, but, as Orange County Judge, you have to do what is best for the county,” Carlton explained. “Sometimes that isn’t a popular choice, but it’s about doing what is the right thing for the people of Orange County. Nobody wants to have their benefits cut either. Any cuts will be made from me first. I will not ask any employee to do what I wouldn’t be willing to do myself. I will be the first one in line to do that if it is needed.”
Each candidate had his own take on the question, including Dubose.
“No one wants to lose their job,” Dubose said. “If it comes down to it, I prefer to reduce jobs through attrition rather than laying people off. I would prefer everyone suffer the same. I would reduce my salary first, and ask other elected officials to do the same. As for benefits, we may have to consider other options. New hires may not have the same benefits as an older employee.”
White concurred with all candidates on this question.
“Whatever it takes, I will be willing to do,” White said. “That’s because I believe I have the ability to pull Orange County back together again, like none of the other candidates.”