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Draft of new Texas House map changes Dean's representation
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State Rep. Jay Dean no longer would represent Upshur County but would add Harrison and Marion counties under the first draft of a map redrawing Texas House districts.

Dean, R-Longview, also currently represents Gregg County in the House.

Texas House members on Thursday released the first proposal for a new map redrawing the chamber’s 150-member districts.

The initial draft would increase Republicans’ strength across the state and the number of districts in which white residents make up a majority of eligible voters.

House Bill 1, authored by Corpus Christi Rep. Todd Hunter, the GOP chair of the House Redistricting Committee, is just the first draft, and it will likely change as it makes its way through the legislative process before it’s signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Under the proposal, Upshur County would move under state Rep. Cole Hefner, R-Mount Pleasant, who also represents Rain, Wood, Titus, Camp and part of Smith counties.

State Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, who has announced he will not seen another term, currently represents Shelby, Sabine, Cass, Harrison, Marion and Panola counties.

The draft of the new map moves Shelby, Sabine and Panola counties to Nacogdoches Republican Rep. Travis Clardy’s District 11, while District 1 Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, would represent Cass County.

Rusk County would remain under Clardy.

The Texas Legislature is in the midst of its third special session. This one is dedicated to redrawing political maps based on the latest census data that showed people of color fueled 95% of Texas’ population growth over the past decade. The percent of Hispanics is now nearly equal to white people.

But, the new map creates fewer districts where Black and Hispanic people make up a majority of eligible voters. Black and Hispanic Texans make up two racial groups that along with Asian Texans outpaced the growth of white residents in the state over the last decade.

Eighty-three of the chamber’s 150 districts are areas in which white residents make up a majority of eligible voters; 33 are districts where Hispanic voters make up the majority, while Black residents are the majority of eligible voters in seven districts.

Under the new proposal, the map adds six more districts where white residents make up the majority of eligible voters while the number of Hispanic and Black districts would each drop by three.

The proposed map would also change the partisan breakdown among the 150 districts, tilting the scale toward Republicans.

Currently, there are 76 districts that went to former President Donald Trump during the 2020 general election while 74 went to President Joe Biden. Among those, 50 districts voted 60% or more for Trump, — indicating the district is safely Republican — while 40 districts had more than 60% support for Biden — indicating strong Democratic support. Under the proposed new map, 86 districts would have gone for Trump, while 64 would have went for Biden. The number of districts that voted 60% or more for Trump or Biden would be tied at 46.

This is the first time in decades federal law allows Texas to draw and use political maps without first getting federal approval to ensure that they’re not violating the rights people of color. That federal preclearance requirement in the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.

Since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has not made it through a single decade without a federal court admonishing it for violating federal protections for voters of color.

30 years after first show, East Texas doctors reunite band for Longview concert

Almost 30 years ago, a group of physicians from the Christus Health system formed a band for a fundraiser. On Thursday, they reunited to kick off the Longview Arboretum and Nature Center’s fall concert series.

First assembled around 1994 as an entertainment option for the Gregg County Women’s Auxiliary Style Show, Rok Dox was pieced together from local musically inclined physicians by Dr. Randy Williams of Christus Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute.

As a result, the doctors played five songs for a sold out crowd for what was supposed to be the band’s only performance.

“I think we surprised lots of people because we weren’t as bad as they thought we would be. I remember one lady telling us, ‘I heard y’all were really bad, but y’all are really pretty good,’ even though we had never played together before,” Williams said.

The band caught on and soon was asked to play at fundraising events, benefit dinners, hospital parties and even at the former AlleyFest festival in Longview. Williams said the “fleeting flame of fame” burned out after two or three years. Group members went back to their day jobs, much to the benefit of Longview’s ill and injured, Williams said.

Williams said the arboretum event gave them a chance to raise money for a good cause as well as bond with six new Rok Dox members.

“My hope is that the audience will be truly entertained and come away from the concert with a smile on their faces,” he said before Thursday’s concert.

Fellow original bandmate Dr. Jay Chastain, Christus Trinity Clinic cardiovascular surgeon, said the greater purpose of the band was always to be about having a good time and supporting the community.

“When we started out, we were just performing as a novelty act to provide cheap entertainment for community events and just having a lot of fun,” Chastain said. “Most of the Rok Dox aren’t from the original band. The fun part this time has been getting to know and to play with them.”

Band members said they hoped Thursday’s performance brought a moment of enjoyment for all attending.

“Obviously, our society has been under enormous stress and strain over the past year and a half, and even a moment of fun, of escape, will do everyone some good,” said Christus Good Shepherd anesthesiologist Dr. David Wyatt.

Founding member of the band, Christus Good Shepherd neurologist Dr. Joe Bowers, said playing music is like nothing else.

“It takes practice, but when it comes together, and you actually make something that sounds good, it’s really fun and gratifying. I hope we can give people a night to just relax, hang out, and hopefully send them home in a better mood than when they came,” he said. “That’s what I hope for when I go to a concert.”

Retired allergist Dr. Todd Holman, another founding member, said when the original Rok Dox began playing, all physicians in town knew one another and worked well together.

“We were all good friends and had young kids, for the most part. When Randy Williams first called, I was thrilled. We had a hilarious time, and weren’t too bad. The community really supported us. We used to ask, ‘Where else could you go to see 10 physicians for a 50-buck donation’,” he said.

He added there are many reasons to play at the arboretum concert.

“First, the arboretum is and continues to be an incredible community asset and labor of love for many. As far as I can see, it’s a tremendous success story for Longview, and I look forward to playing in such a fantastic environment,” he said. “It must be supported by the community. Also, this past year has taught us about the importance of relationships, joy, laughter, adapting … and music crosses all the boundaries we tend to put up. The Rok Dox blended our love of medicine and the incredible joy of music we all shared.”

Christus Good Shepherd musculoskeletal radiologist Dr. Joe Schultz is new to Rok Dox.

“I work fairly closely with Dr. Randy Williams at Christus Good Shepherd, and a few years back our discussions eventually led into music. He reminisced about the old Rok Dox gigs and began musing over a reprisal... I made sure he knew I was interested,” he said.

Dr. Kent Fite, also a Christus Good Shepherd musculoskeletal radiologist, said he still plays with some doctors.

“I still try to play as much as I can and enjoy playing at my church, First United Methodist Church, along with Dr. Schultz and Dr. Williams,” he said. “I love having music around my house and for my young daughters to experience the thrill of live music. Hopefully it will be something they pick up also.”

Although there are new members in the band, original members of Rok Dox include Williams, Chastain, Holman, Erin Calodeny, Bob Wheeler, Kim Howard, Andy Clark, Rod Martinez, Steve Sommerville, Robert Browning and David Ring.

Williams said although the group is not exactly like the Blues Brothers, the members are getting the band together again.

“We all absolutely love music, and it’s good to be a part of a group that has a lot of fun while working hard,” he said. “Hopefully we spread a little cheer to whomever shows up to hear us play, and we hope our reunion tour gets to play more than one date.”

The Roots in the Garden fall concerts continue each Thursday through Oct. 28 and will also include the Matt Coats Band, the Purple Hulls and Hickory Hill, the Wade Skinner Band and Zeke Listenbee and the New Beginnings Praise Band.

Gates open at 5 p.m. with performances starting at 6 p.m. at the Water’s Edge Stage at 6 p.m.

Tickets are available online or at the gate and are $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 4-12; and free for children 3 and younger. Guests can bring lawn chairs, blankets, food and drinks and enjoy a picnic on the lawn.

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Spread of COVID-19 in Gregg County down 75% since early September
  • Updated

The rate of COVID-19 spread in Gregg County has dropped 75% since the first week of September but remains classified as “substantial.”

The Northeast Texas Public Health District reported Thursday that Gregg County’s seven-day rolling rate of infection was 35.61. That’s compared to a rate of 142.92 the week of Sept. 3 through 9.

The level of community spread is determined by taking the average number of all COVID-19 positive cases from the previous seven days. That number is then divided by the population of the county and multiplied by 100,000. A county reaches “substantial” community spread when its seven-day rolling rate is at or more than 35 cases. Substantial community spread represents “large-scale, uncontrolled community transmission,” according to the health district.

Also Thursday, 120 total new COVID-19 cases were reported in Gregg County. NET Health’s twice-weekly report showed 76 new confirmed cases along with 44 probable cases. Total active cases within the county are at 4,017.

Recoveries in Gregg County increased from 14,255 on Thursday to 14,339 Monday.

Data in Thursday’s report represents the past 72 hours, from noon Monday to noon Thursday.

In Thursday’s report, the spread level in Henderson and Anderson counties, which also are covered by NET Health, fell from “substantial” to “moderate,” with Henderson at 29.69 and Anderson at 24.73. Moderate spread levels indicate a sustained transmission with confirmed exposure within congregate settings and potential for rapid increase in cases. This occurs when the county sees from 10 to 35 new cases per day for seven days.

According to NET Health, 256 East Texans were being treated for COVID-19 at Tyler hospitals Thursday, which is about 34% lower than the high of 389, which was set just after Labor Day weekend.

On Thursday, 601 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in the state’s 19-county Trauma Region G, approximately 28 fewer than Monday. Of those hospitalized, 241 are in ICUs and 206 on ventilators. Earlier this month, hospitalizations reached 822, the highest number of single-day COVID-19 hospitalizations in the region since the pandemic began.

In Gregg County as of Thursday, 56.23% of people 12 and older had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 48.31% of residents 12 and older had been fully vaccinated, according to the state.

State data shows 87.47% of Texas residents 65 and older had been vaccinated with at least one dose as of Thursday, while 79% had been fully vaccinated.

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Former Gregg County GOP chair, White Oak mayor receives 15 years of probated sentences for theft

A former Gregg County GOP chair and former White Oak mayor who was sentenced to federal prison in 2019 for loan fraud received 15 years in probated sentences for theft after a guilty plea Thursday.

Tim Lynn Vaughn, 61, was indicted in May 2020 by a Gregg County grand jury on charges of felony theft of property between $30,000 and $150,000 and state jail felony theft of property between $2,500 and $30,000.

Vaughn pleased guilty Thursday afternoon via Zoom in the 124th District Court.

Judge Afonso Charles accepted the plea and sentenced Vaughn to 10 years’ probation on a 10-year sentence for the felony theft charge and five years’ probation on a two-year sentence for the state jail felony charge. The sentences will run concurrently.

Vaughn also was ordered to pay restitution and must report Friday to the probation office in Gregg County. He must follow the terms of his federal probation. Since he lives near Dallas, his probation will eventually be transferred to Collin County’s probation office.

“I am not putting you on probation with the hope that you will fail,” Charles said, adding that with his prior criminal record there are “limited second chances.”

From July 7, 2016, through Jan. 5, 2017, Vaughn is accused of theft of between $30,000 and $150,000 from “G. Neeley,” according to court documents. On Dec. 11, 2016, Vaughn was accused of theft of building materials valued at between $2,500 and $30,000 from Cassity Jones Lumber.

Charles ordered Vaughn to pay nearly $42,000 in restitution to Neeley and more than $23,000 to Cassity Jones Lumber. Vaughn’s attorney, Jason Cassel, said he is responsible to pay about $100,000 related to the federal charges.

Vaughn was not booked into the Gregg County Jail when indicted in May 2020, according to jail records. Bond records show he was arrested Aug. 3, 2020, and bonds totaling $150,000 were posted May 10, 2021.

A series of legal issues involving Vaughn began in 2016.

A business partner sued him in September 2016 over a real estate deal. The business partner claimed he put $250,000 into a joint business account and that Vaughn made transfers to his own companies.

In December 2016, Vaughn filed for bankruptcy. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2017 without an explanation. The business partner had requested the lawsuit be dismissed.

In November 2016, Vaughn announced his resignation as chairman of the Gregg County Republican Party five months into his second term.

Vaughn was sentenced in September 2019 to one year in federal prison for forging his wife’s signature on loan documents. He pleaded guilty earlier that year to making false statements to a Longview bank to obtain a loan on which he later defaulted.

According to court documents, an FBI investigation found Vaughn forged signatures on loans with First Bank & Trust-East Texas and with Texas Bank and Trust. Proceeds from the Texas Bank and Trust loan were used to pay outstanding balances on other loans issued to Vaughn and his businesses by the bank, resulting in a loss of more than $95,000.

He was indicted on four total offenses, including two counts of false statement to the bank and two counts of aggravated identity theft. As part of a plea agreement, he entered a guilty plea to one count of making a false statement, and the other three charges were dismissed.

According to federal prison records, Vaughn was released Aug. 21, 2020.

Vaughn was chairman of the Longview Regional Medical Center board of trustees as recently as 2015, served on the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority board of directors and was White Oak mayor from 1996 until 2008.