Few roles are as important, or overlooked, as that of county judge. Essentially the “mayor” of a county, a judge oversees the commissioners court, the budget (and, thus, property and sales tax rates), emergency management, and administrative functions at a minimum.
Their choices have a lasting impact on the community they serve. In Midland particularly, the current county judge spearheaded the establishment of a multi-million dollar, tax-funded event venue (without voter approval) which will affect the community – for better or worse – for decades.
Needless to say, the county judge sets the tone for county government and, beginning February 20, Midland voters have the opportunity to decide what they want that tone to be.
James Beauchamp, Terry Johnson, and Stephen Robertson are all vying for the open seat currently held by Judge Mike Bradford. Their mailers and campaign websites similarly tout their commitment to lower taxes, a fiscally sound budget, better roads, and stronger emergency response – platforms sure to appeal to Midland’s largely conservative voter base.
That begs the question: How are they different?
Texans for Fiscal Responsibility offered an endorsement in the race. TFR’s staff interviewed those who responded; Beauchamp and Johnson. Robertson did not seek an endorsement.
In both Beauchamp and Johnson, Midlanders are fortunate to have two candidates who appear committed to fiscally conservative policy-making, which will appeal to the values of the community.
Both candidates expressed committed to reining in the county budget and implementing zero-based budgeting practices. They believe taxpayers should be more involved in county decision-making, especially when dealing with high-dollar projects such as the Horseshoe. In addition, they support statewide property tax reform and oppose tax-funded lobbying – issues that have been championed on the state level by Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, yet strongly opposed by a broad coalition of local government officials.
But despite their similarities, Beauchamp and Johnson are very different.
In Beauchamp, voters find a well-spoken, charming, and well-connected politico. He’s served as the county’s Republican Chairman for over seven years and has an in-depth understanding of local and state transportation policy. His responses to TFR’s interview questions were lengthy, detailed, and often-included innovative and practical policy reforms. Beauchamp also has an intimate working knowledge of several pressing issues facing the community and related county projects.
Beauchamp, however, lacks the first-hand business experience relative to Johnson. And given the county’s bloated reserve fund, arbitrary spending habits, and tendency to hike property taxes instead of revaluating priorities, it would serve the community well to have practical financial-savviness as county judge.
In Johnson, Midland County would have an experienced entrepreneur who has started and managed numerous service companies. He understands business, particularly the oil and gas business, and all that comes with it, such as responsible spending, budget cuts, planning for economic ups and downs, and managing a large staff. He’s a political “outsider”, which has its appeal. Yet what may be Johnson’s greatest appeal, could also be a weakness.
During his interview with TFR, it was apparent Johnson has much to learn about county and local government policy. While his answers reflected principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility, they were short, simple, and lacked specificity. It’s likely that, if elected, Johnson will bring a business-minded approach to the county, but have a steeper learning curve that could be taken advantage of by staff and political opponents.
The choice for voters comes down to what skills sets they value most. Both bring unique talents and perspectives to the table and appear committed to putting citizens’ interests ahead of the whims of government bureaucrats.
Early voting begins February 20 and Primary Election Day is March 6.