Sparring DA candidates heat up Gregg County forum
Jimmy Daniell Isaac
Feb. 7, 2018 at 12:05 a.m.
Updated Feb. 7, 2018 at 7:14 a.m.
If Tuesday's Gregg County Bar Association candidate forum were a stew, the spar among district attorney candidates brought Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center to a boil.
Tenth-year incumbent Carl Dorrough and challenger Tom Watson got downright spicy as a moderator peppered them with questions before a standing-room-only crowd of about 200 people in the Eitleman Room.
The fireworks started with their introductory statements, when Watson blamed the incumbent for breaking the thread of the "thin blue line," referring to what he called frustration among law enforcement officers with the DA's office regime.
"The incumbent, he wants to call that fake news, but it's a fact," said Watson, who reminded the crowd that Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano, various police departments and police officer associations in Longview and Kilgore have announced their support of his candidacy.
Watson also said he's tired of seeing in the newspaper that Longview is ranked the most dangerous city in America — though News-Journal records show Longview led Texas cities of comparable size but not the nation for 2015 homicides.
Dorrough fought back with his office's experience, which he said doesn't employ a prosecutor with less than five years' tenure.
He also pointed to a double-life sentence this past week for a man convicted of assaulting a retired police officer as well as statistics he said show that not one Gregg County prosecution has been thrown out by the Court of Criminal Appeals.
"At the end of the day, it is the duty of the district attorney not to convict but to see that justice is done," Dorrough said, garnering the loudest round of applause of the night.
The DA candidates answered nine questions and often spoke with a loud assertiveness, though not yelling.
Dorrough fired at his opponent's endorsements when asked how he would unite the law enforcement community behind the DA's office, calling Watson's support disingenuous because the police officer associations' boards — but not their full memberships — voted to support Watson.
Watson returned fire immediately.
"Folks, what is really 'disingenuous' is that (Dorrough) sought the same endorsements," he said, adding that membership of those associations were given opportunities to question the two men.
Meanwhile, assistant prosecutors for Dorrough showed people in the crowd a list of more than 50 Longview police and Gregg County sheriff's officers who have signed their support to the incumbent. Among them is Cerliano's chief deputy, Chuck Willeford.
The candidates did have moments of agreement.
Asked about the increasing number of Child Protective Services-involved cases in the county, both men blamed substance abuse.
They agreed also that plea agreements are necessary to move cases through the county's judicial system, though Watson said he had a problem with prosecutors "giving away the farm" by offering misdemeanor plea deals and probation to defendants charged with felonies.
"That stuff needs to stop," Watson said.
Dorrough said his staff isn't giving cases away.
"We don't do that because at the end of the day, that's not justice," he said.
The Gregg County Bar Association also offered forum time and questions to candidates in the races for county clerk, district clerk, Pct. 4 commissioner and Pct. 4 justice of the peace.
For at least the second forum this winter, Kasha Williams was the only candidate in the three-person commissioner race to appear. Easton Mayor Shannon Brown faces Williams, a Longview councilwoman, in the Democratic primary. The winner will face G. Floyd, who is uncontested in the Republican primary.
Williams touted her experience but also said she wants to host town hall meetings twice a year in Pct. 4 communities.
She added, "We have someone who is budget ready on Day One."
Early voting in the March 6 primaries begins Feb. 20. Gregg voters will be able to cast their ballots at any polling place in the county this year.