GOP primary candidates talk taxes, water and more at Burnet County forum

CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF

BURNET —  Republican candidates vying for their party’s nomination in Burnet County and judicial offices emphasized controlling expenses, keeping taxes low and embracing more technology during a forum Feb. 6 at the Burnet Community Center.

The event involved a two-minute introduction of candidates followed by audience questions posed by a moderator.

Positions with contested races are 424th Judicial District judge, district clerk, county judge, county court-at-law judge, Precinct 1 justice of the peace, Precinct 2 commissioner and county Republican chairperson.

Incumbent Burnet County Precinct 2 Commissioner Russell Graeter and challenger Tom Stephens appeared to demonstrate a contrast in philosophy when highlighting their positions.

Stephenson contended the budget remains “too thin,” and officials should encourage a Keynesian-economic approach to progress.

“I believe bringing economic growth will lessen the burden on the taxpayers, (and) bringing in larger corporations will help diversify that effort,” he said. “I believe Burnet County is wanting change, and I believe I’m the one who can help do that.”

About 200 people watched and asked questions during the Burnet County Republican Primary candidates forum Feb. 6 at the Burnet Community Center that featured introductions of candidates for county and judge positions.
About 200 people watched and asked questions during the Burnet County Republican Primary candidates forum Feb. 6 at the Burnet Community Center that featured introductions of candidates for county and judge positions.

Graeter said he believes the county should remain on its current path, which includes a projected debt-free status within the next several years.

“I listen to my constituents. Keeping a controlled budget and keeping service to the community is the top of my list,” he said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Burnet County judge candidates reached similar conclusions when discussing issues, including water, improved roads, controlling budget spending and keeping the tax rate low.

Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger chose not to run for re-election. That three-way race involves former county commissioner James Oakley, current Marble Falls Mayor George Russell and former Burnet County Republican Party Chairwoman Linda Rogers. All three promised to advocate for local water interests.

Former Burnet County Judge Dave Kithil and Burnet County Precinct 1 Commissioner Bill Neve were among about 200 people who attended the Burnet County Republican Primary candidates forum Feb. 6 at the Burnet Community Center.
Former Burnet County Judge Dave Kithil and Burnet County Precinct 1 Commissioner Bill Neve were among about 200 people who attended the Burnet County Republican Primary candidates forum Feb. 6 at the Burnet Community Center.

“We’ve been in Stage 4 (water restrictions) for so long. I don’t think the county should get into the water business,” said Oakley, who is a director on the Pedernales Electric Cooperative board. “Conversely, I would like to use my position as judge to work with the commissioners court to influence, as much as we can, policies that regulate the (Lower Colorado River Authority) and the water level, which inherently affects our drinking water.”

Oakley was the first Republican elected to the Burnet County commissioners court in the late 1990s. He served as a commissioner for about seven years.

Oakley was appointed by the governor in 2009 to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

Rogers added, “I believe I have the most experience with statewide leaders to make sure Burnet County’s interests are protected.”

Russell, who also is the former city manager of Marble Falls, currently serves on the Burnet County Public Facilities Corp., which oversees the county’s interests in the jail that is run by Southwest Corrections. He also participates in county boards and committees handling transportation, water and emergency management issues.

“The city of Marble Falls was fortunate enough to be one of the points to look at this area regionally as a possible future site for (water) plants to figure out a way to get the water to those who need it,” Russell said. “There are other regulatory agency involved in this, but without the county continuing to be the pusher on this project, we may not get to where we need to be.”

Incumbent District Clerk Casie Walker and challenger Lisa Bell agreed on streamlining the office budgets, utilizing more technology and “paperless” systems improving efficiency.

Evan Stubbs, a 424th Judicial District judge candidate, is attempting to unseat incumbent Dan Mills. Mills attended a Llano County candidates forum scheduled the same evening in which he had previously agreed to participate.

The next opportunity to meet the Republican primary candidates is during the 2014 Burnet County Republican Club Chili Cook Off from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 15 at the Burnet County Fairgrounds, 1301 Houston Clinton Drive. The event will include chili entries by the candidates, an auction and a homemade dessert fundraiser. Proceeds will go to the Burnet County Republican Women’s Club. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased from candidates or at the door.

Early voting begins Feb. 18. The election, which also will include statewide and district races, is March 4.

connie@thepicayune.com