The Dallas Examiner

Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates, presented by The Dallas Examiner, featured Democratic candidates for County Court at Law No. 4, Judge Criminal Court No. 33, Texas State Board of Education District 12, Democratic Party Chair and U.S. Congress District 30, Feb. 12 at the African American Museum.

The forum commenced with invited candidates for Court at Law No 4: incumbent Ken Tapscott and Paula Rosales.

Tapscott introduced himself to the audience and detailed a few of the milestones he has accomplished as current county judge.

“At the time I have been a civil judge, serving you, no Dallas County civil judge has sent more cases to jury verdict than me – over 420 cases in the last 11 years,” he declared.

Rosales followed by revealing her intentions for the court to potential voters.

“If lucky enough to be elected, I will bring diverse legal experience and diverse life experience into the bench,” she said.

Audience members took advantage of the opportunity to ask the candidates questions about their experiences and their political beliefs.

Question: What is your vision for the future of the judicial system?

ROSALES: In 2018, the income disparities and inequalities that we are experiencing as a country and as a city continue to widen. While I do appreciate everything Judge Ken Tapscott has done we need more innovation in the courtroom. It is an administration of justice issue if we are not ensuring that folks who have attorneys have the same solutions than those who do not have attorneys. As a community judge, I’ve had the chance to meet several individuals who got their wages garnished and mortgages clouded by title and that is because they did not have the chance to work with creating, including banks for hospital bills that they couldn’t pay or credit card debts. Individuals who have attorneys are able to negotiate with creditors. They’re able to sit down at the table and get a better solution.

TAPSCOTT: Obviously, judges are not allowed to legislate from the bench. To the extent that we have societal problems with wage disparities, that’s not something you can fix as a judge. What you got to do as a judge is make sure that those courtroom doors stay open to everybody regardless of how rich or poor they are or what they look like and just be determined to the extent that someone has brought a case to the courtroom that you give it a fair opportunity to be heard. As far as innovation is concerned, if you are literally poor – too poor to pay your court cost – you can file a pauper’s affidavit at the time you initiate your case and you have the opportunity to be heard. I don’t think we need to do anything differently right now, but guards make sure those doors stay open and if someone is too poor to pay their court cost file that affidavit, come on in and be heard.

Q: Have you noticed any ongoing disparities in access to justice between underrepresented people and indigents and if so, do you offer any solutions?

TAPSCOTT: Yes, people who typically represent themselves are at a disadvantage, especially at a jury trial they’ll end up losing. As a trial to the bench I still have the ability to hear what they say and if the facts and the law is on their side then they win, even if they don’t have a lawyer. What I also do to the extent that I can do – because you all know it is an adversarial system – I can’t coach someone to teach them how to beat the other side [but] legal clips are allowed to operate in the courthouse … I actually put the notices on the outside of my courtroom so they can go get free legal help when they come and litigate the case to me.

ROSALES: There is a [clause] called innovative core practices or procedural justice and as a community judge I’ve had a chance to implement them. What that means is any time an individual comes before you, you are giving them a voice and explaining to them what the process is and why they are where they are. Also there is a helpfulness component about procedural justice. If fortunate enough to be elected as your [judge], I will be bringing a program called the responsible citizen docket for those creditor lawsuits against individuals who do not have attorneys. I’m going to be dividing the area’s law schools and the experiential programs that are existing. I’ve worked with them. I know I can make that happen.

Q: How many times have you advocated/spoke out in a civil jury trial?

ROSALES: When you try a case the exercise of trying a case is going to be the same whether you try in a civil court or a criminal court. You are researching the evidence and the law, preparing the witnesses, preparing for the attacking of the other party and the rules of evidences you are going to assert to ensure that your evidence is admitted into trial. As a judge, I have tried a handful of civil cases. As an admissible court judge, we do have criminal jurisdiction and civil jurisdiction. As an advocate, I have not had a chance to try a case in the civil sector but I am working to build one of the nation’s best personal injury and medical law practice attorneys. Hopefully by the time I am fortunate enough to be elected and sworn in as judge in 2019 I will have a chance to practice at the federal and county district courts.

TAPSCOTT: I’m going to be absolutely respectful of everyone in this room. I know you all have done that for me and I’m going to do the same thing for Ms. Rosales. But when she just stood up a moment ago and tried to tell you to ‘just forget about it. I have not presided over a civil jury trial,’ this is a civil court that she is running for. This is a big deal. I have been a judge now for almost 12 years. For the last 21 years of my life, I have only practiced in civil law. I would not be qualified to run for criminal court in this county. You all would laugh me out of this room. I would not be qualified to run for a family court or probate court, because I don’t practice in those areas of the law. This is a big deal where our job is to send the most qualified and experienced people we can possibly put in position of power to administer the justice system. You don’t run for a bench you don’t qualify for.

The candidates that followed were those running for Criminal Court No 33 positions: Andrey Morehead and Symone Redwine.

Morehead kicked off the discussion with her introduction.

“I am here because I am passionate about what I do,” she stated. “I am a community servant at heart and you will find that I have a history of dedicated servant leadership in every aspect of my personal and professional career.”

Redwine then detailed her prior works and what makes her unique as a candidate.

“There’s a distinguishment between servant leadership and leaders who are self-serving,” she said.

Afterward, the potential judges unpacked their campaign issues and ideologies to audience members.

Q: What are your top two issues that you will tackle your first day in office?

REDWINE: On Day One , I want to start with payday loans. The issue came to my attention because I had a client that I was helping pro bono. Now, I see some faces [that] are like ‘what do payday loans have to do with a misdemeanor court?’ But payday loan companies now know they can get paid from these people. If you can’t afford to pay their loans when you got to federal court you certainly can’t get anything from that. So what they started to do is use the DA’s office as their personal debt collector. I want to help people get a record expunged. I also want to help train others in the DA’s office so they can identify when this happens so these charges don’t make it as far.

MOREHEAD: Two things I would start with on Day One, is continue what I’ve already been doing. First of all, it would be dealing with bond reform. We have been working very closely with Judge Birmingham and Judge Mulder who are the presiding judges of the federal and misdemeanor courts in addressing the issue pertaining to bond reform. I’m working with Judge Birmingham in regards to the program he has created as a strategy to help figure out which people should be in pre-trial release. So bond reform will be one of the first things we deal with.

Q: What does bail reform mean to you?

MOREHEAD: Bail reform is what we use to call the cash money bail system. It is a system where people are penalized because of who they are and not really address the real issue that is about why people should or should not be released. We need to have a system where people are evaluated based on their risk to reoffend and the safety of the public, not by how look and how much money they have. The impact of that on Dallas is this; There are only 60,000 beds in Dallas. That may sound like a lot, but it’s not. If we do not get people out of jail then we have to send those people to other counties and that cost the county even more money. But we are already working very diligently on bail reform, it is very important that everybody is treated with respect and that people who are low-risk offenders be able to be released immediately under a pre-trial release program.

REDWINE: I’ve been a champion of bail reform before it became the buzz phrase it is today. Back in 2014, when I was presiding in Cedar Hill, I had to set the bail for a 17-year-old young man in high school. He was over his girlfriend’s house passed her curfew. Her mother comes home … calls the police. The police came and the mother and the daughter says there’s something in his backpack that belong to [their] house. He says it’s [his] but he gives the bag back anyway. The boy and his friends turn to leave and are arrested for felony burglary. At the time the policy in Cedar Hill was that bond needed to be available at $5,000. I refused, because if I did that that boy would have lost his college scholarship. So I set the bond based on risk at $1,000 and for me that was reasonable under those facts. I would do the same for those in Dallas County.

Q: What is your stance on ex-offender voting rights and registration?

REDWINE: I’ve been trying to get them to register to vote with me for weeks. All over my Facebook I have these post where I encourage you [to vote]. I really want to encourage former felons to know that Texas is one of the few states where you can vote. If you don’t like your status this is the time to exercise it. So I really want to encourage people to tell their loved ones if [they] are a former felon and off law papers – you’ve paid all your fines – all [they] have to do is re-register. So yes, I believe former felons should be able to vote.

MOREHEAD: I’ve been a deputy registrar since 1989. I’ve registered literally thousands of people to vote and one of the things we make sure we do is educate people [through] relationships. I’ve always had a collaborative spirit. Back when I was president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council Dallas chapter voter registration was one of our big projects. So we developed relationships with other organizations to make sure they are knowledgeable so they can communicate to the community that people can register to vote once they’re off papers. There are over 70 million people in this country on probation right now. Those 70 million people are disenfranchised from the system. They can’t vote and they don’t have a way to exercise their voices. We have to do something about that. Not just us the candidates. It is all of you in here who have the opportunity to partnership and educate the community so that we can make sure people are not disenfranchised from our system.

Soon after, the forum presented candidates for Texas State Board of Education: Suzanne Smith and Tina Green. Green was not present.

Smith disclosed her motives to improve the Texas education system low ratings.

“Over the past 20 years we are doing a disservice to our young people,” she said. “41 just isn’t good enough. Texas has to be able to do better.”

The audience participated in a Q&A session with Smith to better understand her position on issues faced by local students and parents.

Q: What is your position on charter schools?

SMITH: Many of you may know I ran for Dallas ISD school board. I really enjoyed the opportunity of meeting lots of different people. I’m not only a product of public schools but also the product of two public school principals … What I say about charter schools is it is a part of our law. Part of my job is to make sure that the good charter schools continue and they’re held to exactly the same standard public schools are and the bad charter schools don’t continue. That is what I commit to. That is my job as a state board of education, [which] is making sure we understand the difference and public schools are held to the same standards as charter schools.

Q: What is your position on high stake testing?

SMITH: High stake testing is something that I think we have to pay attention to. There’s this thing called the iron triangle in education. It’s our curriculum standard to the things we decide on student testing and into textbooks. So those are the things we’re really paying attention to and trying to get to student success. The thing about high stake testing is we, so far, not found that it actually proves that people are actually going to be successful in the future. The other thing, too, is with addition of technology we don’t have to do it anymore. There’s things like formative assessments the state of Massachusetts has passed. Other states have done other things that have actually shown a more conclusive orientation toward the future. So which would you rather have at the end of your school year? To have you judged or judged by a little bit [progressively] so that your teachers can improve along the way? At the end of the year it is too late to go back and try to fix it. So high stake testing I don’t think is needed anymore. I think there are more better ways of looking at how we can help students succeed but also, at the same time, make sure we are holding our schools accountable.

Q: Current history books are stating African Americans were immigrants, which is offensive. What would do to fix this issue of teaching our children real history instead of this White supremacy?

SMITH: First and foremost we have to have the experts decide on what goes into our textbooks. Part of my job as a public servant is serve as a vessel to get as many people and opinions including all of yours into the mix to make sure that the best decision is made. We don’t want an isolated decision being made in our textbooks. As you know, history is coming up and science is coming up as well as as far as the textbooks are concerned. So part of our job is making sure that we have as many of the resources as possible to make sure we make the best decision as possible. That includes all historians, scientists and linguists to make sure we are making decisions that are historically accurate but also implematic of the kind of things we are trying to teach our kids.

Next up were contenders up for Dallas County Democratic Party Chair: incumbent Carol Donavan and Chris Hamilton.

Donavan started off the introductory segment discussing her accomplishments as chair.

“I have served in this position for about three years now and during this time the party has pretty much broken every fundraising record and significantly increased the representation to make our party look like the community,” she said. “In addition to keeping Dallas County blue, we have made it [more blue].”

Hamilton addressed his reason for running and concerns for the party.

“We are at a important crossroads in this country,” he said. “Our values are under threat and the status quo is not going to work for us. We have to increase the engagement in our communities [and] voter participation.”

Spectators inquired about the candidates plans for the party as well as the controversy surrounding the group.

Q: May I please address the lawsuit putting candidates of being thrown off the ballot?

DONAVAN: The lawsuit was initiated by the local Republicans party. It filed suit alleging that 128,000 applications were invalid because they have not been personally signed by the chair. So I contacted counsel and put together a team of lawyers within 24 hours. We took a look and I wanted their opinions. I said ‘don’t tell me what I want to hear. Tell me the real deal. If I’m wrong I’m wrong but I think I’m right.’ They looked at it and in fact the Texas Election Code does not require that the chair signs the ballot applications. In fact, the secretary of State says they don’t give a rip whether the ballot application gets signed at all. They said the only thing they need is us to storify the candidates that is going to run and we did that. We did our job.

HAMILTON: Unfortunately, this isn’t the only lawsuit released to irritate ballot applications. There was in the past some of the prior chairs’ process for reviewing these applications to make sure that this didn’t happen. This is the most important job of the chair to make sure that we get our democrats on the ballot. I don’t believe it is about a lawsuit but, with that said, there are certain jobs that we all have where other people’s jobs may depend on us. We cannot allow this to happen again. We need to have a primary committee review all of our ballot applications and we need to make it a priority to make sure we have our ducks in a row because the republicans can’t beat our candidates. We need to up our game in this party and we need to make sure that the republicans aren’t able to beat us with tricks at the ballot box.

Q: What is your vision for the future of the Democratic party?

HAMILTON: Of the 10 Statehouse seats, there are swing states in Texas. Seven are in Dallas County. All of those are in districts that Hillary Clinton won but we didn’t win the House seats because we didn’t have meaningful coordination and efforts to get out the vote by the party. That’s just the facts. We have 13 republican-held court of appeal seats. If you all liked what you heard from some of the criminal judges you heard from about these reforms, we’re not going to get it done if we don’t fix that court of appeals. Eight of those seats are up this time. We have to increase our fundraising and go back to the strategy used in 2006 – the Alabama strategy before Alabama. We have to invest in our communities. We have to build a candidacy operation like what we’re doing with our campaign right now.

DONAVAN: Mr. Hamilton is referring to the coordinating campaign as he is unhappy with the way it goes but we are [more blue] than we ever been. In fact, each time we are picking up more seats. I know it sounds wonderful that he wants all 10 House seats to be democrats and that’s great. In a perfect world, wouldn’t that be wonderful? But Mr. Hamilton forgets there’s actually some republicans who live in Dallas and they vote. So, therefore, seven House seats that are democrat is a big deal. We switched one of them just this last round of 2016. [Also], the lawsuit that he is talking about he is referring to the challenges that happen every time there is an election. There are always challenges from one candidate to another and he is forgetting that that is historical and nothing could change it.

Q: The party is mostly supported by African Americans. What will you do to ensure you are committed to African Americans and ensure that African American involvement is supported?

DONAVAN: First of all, there is misinformation out. I want you to know that we’ve spent more money in the southern sector for coordinating campaigns than we did in the northern sector.

HAMILTON: I want to make sure I am absolutely clear. I’ve said this a million times in front of every crowd and we have to hammer this into the Democratic party. The African American community is the foundation of the Democratic party. There’s no other politically woke voting segment in this country. When we’re facing racists, pedophiles and bigots in Alabama, who come and save this country? The African American community. The African American community has shown itself to be the moral conscious of this country. We have to build on that. When we’re investing in resources we should invest more in the southern sector. It needs to go up. We know that the African American community votes 90 plus percent democratic. Until we have turned out every African American citizen our work is not done. We need more pipelines for new generations of leaders and elected officials who are killing it in Dallas County.

The forum closed with a surprise discussion section for U.S. Congressional District 30: incumbent Eddie Bernice Johnson, Barbara Mallory Caraway and Eric L. Williams. Johnson was not present.

Caraway conveyed her mission statement for the district to the crowd.

“What [I] want to do for you, is to not only be your vote but to be your voice and make sure you have someone in Washington who doesn’t mind coming to forums regardless of what the outcome may be and listen to you,” she said.

Williams used his time to express his beliefs and qualifications for the potential position.

“We need someone who knows political affairs and can build on that level,” the former journalist said. “I do believe I am prepared. With God’s help and your vote at the ballot, we will win.”

Audience members pick the brains of each candidate in hopes of discovering who’s best fit for the congressional role.

Q: What is the most important issue facing your district and what are your solutions?

CARAWAY: Poverty is the number one issue because it contributes to a lot of other issues such as unemployment, homelessness, inability to find housing. What I have consistently done as city council member and a state legislator, I represented West Dallas for eight years. We were on what was called a lawful consentive crew. I personally went up to the HUD secretary and ask him to come to Dallas. We created an atmosphere where they had to tear down the existing public housing and rebuild. I [also] had the opportunity to leverage the resources that taxpayers pay to make sure that you got your fair share of taxes. That is what I plan on doing when I get to Washington. To be your voice – your voice and to work for you.”

WILLIAMS: The number one issue in our community is economic inequality. One in 5 children in Dallas live in poverty. Without the proper education you can’t make the proper money. When you look around there is 260,000 kids in Dallas that are food insecure. That is because some of the parents don’t even have the money to go to grocery stores or food oasis in the north with the food desert in the south. Economic inequality is a major issue in Dallas. Poverty is segregation in Dallas because of economic inequality. I’ve seen economic inequality up close and personal in South Africa when apartheid was in full effect. Here in Dallas, we have a form of economic apartheid. We have payday lenders charging 21 percent and upward for a loan yet we have no Black banks on our side of town. I really believe the new N-word for us is nothing. We get nothing and we have nothing. But I think all that can change in this particular point in time by electing me.

Q: Would you endorse a bill for affordable, universal health care and the minimum wage bill?

WILLIAMS: First of all, I’m in favor of universal health care. Should I be elected, that is one of the things I will be pushing for because personally I don’t believe the Affordable Care Act is affordable. So I will be pushing for universal health care. That would be my main thing. I’m not with [minimum wage]. I’m for more … $20 and up because I think $15 is not enough. We need a real minimum wage. We need to be real about this. When I’m talking about economic inequality you can’t live off $15 an hour. So we need to raise that up.

CARAWAY: I support the $15 minimum wage but I also support more. What we’re talking about is the Bernie Sanders Act. I do believe an order to make sure we can expand Medicare to improve people who are younger or who are denied and also support that. Our citizens have a right to affordable, quality health care. I would also say when you co-sponsor a bill, that means you are signing onto someone’s legislation [that] they’ve already introduced. I will introduce my own bill because I have to at least be on record saying that I am standing up as a voice for people who have sent me to Washington. So that is what I plan on doing.

Q: Caraway, when you say ‘co-sponsor’ it’s almost as if you are disregarding other congress members. Explain how you will develop those relationships in Congress and if you have any now?

CARAWAY: Well the good thing about what’s going on right now is almost all the Congress people not seeking re-election haven’t went far out. We’re going to have a large number of people who are going to be new so we are going to have to learn each other. It’s a big turnover. If you will understand that what happens in the introduction of legislation, you can introduce whatever bill you want to. So you have to lobby to get that done. Just because there’s someone who already has a bill doesn’t mean I cannot introduce my own.

WILLIAMS: I think building relationships are important just like the relationships I’ve built with the Dallas City Council and other municipalities in the Southern Sector. You have to build relationships. You have to knock on other congressional leaders doors and lobby them. That is what I will work to do. I would work to build those relationships and make those relationships solid so we can go and put bills before the House – whether co-authored or authored by myself – we will have team players that will work those bills together collectively and hopefully get those bills passed.

The final Monday Night Politics was held Feb. 26 at the African American Museum.

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