Rusk County candidates spar during GOP forum in Henderson
May 14, 2012 at 11 p.m.
HENDERSON - Candidates for the top prosecutor's job in Rusk County sparred Monday over plea bargaining and how to deal with illegal drug use.
The interplay between incumbent County Attorney Micheal Jimerson and Allison Biggs, who face each other in the May 29 Republican primary, was one of several candidate exchanges during the forum. Some 175 people attended the event, sponsored by the Greater Henderson Chamber of Commerce and radio station KTXI, in the Henderson Civic Center.
"It cheats justice," Jimerson said of the plea bargain system, which he also admitted is necessary, with some 700 misdemeanor and 300 felony cases a year. "You've got to move those cases. You don't have 1,000 days a year to try those cases, even if all of them could be tried in one day."
Biggs, a former assistant prosecutor now in private practice, reminded the audience Jimerson had promised to take more cases to trial when he first ran for office.
"They only tried 10 cases last year, and that's not enough," Biggs said. "What you say justice is - that's what justice is - not plea bargaining the case."
Jimerson said a drug court initiated in District Judge Clay Gossett's court, essentially, begs drug abusers to reform.
"I wasn't going to go down and sit and participate in a court where the district judge is passing out lollipops (for passing drug tests)," Jimerson said. "Sometimes, you've just got to put somebody away, and we're doing that more and more."
Biggs agreed, in part.
"At some point you also have to help people," she said. "And the first time, you don't put them away. You help."
The race to represent Rusk, Cherokee and Nacogdoches counties in Austin drew its three GOP contenders. Incumbent Rep. Chuck Hopson, R-Jacksonville, Travis Clardy and Tony Savilla each highlighted similar ways they would attack continued state budget shortfalls.
"There's less tax revenue coming in," Savilla said. "There is wasteful spending everywhere."
Hopson has a three-pronged approach.
"It's about jobs, it's about jobs, it's about jobs," he said, noting 8 percent unemployment in Rusk County, down from 10 percent a year ago.
"It's the economy," Clardy said, criticizing President Barack Obama as hostile to the energy industry and urging continued development of Texas' natural gas deposits.
Clardy also advocated decentralizing education oversight and authority from Austin.
"We need a return to local control of our schools," he said, adding a need for more vocational education. "We've got kids who graduate from high school that have no marketable skills."
Savilla also criticized the statewide accountability system, which heavily relies on testing.
"It's not fair that you dictate to (districts) how those kids should do," he said.
Hopson said teachers should be teaching subjects rather than test elements.
"They know which kids need help," he said.