Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sen. Ogden: “TTC was always just an idea — something to be studied and looked into...the legislature never appropriated a dime."

Senate, judge candidates face-off at forum


By Mary Rainwater
The Huntsville Item
Copyright 2010

Residents gathered at the Katy and E. Don Walker Education Center Tuesday to hear from candidates of two contested GOP primary races in Walker County.

The Republican Party of Walker County sponsored Tuesday’s forum, which featured candidates seeking the GOP nomination for the state Senate District 5 position and the 278th State District Judge’s position.

Sen. Steve Ogden of Bryan is opposed by Huntsville businessman Ben Bius for the Senate District 5 position, while 278th District Court Judge Kenneth H. Keeling is opposed by Leslie G. Hardy.

Hardy and Keeling were first to face off, fielding questions about important qualities of a judge, appointment versus election of judges and the impeachment process of judges.

Experience and support, Keeling said, were two qualities he felt were vital to his role as district judge.

“Those things are what it is really all about,” he said. “One day it could be about a fender bender and the next day a capital murder trial — experience allows a judge to be knowledgeable about both.”

In discussion on the appointment or election of judges, both candidates agreed that judges should be held accountable to the constituents they serve.

“I feel that judges should be elected,” Hardy said. “In appointments, the candidate is often chosen based on who the person wants, which has nothing to do with the judge’s experience or the makeup of the community they live in.”

“Partisan politics should not be used in the selection of a judge,” Keeling added. “I think if they took the politics out of it, the process would be a lot better.”

Ogden and Bius took various stances on many state issues brought before them at the forum, including the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor, the state’s teacher retirement system, property taxes and the state budget.

As to a predicted budget deficit, Ogden was unable to give any numbers as to the deficit, but reported that Texas “is in better shape than any other state.”

“We did not touch the state’s $8.9 billion rainy day fund,” he said, “and with that will balance the budget and avoid any deficits.”

Bius felt that decreasing excessive spending would alleviate any potential budgetary problems faced by state lawmakers.

“We cannot continue to allow the deficit to grow at the rate it is,” he said. “Their current method of moving funds around — funds that were promised to be used elsewhere — is not effective.”

While Bius voiced opposition to a business tax recently imposed by the state as a means to lower property taxes, Ogden clarified the legislature’s reason behind the action.

“Texas has always had the franchise tax in place, but many businesses were avoiding that tax through the formation of partnerships,” Ogden said. “We changed that to make all businesses eligible for the tax, and in doing so, we were able to make the biggest property tax cut in history.”

The candidates were in agreement on some issues, like the governor’s rejection of federal grants, voter photo identification and the “death” of the Trans-Texas Corridor.”

“The TTC has taken on a life of its own,” Odgen said. “But I believe it was killed and there is no chance as originally conceived that it will come back.

“TTC was always just an idea — something to be studied and looked into,” he continued. “There was never a chance to get it funded through Walker County and the legislature never appropriated a dime.”

Tuesday’s candidate forum was the second of two sponsored by the Republican Party of Walker County in preparation for the March 2 primary election. The group held a forum Feb. 2, featuring the four contested races for county offices.

Early voting for the March 2 election begins Tuesday, Feb. 16, and continues through Friday, Feb. 26. It will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Walker County Annex off Sam Houston Avenue.

The last day to apply for a ballot by mail is Feb. 23.

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