Four candidates on the ballot in the March 1 primary election were present: Byron Bradford, Robert Trevor Buker, Tim O’Hare, and Betsy Price. A fifth candidate, Kristen Collins, did not attend the forum.
Each member of the panel was given an opportunity to make an opening statement “elevator pitch” to the crowded room explaining why they are best suited to serve as the next Tarrant County judge.
Buker, a 38-year-old corrections officer, opened by touting his 10 years of experience working in the correctional system. He believes the family court systems of the county need reforming, citing instances of parental rights being terminated. He also pointed to his involvement in fighting critical race theory and associated issues in the local school districts.
“I like to get my hands dirty,” Buker said. “I know the issues because I speak with the people,” he said.
Bradford, a retired veteran who served 30 years in the U.S. Army, said his platform can be summarized as “T.E.L.S.” — transparency, economic development, lower taxes, and safer communities. He said he wants to work for more open communication with the public and to bring more businesses to Tarrant County.
“I believe we have the best country, state, and county in the world,” he said.
Price, the former long-time mayor of Fort Worth, mentioned that retiring county Judge Glen Whitley urged her to look into the race. She touted her experience as mayor as well as the county tax assessor-collector before that.
“I cut waste and saved the taxpayers money as the tax assessor-collector,” she said, also mentioning that she cut taxes seven times while mayor.
In a video recently released by Price, she says O’Hare is lying about her record and claims she voted “seven times to cut our property tax rate” in Fort Worth. A property tax rate cut is not the same as lowering property taxes, as the total tax revenue received by the city often still increases due to appraisal hikes unless the rate is reduced below the no-new-revenue rate.
O’Hare, who served as the mayor of Farmers Branch from 2008 to 2011, mentioned his record cutting taxes, reducing crime, and stopping illegal aliens by adopting a policy that allows local law enforcement to identify and remove non-citizens, known as 287(g),.
Over the last couple of years, O’Hare has helped lead an effort in Carroll Independent School District against the Cultural Competence Action Plan (CCAP).
“We defeated it and replaced the school board,” he said.
Each of the candidates was also asked about the tax rate in Tarrant County, which is the fifth-highest in Texas.
Bradford recognized that no one person could single-handedly change the tax rate, but that he will work with the other commissioners to try to lower it. He said he is especially concerned about retired persons being taxed out of their homes.
Price said that it is important to look at the tax base, which is 60 percent residential and 40 percent business, but that it ought to be the opposite. She also said that the combined rates of the county and hospital district are among the lowest of the urban counties in Texas.
She also said she would push for the legislature to change the homestead exemption for counties to a flat amount instead of the current percentage that she said tends to benefit homeowners with higher-value homes.
O’Hare compared the tax rate of Tarrant County — 45 cents per $100 valuation — with that of Collin County (18 cents per $100 valuation). Tarrant and Collin counties are the two largest Republican counties in the state.
He said he would bring a 20 percent homestead exemption plus a 20 percent tax rate cut to the table.
“We must manage our budgets as private businesses do,” he said. “We can deliver real tax relief.”
Buker pointed out that part of the problem is tax appraisals and said that he would look at the Tarrant Appraisal Board and how values are being raised. He added that he is skeptical of tax abatements and also believes the county budget has places it could be cut.
Each candidate was also asked a question specific to them and their campaign.
Price was asked about the criticisms aimed at her, especially by the O’Hare campaign, that she isn’t pro-life, that she supported Black Lives Matter (BLM) protestors, and that she has supported critical race theory. She denied these, saying she has been pro-life from early on and pointing out that Kyleen Wright of Texans United for Life had endorsed her.
The former mayor claimed the criticism of her pro-life credentials came from her speaking at the Black Tie Dinner, a fundraiser to support the LGBTQ community of Fort Worth. She said that apparently they had supported Planned Parenthood, but that she spoke at the dinner because the group supports important charities and does a lot of good work, but that she didn’t ask questions about all of the groups they support. In 2021, the group’s beneficiaries included Planned Parenthood, Lambda Legal, and the Human Rights Campaign.
Regarding BLM, Price said she met with United Fort Worth which had some BLM members, but that she just talked to them to encourage peaceful protests. Instead of defunding the police, Price said she worked hard to pass a 10-year extension of the crime control and prevention district that helps fund law enforcement efforts in the city.
A video from NBCDFW shows Price at the George Floyd protest in Fort Worth in 2020, and it appears she is chanting along with the protestors.
O’Hare was asked about the legal costs of defending a lawsuit over the enforcement of 287(g) in Farmers Branch and whether he felt they were justified. He said that the legal fees were actually defending a duly passed ordinance supported by over 60 percent of the voters of the city and that the only thing he would change was he would have fought for 287(g) sooner.
Besides resulting in the removal of 4,000 illegal aliens who had been indicted for crimes, O’Hare said his leadership set the tone for many others in the GOP to stand up and fight illegal immigration.
“Tarrant County is on the cusp of turning blue. I am someone who will stand up and fight, not get along with the Democrats. I will shine a light on diversity, equity, and inclusion. I will keep Tarrant County red,” he emphasized.
O’Hare has recently emphasized his endorsement by former President Donald Trump and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.
Buker was asked about his concerns about voter fraud and the county elections administrator. He emphatically stated that he would “get rid of Heider Garcia,” the current county elections official. Buker would return to numbered paper ballots, which he believes are more secure.
Bradford was asked about his views of bail reform and stricter criminal penalties. He acknowledged that the county has problems with its criminal justice system. “I would sit down with the [district attorneys] and figure it out. We have a problem with crime and we need to get in front of it,” he said.
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Kim Roberts is a regional reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.