Contenders for local office cordial, while Homer, Hollingsworth tackle contentious issues
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Incumbent Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap (left) and his challenger Jason Cunningham engage in a friendly handshake after their turn to answer questions Thursday night during the Political Enlightenment Group's candidate forum, held at Heritage Hall.

Staff Photo by Angela Pitts

Oct. 20, 2006 - Hopkins Political Enlightenment Group's candidate forum started Thursday evening in a manner reminiscent of candidate rallies of a half-century ago with an easy camaraderie among political opponents vying for county-wide offices in the November General Election.

The fireworks came at the end of the program when incumbent State Rep. Mark Homer, D-Paris, and Republican challenger Kirby Hollingsworth of Mount Vernon clashed over issues surrounding their race for District 3 State Representative.

Among the topics of controversy were the proposed Marvin Nichols reservoir, school funding issues, immigration issues and closing the border with Mexico.

Highlighting the exchange between Homer and Hollingsworth was the impact the current drought is having on Northeast Texas producers and how to ease the burden on them.

"I believe Franklin County is the number one drought county in the state of Texas. We have a 90 percent loss in hay production," Republican Hollingsworth said. "This year, we must have the disaster money ... our representatives, senators should keep agriculture needs at the foremost."

Hollingsworth pledged to work, if elected, with state agencies to ensure farmers get as much help as possible from the state.

Incumbent Mark Homer agreed that drought was a problem and said the state budgets every other year in the legislative sessions for the Texas Department of Agriculture. Where the funds go, he said, was another question.

"No funds, that I am aware of, ever come from that," Homer said. "We've got a paltry $16.2 million from the federal government to spread across all of the state. That would amount to $300 to $400 dollars to a typical operator -- heck, it is not even worth the paperwork."

In reference to efforts to secure air quality permits for the planned Johns Manville plant, Hollingsworth charged more should have been done by Homer to facilitate the process.

Homer responded by saying the permit problems were within the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and not something that could be addressed by an individual legislator.

Heated exchanges also developed on issues involving immigration and illegal immigrants and associated school and health care costs.

Hollingsworth said he would immediately ask the governor to send National Guard troops to stem the influx of illegal immigrants from Mexico.

Homer countered by saying that members of the legislature set political partisanship aside and asked the governor to sign the order to send troops to the border, but the governor failed to do so.

In response to Republican claims that he did not sit on any committees or author much legislation, Homer was quick to explain that, although a representative may not write a specific bill, his support was of greater importance.

Still another issue was local taxes, where the incumbent said more people with concern for local taxes are needed.

"To say your representatives go down to Austin and grab the checkbook and say I am going to write it is just not the case, we don't have that," Homer said. "The lieutenant governor and speaker of the house have the authority to make those shifts, and the commissioner of agriculture needs to speak up."

Candidates for county judge, incumbent Cletis Millsap and challenger Jason Cunningham gave similar observations on county government and the role of the county's chief executive officer and responded to only one question from the audience that addressed construction of state highways.

Millsap indicated that highway construction was a state project and not a county responsibility.

Republican Cunningham offered no response to the question but later agreed that highway construction was not a county issue.

The exchange between incumbent County Court-at-Law Judge Amy McCorkle Smith and Republican challenger Eddie Northcutt was also cordial with each candidate focusing on their own abilities and in complimenting their opponent.

In the race for county treasurer between Democrat Treva Watson and Republican Cheryl Fulcher, each presented their qualifications for the office.

Watson pointed to her years as assistant county auditor, a position she said has handled many of the duties of the treasurer's office. Watson also said she would, if elected, return those responsibilities to the office.

Fulcher pointed to her years service to county government, most recently as court administrator for the 8th Judicial District as well as management of a family-owned business.

Early voting for the November 7 General Election will begin on Monday. and 

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