By SEAN BATURA
Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff outlasted challenger Bill Huddleston in the Democratic primary Tuesday, ending a campaign that roused passions on both sides.
Ratliff received 56.2 percent of the vote and Huddleston garnered 43.7 percent out of 5,151 people voted for sheriff. Ratliff received 2,899 votes to Huddleston’s 2,252.
Ratliff expressed his appreciation for those who supported him, welcomed Huddleston’s supporters into his camp, and said the next few months of campaigning will not impede the work of the Hays County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO).
“Protecting the citizens and taking care of them and taking care of business in the county is what my number-one priority is, and we’ll deal with the politics later — it comes second to taking care of the people,” Ratliff said.
Among the 36 voter precincts, Ratliff lost in five — 443, 332, 228, 114 and 112, which include parts of Dripping Springs, San Marcos and Buda.
Huddleston barely won the Buda city limits, where Ratliff stirred opposition by demoting Buda patrol Captain Bo Kidd last year. Huddleston won the combined boxes 224 and 228 in Buda by 155-151. Precincts 114 and 112, overlaying a strip of San Marcos along Interstate-35 north of Redwood Road and south of Aquarena Springs Drive, gave Huddleston a combined advantage of 84-77. Precinct 332, a jagged, outermost portion of northern San Marcos southwest of Sink Creek, went 71-53 for Huddleston, making it his best box. Precinct 443, including Dripping Springs and an area roughly fenced by the Travis County line east, RR 12, US 290 and north of FM 1826, gave Huddleston a 126-125 margin.
Otherwise, it was Ratliff by generally better margins across the county.
“I wish the people at the sheriff’s office the very best,” Huddleston said. “I hope that the next two years are years of growth and improvement for them. I want them to have the very best.”
Huddleston lost the November 2008 general election for Hays County sheriff to Republican incumbent Allen Bridges. After Bridges passed away from a heart attack in December 2008, the Hays County Commissioners Court voted, 4-1, to appoint Ratliff on an interim basis.
Huddleston said most people he has talked to on the campaign trail want candidates for judge and sheriff to be unaffiliated with any political party, though he said it is “almost impossible to get elected” without party support.
While campaigning, Huddleston accused Ratliff of offending Buda residents when he demoted Kidd without informing the city council. Huddleston also suggested that neglected jail maintenance and politicized the sheriff’s office by scheduling a state inspection of the facility.
“What possible reason do you call for an unscheduled inspection that you know is going to fail, unless it is not manipulative and political?” Huddleston said during a recent political debate.
Some years ago, the county took part in a class action lawsuit against Beazer East, Inc., the manufacturer of the jail’s roof insulation. The insulation corrodes metal and contributed to the deterioration of the facility’s roof. Ratliff and County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) said the commissioners court became aware of the availability of settlement money on Dec. 13, 2000.
On April 7, 2009, Ratliff appeared before the commissioners court to ask for funding to rectify some problems with the county jail — such as a caved-in portion of ceiling. After more than two weeks in which the court took no formal action on the matter, Ratliff asked the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) to inspect the jail. During the one-day inspection in April, the TCJS inspector found seven realms of noncompliance with state standards.
The jail failed a second inspection in September. In November, TCJS ordered the jail’s kitchen closed. The county has had to house more prisoners than normal elsewhere due to ongoing jail repairs, which resulted in the county spending more on contract detention in four months than it budgeted for Fiscal Year 2010.
Huddleston worked for more than two decades in a variety of capacities for the Sheriff’s Office. Asked if he intends to run for sheriff again, said Huddleston: “I might.”
Ratliff will face off against Republican candidate and Driftwood resident Gary Cutler in the November general election. Cutler is a law enforcement officer with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC). According to Cutler’s campaign website, he has logged 26 years with the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, three years with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, and more than five years with TABC. Cutler had no opponent in Tuesday’s Republican primary election.
Ratliff worked as a highway patrolman in Midland, New Braunfels, and Lubbock, and then as a Texas Ranger for 21 years before retiring.
“We don’t plan on letting up, and we’re going to be going all-out, get our word out there and let people know who we are and the kind of deployment we’ve put together, and go from there,” Ratliff said.Email | Print