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AFRAMTemplateFORUMBy: Darwin Campbell, African-American News&Issues

Photo Credit: Roger Jackson

Candidates stepped up for the final campaign push before early voting begins hoping to get their point across and convince voters they are the best people to represent the people.

About 70 people attended the political forum sponsored by The Acres Home Chamber for Business and Economic Development Inc. and African-American News&Issues at the Beulah Ann Shepherd building at 6112 Wheatley Street, Houston.

The purpose of the forum was for candidates to meet voters of Acres Home and the surrounding area and not only discuss the issues, but also truly give voters a sense of the plan and vision each candidate has specifically to improve services to African-American constituents. It also was an opportunity to share priorities of the community and how each candidate would be an “active working voice” to help change the condition African-American face dealing with criminal justice, family court and other judicial issues and improving services at the courthouse.

Spotlighting the event was one of the hottest contested races is in State Senate District 15 where incumbent State Senator John Whitmire is facing challenger Attorney Damian La Croix. The two men sparred on tough questions about justice reforms needed in the African-American community and shared different insights and solutions for the current issues. Some of the hot topics included the expulsion, suspension and criminalization of African-American children by the school system.

“Criminalizing youth behavior is wrong and we will stop that,” Whitmire said. “I hear your concerns, I am here to serve you. Austin hears your voice because the seat in which I sit belongs to you – “The People.” 

Whitmire represents the 15th Senatorial District comprised of North Houston and parts of Harris County. He was elected to the Texas Senate in 1982 after serving 10 years in the Texas House of Representatives. With over 30 years of service in the Texas Senate, Senator Whitmire ranks first in seniority and is the “Dean of the Texas Senate.”

In 42 years, Whitmire said he continues to be dedicated to working on criminal justice issues and making sure Acres Home and Houston area get its fair portion of projects and funding out of Texas $190 billion dollar state budget.

LaCroix called for change, contending his goal is to go to Austin to shake things up on education and community issues.

“I can relate and my opponent cannot. I am from the community,” he said. “We are thankful for the Civil Rights generation that gives me an opportunity to run for office. However, now is the time for a new generation of leadership to take the reigns.”

He challenged Whitmire stressing the need for quality education starts at an early age and may be the key to lifting people out of poverty and keeping our kids out of the criminal justice system. He is stressing a 21st Century education stressing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as a central part of our educational system.

Attorney Kim Ogg, is running in the Democratic primary for Harris County District Attorney attended the forum and addressed head on the need  for safer neighborhoods and to cure the ills of a failed criminal justice system. She noted that the current district attorney is not committed to fair and equal justice for all.

“A fair justice system for all is what I am running for,” she said. “African Americans, Hispanics and the mentally ill are overrepresented in the system and I will change that. I will target the real criminals – those who are violent, in gangs that commit serious crimes on our streets.”

Ogg is running on the platform of making justice work for all citizens of Harris County. She is former prosecutor, anti-gang investigator and crime prevention leader. After serving as the city’s anti-gang task force director in 1994, she became the executive director of Crime Stoppers of Houston in 1999. She left the organization in 2006 to pursue a private legal practice and has been representing crime victims and police officers and served as a defense attorney.

Her opponent Attorney Lloyd Wayne Oliver failed to show up for the forum. Other important races involve judges and courts. These races are important because they could determine the direction of criminal justice, platforms, issues and how cases are looked at involving those who appear in those courts.

Other candidates who answered the call to come to the community include races for District Judge, 113th Judicial District where Lori C. Gray is pitted against Steven Kirkland. Gray brought a passionate message of the being from the community and understanding what citizens need and raised a new awareness of the need for courts to better serve the public.

She stressed improving public service as the number one priority. Kirkland asked voters to look at his long record of service to the homeless and civil rights and his dedication to bringing electronic improvements to the court and moving it into the 21st Century.

In District Judge, 246th Judicial District where Sandra Peake is taking on Julia Maldonado. Peake made a case for improving service to the public by stressing the need for judges to start court on time and not waste taxpayers time who come to take care of court business. She said she favors afternoon dockets and is against making political appointments based on favors. Maldonado was not present at the forum.

In Judge 280th Judicial District where Allecia Lindsey Pottinger and Barbara Stadler are squaring off. Pottinger made it clear that she would be a different kind of judge who understands domestic violence and work to break the cycle with a full accountability to the law for those who abuse others.

“I am passionate about this,” she said. “I will serve the people and protect those victimized by abusers.” Stadler was a no show at the forum.

Family District Judge, 308th Judicial District where Jim Evans and Bruce Steffler are running. Evans made it clear that he understands all backgrounds having lived and worked in the poor areas of the Mississippi Delta region with African-American children and with his background as an adopted father and a “Gay” father.

“I understand fairness and have no reason to target any one group,” he said. “I will be a good and compassionate judge for all groups of people.”

Steffler did not attend, but his campaign was represented by his son who asked politely for voters to support his father.

Judge, County Criminal Court at Law No. 10 with John Connolly and George Barnstone are vying for a spot Connolly made it clear that his opponent has no experience and that his work in the courts will include working to cut down on the African-Americans in orange suits whose cases are backed up and many are left in jail without an attorney to take their cases.

“This must stop,” he said. “I will work to get people released for lesser offenses where they don’t need to be in jail.” Barnstone failed to make an appearance at the forum.

In the County Clerk’s race Gayle Young Mitchell and Ann Harris Bennett are running. Mitchell was clear to make her case to bring better organization to the office and to keep the public informed and educated about changes in the office.

“We want people to know how to use the office right,” she said. “I have the experience to make it user friendly to all citizens.” Bennett did not attend citing a previous engagement.

State Representative  Sylvester Turner offered encouraging remarks for voters to go to the polls and elect people who will “go to work” for the community. He also expressed concerns about getting more young people to attend forums and get involved with the democratic process.

Early voting starts Tuesday and the primary election is March 4.