Moderator Kaylene Ray, left, puts a question to Republican Hays County judge candidates Bert Cobb, center, and Peggy Jones, right, at the League of Women Voters debate Thursday night at the San Marcos Activity Center. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
In their most high-profile appearance of the primary election season, the two Republican candidates for Hays County judge showed their wares before about 300 people at the San Marcos League of Women Voters (LWV) debate Thursday at the San Marcos Activity Center.
Republican county judge candidates Bert Cobb and Peggy Jones donned rhetorical battle regalia to demonstrate which of them deserves the chance to plant their party’s flag on the county judge seat, now filled by Wimberley Democrat Liz Sumter.
The audience gathered in a standing-room-only chamber to see Cobb and Jones face-off, and to witness debates between candidates in the Democratic primary races for county judge, state representative in District 45, Hays County Court at Law No. 1 judge, and Hays County sheriff.
The LVW said it originally set up seating for 160 people and had to expand capacity when turnout exceeded expectations.
The debate was streamed live by the San Marcos Local News, in association with SMTX.tv. A replay of the debate can be seen here.
Jones owns and operates Plum Creek RV Campground in Kyle and is a former manager and licensed operator of three water utility companies. Cobb is a veteran of the United States Air Force and former chief of surgery at Central Texas Medical Center (CTMC) in San Marcos.
Political watchers say the race contains an interesting dynamic, because both candidates are from the east side of Hays County and, historically, two thirds of the Republican primary vote comes from the west side. In the 2008 November election, 61.7 percent of the straight ticket voters in east side precincts voted Democrat, while 60.7 percent of the straight party voters in west side precincts went Republican.
Said Cobb in his one-minute opening statement, “I have sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States all of my adult life, since I entered the United States Air Force. The first amendment guarantees us the right to assemble, which we are doing. It guarantees the freedom of the press, and also to have redress against our government. An election is your opportunity to have redress against your government. It’s an opportunity to vote out the scoundrels. It’s the opportunity to address issues that are important in your life. If you want to fire a silver bullet at the wolf at your door, go vote.”
Jones, in her opening statement, expressed her desire that voters know who she is beyond simply the contents of the resume on her campaign website. Jones said she and her husband, the latter whom recently returned from a Texas National Guard deployment in Afghanistan, had occasion last weekend to attend a military reintegration event, where the couple took personality tests.
“With five percent of other Americans, I came out as an ‘analytic,'” Jones said. “That means that I don’t act on impulse, and it also means that I won’t try to appeal to you through emotion, because I don’t make decisions based on emotion. What I do is, I like concrete evidence, and I like concepts that not only work in theory, but also in practice. And I will, as judge, always come to each issue through a strategic plan, and come out with sensible results.”
The first question posed by the LWV was, “How can the commissioners court coordinate working with other local governments to increase services?”
Jones answered by saying that she has spoken to all county department heads during the last seven months.
“What most people say that they would really like to see is at least a quarterly meeting where the department heads and other higher staff members come together to share ideas, talk about what’s needed for the community, for Hays County,” Jones said. “Also, working with municipalities and the different leaders of those municipalities to come to the best practices for Hays County.”
Responding to the LWV question, Cobb said facilitating inter-entity cooperation is what he does for a living.
“I coordinate with people in all different parts of Hays County,” Cobb said. “I have headed up several things, like I was part of Hays County Drug and Rehab, I was part of the master gardener program, where we had to deal with people all over Hays County. I’ve been in those departments, as well. We solve this problem by hiring good people, give them good guidance, equipping them to do their job, and then letting them use their creativity to do their job.”
The LWV’s second question was, “What would you do to protect Hays County’s natural resources?”
Cobb said that as a master naturalist, a master gardener, a water steward of the State of Texas, and a wild fire specialist, he would try to get every community in Hays County to be a “fire wise” community.
“I was also part of a team that counted the (Texas) Wild Rice in the San Marcos River, I was also part of a study at the University Ranch studying how much water a cedar tree took up,” Cobb said. “I was also involved in transplanting native plants from the Wimberley Loop area, so I think I have the skills and the knowledge to protect our native environment.”
In answer to the LWV’s second question, Jones said her environmental record is very strong.
“To reduce the carbon footprint that each of us creates on a daily basis, we need to have better transportation so that we’re not sitting in congestion,” Jones said. “That increases the amount of fossil fuels that we use and it also increases the amount that we take from the natural resources. The other thing is, that with 11 years in the water business as a licensed water operator from 1989 until 1998, I understand the water issues and these are one of my biggest concerns.”
Jones advocated providing a supplemental water source that she said can promote “sustainable growth.”
Jones later fielded a question from San Marcos resident Janice Jones, who asked how the candidate’s “history of delinquent taxes” will affect her credibility with the voters.
“I’ve been delinquent on property taxes for a couple of years,” said Jones. “I worked out payment plans with the local tax assessor/collector. I would argue that someone who has not had everything given to them — I worked for everything I’ve got individually, and done it on my own. And I have paid all of my taxes. And what I would like for everyone to know is that anyone in here who’s ever had to work out their finances and make budgets work — I understand. I’ve been there, and I’ve overcome it.”
Cobb, in response, said a key purpose for seeking the county judge seat is to keep government spending “under control so that people don’t have to be foreclosed on their homes, so people don’t have to have tax liens. We’ve all had problems with taxes, and I understand that.”
In regards to transportation, Jones said she would work with other government agencies such as the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to improve the county’s road infrastructure.
“I’m against paying twice for a highway, I’ll say that right now,” Cobb said. “No toll roads. Transportation is important. We have to be creative on how we get funding. We have a seat on CAMPO (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization). We have to work with the state and federal government, we have to have bonds when we need them, but we need to get the bonds passed and get the highways funded and build them. They look good on paper, but they look even better when they’re made.”