WACO, Texas — The McLennan County Republican Club hosted a forum with candidates for District Attorney with just over a month left until the primary election.
Current District Attorney Barry Johnson and challenger Josh Tetens both had a chance to speak to the crowd.
Johnson used the opportunity to defend his first term and all the work he was able to accomplish.
"Prior to me taking office, we had about 2,100 felonies in jail waiting for trial," he said. "We worked that down to 1,300 and cut it in half before the pandemic set in."
His opponents criticized Johnson for a pause in jury trials during the pandemic, roughly the same time Tetens said the crime rate spiked.
"We have to get Waco back to where we were where it was deterred," Tetens said. "Criminals did not want to work, live or operate here in the community. Right now all we see is that crime rate continues to go up in the last three years and I believe it's because the district attorney's office has not carried their weight."
"Texas Supreme Court was the one who said we're not having any more jury trials and they wouldn't let us have any until May the 3rd of 2021," Johnson defended himself. "We have nothing to do with the scheduling of cases and when they go to trial."
Tetens said his experience would make him a better candidate and shows his supporters he will get the job done.
"I have the needed experience, the knowledge and support of law enforcement to run that office, start day one prosecuting criminals and holding people accountable for the crimes they commit against victims here in our county," he said.
While they don't agree on everything, they do agree this top law enforcement position plays a very significant role in our community.
"Getting honesty and integrity back in the District Attorney's office was the most important thing we've done," Johnson said. "We've let everybody know we are the chief law enforcement officer in the county."
"We need to bring folks into that office with experience," Tetens said. "Attorneys that have practiced for a long period of time, understand the complicated laws, the complicated cases some of these present and be able to try these cases immediately in court."
We're just weeks away from the Texas primary on March 1st. The last day for voter registration is January 31st.