Candidates made their campaign pitches to voters one last time Saturday morning during a forum conducted by the Denton County NAACP.
District Attorney Paul Johnson and challenger Karen Alexander, Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace J.W. Hand and opponent Harris Hughey and Precinct 5 Justice of the Peace candidate Mike Oglesby were on hand for the final forum before Tuesday’s GOP runoff election. Oglesby’s opponent, Cynthia Mitchell, was unable to attend the forum because of previous personal commitments, organizers said.
The forum at the Denton Public Safety Training Center drew only a handful of attendees — including District Judge Margaret Barnes, County Judge Mary Horn and Sheriff William Travis — but Gerard Hudspeth, master of ceremonies, said every vote counts. The local NAACP chapter collaborated with the Denton League of United Latin American Citizens in conducting the forum and getting out the word about the elections.
Questions were fired off and, since the campaign trail has been a long one, each candidate was allowed to skip his or her life history and get straight to business.
Diversity and leadership were among the topics each candidate was pressed on because Hudspeth said those areas are key to both organizations.
District attorney’s race
Johnson, the incumbent district attorney, said if he had to pick a mentor for a child in Denton County, it would be him.
He said he comes from a torn home and watched his father, an alcoholic, beat him and his family. He said it left a mark he will never forget.
“I worked two jobs a day by the time I was 12 to help my mom. ... We were evicted often,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that is why he goes to schools and talks to children. He said he wants to make a difference in their lives and let them know that no matter their backgrounds, they can achieve anything.
Alexander, a Lantana attorney, said that while she grew up predominately around Caucasians like herself, she was part of a “get-along gang” in high school that consisted of two Caucasians and an African-American girl.
“Going to her home I really started to learn how diverse everyone is,” she said.
Alexander said that while she can’t sympathize with or relate to victims to some degree, she is learning and willing to get to know them personally.
She said as a defense attorney she has seen and met with individuals from all walks of life and has even watched good people turn down a wrong path. Alexander mentioned many county workers with diverse Hispanic and African-American backgrounds that she would send any one of her children to for mentorship.
Precinct 4 justice of the peace race
Hughey, an attorney, said that he and his opponent, incumbent Hand, see the justice of the peace position differently. He said he feels the court is not small and should not be treated as such. For many residents, it is the first time they will ever step foot into a courtroom.
“It’s not a race versus a lawyer and non-lawyer,” he said. “I will apply principles of law and life experiences.”
Hughey said he would bring his law experience to the bench, and by doing so, he would not just make arbitrary rulings in the court.
As a former basketball coach for Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth, Hughey said the majority of his teams were minorities and, while spending long hours on the bus, they all lived in unison.
While he ran a little late arriving to the forum, Hand said he has been serving in the Precinct 5 position for seven years. Growing up in Oklahoma, he said he was raised alongside Native Americans before moving into a part of town where he got “whupped” by African-Americans on a regular basis.
“If you believe in Jesus, we all bleed red — there isn’t any other color,” he told the attendees.
He said that he has a diverse group of friends and that when he sees things that need to be done, he takes it into his own hands and starts meeting with not only other local officials but assisting with legislative action in Austin.
“I’m always looking beyond the immediate things and have a couple of projects cooking for the office I hope I can see through,” Hand said.
Precinct 5 justice of the peace race
Oglesby, an investigator in the district attorney’s office who has about 35 years of experience in law enforcement, said Jesus didn’t see black and white and neither does he. Growing up in the Texas Panhandle he said his perception of life is to teach and value one another.
“Treat a man as well as he lets you treat him,” Oglesby said.
As an officer hoping to move to the other side of the bench, Oglesby said his service started with a ticket he received as a 16-year-old driving down the highway.
“I was treated with respect while paying the ticket and doing community service — that I will not forget — but I left the JP office with well-being and self-worth,” Oglesby said. “That’s what I want to do.”
His opponent, Mitchell, is currently the Denton County clerk but opted to run this year for justice of the peace.
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.