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Meet the candidates for Brazos County judge - hear their stances

KRHD asks the incumbent judge and his challenger the big questions
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Posted at 9:46 AM, Oct 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-26 10:46:06-04

BRYAN, Texas — The race for Brazos County judge is on this midterm election, as two candidates vie for the county’s highest leadership role.

This race pits Republican incumbent judge Duane Peters, who has served as a judge for 12 years now, against Libertarian candidate Clyde Garland, who’s run a number of local races on the libertarian ticket in the past. Peters has served in elected office since 1992 and has spent his life in Brazos County, graduating from Texas A&M. Garland has lived in Brazos County for over 20 years, and also graduated from Texas A&M. Though he has not held office, he’s run in local races before, noting it’s difficult for a libertarian to be elected.

KRHD asked each candidate the same series of questions regarding their political stances. Any statements made by candidates in these interviews have not been independently fact-checked by KRHD at this time, and their validity should be thoughtfully considered by the readers.

Q: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST ISSUES YOU SEE FACING THIS COUNTY?

DUANE PETERS: “Up till just recently, I would have told you transportation. I think really, still, certainly transportation. When you look at what goes on in Brazos County, if we don’t take care of those transportation problems that we can see over the next 10,20 years, and we’re looking forward to that, we will be like it is in Travis County, Harris County, or any of the big counties because we are growing. That’s the kind of thing we’ve tried to do is look at: how can we move people around our county? And those are big projects, so any of those kinds of things take time and a lot of money. I think it’s probably one of the most important things. We’re always trying to grow and recruit good companies in here, create jobs. When you create jobs, it potentially could be more people who come in. My hope has always been that those jobs will go to the local people who are already here. And a lot of – for Aggies. A lot of companies actually come here because of Texas A&M’s here...

… Transportation really is at the top of the list... certainly keeping up all of our county roads and that sort of thing, but you know, as you grow and have more cars, if you don’t do some expansion or create new roads to get around, you bottleneck. And that can be seen in College Station at that south end. A lot goes on there – a lot of bottlenecks go on.

CLYDE GARLAND: “Well, they jumped on board and closed businesses (during the pandemic). Any person has the right to declare something unconstitutional and to stand against it, if they’re willing to take the heat for it. Standing against this would have been very easy. Our officials, including my opponent, were willing to pass, dictate... they said ‘oh, you can’t open your business anymore. Close it down, it’s too dangerous, everybody’s got to wear masks’ ...

… (Brazos County) followed the rest of the world, the U.S. and Texas. We just fell right in line.”

Q: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON COUNTY PROPOSITION A AND PROPOSITION B?

*Propositions A and B are listed on the Brazos County ballot. Prop A levies a tax to pay $100,000,000 towards road, bridge and highway projects. Prop B imposes a new $10 addition to vehicle registration fees, in order to kickstart transportation projects by the Brazos County regional mobility authority.*

PETERS: “I’m supportive of both... One of the projects that – the first that comes to mind is Bush-Wellborn. That interchange there, you’ve got pedestrians walking, bicycles, cars and trains. You’ve got Kyle Field, Reed Arena, the baseball fields. All of that’s in that one particular area and it’s a traffic nightmare without the sports fields around it. But then on game days, it’s really a problem. It’s something that’s been looked at for a long time. It’s about a $100 million project to do the Bush-Wellborn exchange. There’s $60 million that’s been identified from TxDOT, and the city of College Station has done a lot to try and help move that forward. Now we’re still $40 million short. Chancellor Sharp had gone to the chairman of the transportation division, and he has committed $25 more million, provided the bond issue passes and we can provide $15 million out of that bond, that would pretty much fully fund that project, and I think it would move it forward in a much faster pace. Once you get the money, everyone can start moving forward...”

So our end would be $15 million, not $100 million?

“Yes, the bond issue is $100 million, but 15 of that 100 would be dedicated to Bush-Wellborn.”

So the other $85 million would be dedicated to other projects?

“Yes. And for instance, RELLIS. If you drive much out that direction, people are driving 75 mph... Students going in and out of campus, it’s a pretty dangerous situation. As RELLIS continues to grow, and it will... I think that’s something where if we’re not looking forward to it, trying to get that overpass there to keep traffic from crossing across moving traffic, we're going to have an issue out there. Part of that bond money will be dedicated to that. It may not pay for the project, the whole project, but that’s what you do. You try to build in money and TxDOT would then contribute probably a significant amount for the cost of that...

(Prop B) may bring in $1.5 million or something like that. Obviously, most projects we talk about are far more than that. So nobody thought that was going to pay for the project, but there are a lot of things that have to happen. And for TxDOT to get on board, it’s going to take local money. Without local money, TxDOT will go and do projects where they’re willing to put up something... That’s really what the thought with Prop B is, that it will make some money available and then over a couple of years we might have some money to do some preliminary things so that we might could go for more money from TxDOT.”

GARLAND: I’ve read them all and vote no against all of them. I could spend a long time talking about why you should vote no against all of them. They do the exact same thing all of them do. They’re going to put us in more debt...

… That’s just throwing money away. Because they didn’t have the discipline to live in their budget, they keep borrowing money to give us things faster than we would naturally. So I just imagine if they could just somehow manage to do that without debt, we’d now have 40% more of the money they’re collecting to do all the wonderful things they claim they do for us. Because 40% of everything they collect from us goes to debt, because they didn’t have the responsibility to live within their budget many years ago. We’re doing the same thing now, kicking the can down the road. There is a breaking point that will happen sometimes. There always does. There will be a reckoning for it, having such a huge debt.”

Q: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE WAY THAT THE COUNTY HAS SPENT ITS BUDGET OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS?

PETERS: “When you throw COVID in the mix, which shut down nearly everything we were doing there for awhile, there weren’t projects being completed, done for that period of time. Up until then I think things have been going well. My philosophy has been for years that you build up reserves and do most of your normal kinds of projects from reserves. I haven’t been a proponent of borrowing money just to do county roads. To me, I think that’s fiscally irresponsible. That’s just been my philosophy. So that’s what we would do, identify county projects coming up in the next 5, 10 years. We would build up the money and then spend the money on those projects. When COVID hit, we pretty much shut down, whether private sector or the government. And so we build up during that time a significant amount of fund balance. Those projects, those roads, didn’t get done. So that money that was going to be attribute to those, but... you’ve been to court to see, got a couple of commissioners who haven’t been showing up, and I think the tax rate is going to go down to no new revenue...

… I think this will impact how the county gets things done in the future. I think it will be a negative impact.”

GARLAND: “I have not studied the county budget, but like most budgets, they have borrowed money just like everybody else. Any time they have a bond, that’s borrowing money and kicking it down the road to someone else. A bond can only be justified if it pays for itself. For example, if you need to build a bridge over a river, and the people are willing to pay for it, a toll on it, then you put the people at risk. And I hate that – putting people at risk. We’ve done that many times, and usually they fail. We put ourselves $20 million for a project and it goes south. Then we increase taxes to pay off the bad investment. If we really need it, an entrepreneur will run the risk himself because he wants to make money. And if he loses his money, it didn’t hurt the taxpayers.”

Q: DO YOU FEEL YOU WORK WELL [OR WILL WORK WELL] WITH COMMISSIONERS NANCY BERRY AND STEVE ALDRICH, WHOSE SEATS ARE NOT UP FOR REELECTION? AND DO YOU [OR WILL YOU] HAVE A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH THE INCOMING CANDIDATES FOR PRECINCTS 2 AND 4?

PETERS: “Certainly Commissioner Berry has been on for a number of years now, and we’ve had a good working relationship. I worked well with her when she was the mayor of College Station. So I have known her for a long time and we worked well together when she was on the city council and then was mayor. Really well together. And Chuck (Konderla, unopposed candidate, Pct. 2) I knew him when he was on the city council. I actually appointed him to be commissioner after Commissioner Catalena died. I’ve worked well with him on a number of projects while he was on city council of Bryan. I think we’ll work well together.

I didn’t know (Pct. 4 candidate) Wanda Watson, but of course, she’s been here for every meeting we have, and I’ve gotten to know her and think we’ll work together well too. I have met (Timothy Delasandro, Pct. 4 candidate). He’s run for a few things in the past. I don’t know him as well as I seem to know the rest of them, but I think if he gets on the court I’ll be able to work with him too.

My hope would be that (Steve Aldrich) and I would both be looking at what’s best for the county. If we can both agree on what’s best for the county, we’ll work together.”

GARLAND: Unfortunately Libertarians, we’re so averse to the way the system works, I’d be adverse to spending any money, and that’s the only reason people run for office; to spend money and hope they have a white elephant with their name on it. Or they say “Hey I was in office and did all this.’ The big thing now is paying companies to come, and all our cities do it. The counties do it. They pay companies to come here. Well, if we had a low tax rate...

… We have the average tax rate of (cities in) Texas. Well, our tax rate should be 10% of what it is now – not 100% of what it is now. Unfortunately with all the debt though, even if you put a Libertarian in office, we would be forced to keep most of the taxes we have just so we could make tremendous cuts and pay down the debt to get us zero debt. That would be the number one thing I would do.

Q: HOW DO YOU PLAN TO WORK WITH THE NO-NEW-REVENUE PROPERTY TAX RATE? WHAT DO YOU THINK OF IT?

PETERS: “I think we’re going to have to take a look at the budget that we passed and see where we can trim. I said a number of times, I think the fund balance is going to drop significantly. So I think we need to be prepared for that. The way you do it, is about 35% of the county’s budget is mandated by state. They tell us that we’re going to do those things, and those are off the table and can’t be trimmed. Everything else is discretionary. I think then you prioritize, of the discretionary things, how you are going to have to trim it...

… I think we will have to freeze some of the things in the budget that we passed and see where we’re at next year.”

GARLAND: "I would like that rate to be lower. But if those are my only two choices, of course, I’m a fan of the no-new-revenue rate. But as a Libertarian, we’d have the hard job of lowering that rate and getting rid of everything we don’t need the county doing. Let the private sector take the risk in providing. The problem is, once the government starts providing a service, then the private sector can’t provide it, because there’s no way they can compete against the government.”

Q: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE AT THIS TIME? ARE THERE ANY CHANGES REGARDING THE DEPARTMENT THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SEE?

PETERS: “We’ve got a good sheriff’s department. Chris Kirk was sheriff for a long time. I was on commissioners court, then county judge, and we’ve tried to provide them with – they come to us and we give them everything they’re asking for. We didn’t have a big bucket of money where we can just provide everything. But we’ve done a good job, and I think they’ll tell you we’ve done a good job, of trying to keep them up to the degree they need to be. Wayne (Dicky) is doing a great job. I’m okay with the way things are being handled over there right now. My hope is that we’ll still have enough money to continue to fund them kind of at the level we’ve been funding at.

GARLAND: “I ran for sheriff two years ago against Sheriff Dicky, and I think they’re doing a fine job.

Q: WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE EARLY VOTING REINSTATED AT THE MEMORIAL STUDENT CENTER ON TEXAS A&M’S CAMPUS?

PETERS: “I wasn’t passionate about either. I think it did make some logical sense. (College Station city hall) is across the road from A&M. Texas A&M is a huge area. It’s not just the MSC, but it goes all the way out to RELLIS. It’s a huge area. So to me, it didn’t seem like moving it from the MSC to city hall would be a big deal. And if you look at early voting locations – I think I looked at 2018 - the number, the most used location in early voting was the city of College Station utility building. The MSC was #4. The only one that had fewer people show up and vote was Galilee here down in Bryan. And there have been lines out at College Station utilities. When that proposal came up, I’m thinking, ‘Okay, you’ve got the most people voting out at College Station. A lot of those people probably did not want to have to go to campus to get on, so moving it over to city hall makes sense to me.’ It might balance out the two polling places out at College Station, and some of those folks who voted at the utility building will go to city hall and balance it out. Personally, I didn’t see that it impacted – I didn’t foresee the students would be as upset as they were to move the location because, I still think they were, they still have the ability to vote there. Of course, we have worked with A&M to get some transportation back and forth. I still don’t think it was a wrong decision. But I know commissioner Berry says she is happy to see it go back to the MSC. And I’m fine with that too, next year. This year, just impossible. We’re not going to do that.

GARLAND: “I’m very big on voting rights. In fact, every year that’s one of my sign projects. Every year when I was in Houston, I would have a checklist. Because there’s always some big issue. Dead people are voting. That’s going to change the election. Illegal aliens are voting. It’s always something...

I have a checklist I run through, I do a check within my limits. I’m pleased to report that there is no indication – you have a few dead people vote by accident. They died a few days before but somehow their ballot got turned in. But that’s how they were going to vote anyway if they had managed to live a few more days. So I actually ran them down and checked it out and could’ve had the daughter arrested. But it’s one vote, and that’s ridiculous. Their grandmother got to vote the way she wanted to, even though she didn’t make it two days to the end. And then I ran down a lady who was very active in the Democratic party, but it turned out she was illegal. She didn’t know she was legal...

… we have a very good voting system and I’m proud of it. But the point is, if you cannot check paper (ballots) it’s very subject to errors happening.... Judge Peters should take the lead in checking everything...”

Do you think the voting location should return to the MSC?

“Yes, that’s a given. They’ve gotten used to it, and actually tradition is stronger than the Constitution. If the government passes a constitutional law, the income tax for example, and nobody objects, it becomes tradition. It becomes stronger than the Constitution, even.”

Q: COMMISSIONERS OFTEN CONSULT EXPERTS WHEN IN COURT. DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE A GOOD GRASP ON LAWS, AND HOW LOCAL GOVERNMENT OPERATES?

PETERS: “I've been in county government a long time, so I feel like I have a good grasp on it. That doesn’t mean I know everything. And there are certainly plenty of laws out there that I might not even be aware of. But I’ve got a pretty good grasp on it. And I’m the kind of guy that wants to make sure we’ve got it right. If I see something coming up that I’m unsure about, I’ll dig myself and try to find it. If it’s a law, I may ask for the attorneys to give me some background on it. But I’ve got a pretty good grasp on how things work, what you can and can’t do.”

GARLAND: Government is too big, and nobody can know – you've got to be careful with the experts you hire, because they have prejudices like all of us. And experts keep their job simply because most experts feel you out and know what answers you want. So they skew all their research to give you the answers you want. You have to be careful with experts because they want to keep their job and they keep their job by telling you what you want to hear.”

Q: OVERSEEING EMERGENCY RESPONSE IS THE DUTY OF THE COUNTY JUDGE. HOW DO YOU FEEL (YOU/JUDGE DUANE PETERS) HANDLED MAJOR EMERGENCIES, INCLUDING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND WINTER STORM URI?

PETERS: “Nobody knew what COVID was until it began to pop out. And I wondered, as did everybody, I think – what's the best way to handle this? I actually put out a mandate, and I think that maybe the two mayors also agreed that we mandate masks, because we didn’t know. I mean, we were trying to keep the thing from spreading everywhere. There was no penalty in that mandate when we put it out. And then in a week, or it might have been a little longer week, the governor overrode any mandate the locals were doing and put out a mandate, so the governor then took over all the actions for COVID. That’s really about the only actions we took locally for COVID...

(Uri) was unprecedented. I don’t know of anything I would have done differently. Those who were most impacted were the cities providing electricity. We were shut down, pretty much, and that’s what we felt like we needed to do was shut down, as far as the county – except for roads and law enforcement. So I don’t know of anything I could have done that would have been much different than what we did...

… I’m about as prepared as I can be, and certainly, I’ve got an emergency coordinator/director where that’s really her expertise. I depend on her a lot when it comes to emergency management. I think we have the right person for that.”

GARLAND: “I suspect that the way we handle emergencies is pretty horrible, because, first thing, and we’ve been going in this direction for many years, is to eliminate the volunteers. And it’s ridiculous, because any emergency should enhance volunteer work. Ninety percent of all rescues occur before officials get there to do their thing. Which is important, because they’re very skilled at it and spent their whole life training to do a certain activity. But 90% of it’s been done by the time they get there, and when they get there they should be saying ‘you should do this, you do this better’ - to give advice, not direction. They don’t have the power to tell people what they can and cannot do. Of course, they do that all the time. ‘Oh this is an emergency, therefore you have no more rights. You can’t help that person, get out of the way.’ The Constitutional way to do it is to say ‘hey, I’m here to help. You’re doing the CPR wrong. Can you do it this way?’ Give advice, not mandates. The huge difference is, bring the volunteers in They’re 90% of everything, and the experts who come in are 10%. With that expertise, they can assist the 90%.”

Q: WHAT MAKES YOU STAND OUT AS A CANDIDATE?

PETERS: “I have been in county government a long time, and I’m pretty understanding of how things work and how things should be operated. And frankly, I think you can look back at my record, and I’ve done a fair job. I’ve had a lot of help, and that’s what it takes. You hire the right, good people, and they’re out there helping you, and you can be pretty successful. I’ve had a pretty good commissioner's court overall in the past that have really made life a lot easier. I think we’ve done a good job.”

GARLAND: “I’m very big on the Constitution. I have one (copy) on me right now... I’m a Constitutionalist, and as far as I can tell, almost no other government official is. And they all took an oath to support the Constitution. I always tell every official, ‘Hey, please read the Constitution. You took an oath to support it.’ And if they’ve read the Constitution, I’ll attempt to go into the nuances of the fact that they have certain unenumerated powers. For example, everybody thinks they (the government) has the power to deliver the mail. Well, they have the power to, but they don’t have to exercise that power. They have the power to do it, but they don’t have to exercise it. They have the choice, but they carry it further as if they have to do it...

… The Constitution is the supreme law of the land by definition, and any law that goes against it is unconstitutional.”