Candidates get serious at Tea Party meeting


Three candidates for elected office touted an array of conservative values at the Madison County Tea Party’s monthly meeting January 12.

Madison County Sheriff Travis Neeley, State Senate candidate Ben Bius, and State Representative candidate Trent Ashby addressed topics from same-sex marriage to abortion rights during question-and-answer periods following brief statements.

Neeley is running for re-election as sheriff, while Ashby and Bius are seeking their respective positions for the first time.

Pct. 1 county commissioner Ricky Driskell, who is running for re-election, also made a brief statement, and several other local office-seekers attended the event, although they did not make statements at the meeting.

Those office-seekers in attendance included Larry Youngblood (candidate for U.S. House of Representatives), Marty Navarro (candidate for county sheriff), and Karen Lane (candidate for county tax assessor/collector). A representative for U.S. Rep. Bill Flores was also present.

“This is probably one of the most important years of our lives,” Henry Churchwell said during the introduction. “If we don’t make changes to our government, we won’t have a government left to change. It’s up to us to change it.”

Churchwell opened the Tea Party meeting January 12 by sharing why information-based events are so important to the election process. He said oftentimes voters simply mark a candidate’s name with very little information, and events like the monthly Tea Party meeting are meant to provide more information to make informed decisions.

After the pledge and invocation, Neeley took the microphone and discussed some of the accomplishments and challenges his office has faced since he took over the reigns approximately one year ago.

He also thanked those in attendance for taking the time to become better informed and giving their assistance to his office.

“It’s very pleasing to look out here and see our community taking an interest in local offices,” Neeley said.

Neeley previously served as sheriff from 1989 to 1997, and was appointed to take over the office in February of 2011 when former sheriff Dan Douget retired due to medical issues.

Neeley cited bringing the department’s property room into compliance, obtaining improved audio/video equipment, decreasing the time it takes to obtain DNA test results from six months to 30 days, and a number of recent drug seizures as among the top accomplishments of his department in the past year.

Audience members did not submit any questions for Neeley to answer, so he concluded by thanking those in attendance for their support.

“It’s every day you meet a new challenge at the sheriff’s office,” Neeley said. “It’s been an honor and a pleasure to serve.”

Ashby took the stage next and first described the alleged new district he would represent. As of the most recent plan, the new district would stretch from Madison County east across six counties.

While the congressional maps are still in a state of flux, Ashby said he feels confident that the newly drawn Texas House District 12, which would be comprised of Angelina, Houston, Leon, Madison, San Augustine and Trinity counties, would be maintained despite any possible action by a three-judge panel in San Antonio.

“I think it’s very unlikely you’re going to see this district change,” Ashby said.

Ashby highlighted his experience growing up on a dairy farm in Rusk County, as well as his church upbringing and devotion to faith, as reasons he is a good fit to lead a rural district. Ashby graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in ag economics and was a “yell leader” during his time in College Station.

Ashby worked for former U.S. House member Jim Turner for several years, and is currently the president of the school board for Lufkin ISD.

One of his main talking points was the idea of local control.

“Local control is something I strongly believe in,” Ashby said. “We have got to get the power back to folks like you and away from Washington and Austin.”

Ashby referred to himself as a “strong fiscal conservative” and said he would not favor a state income tax. He said he believes strongly in private property rights, as well as continuing to look at additional eminent domain reform.

He also spoke at length about reforming the system of funding public schools, saying the current structure is inequitable for rural school districts.

“We have a system that basically funds based on your zipcode,” he said. “Our kids are worth just as much (as students in urban districts).”

During the question-and-answer segment, Ashby said he is opposed to same-sex marriage, pro-life without exception, a card-carrying NRA member, and opposed to “Obama-care.” He was questioned by an audience member about having worked for Turner, whom he referred to as a “conservative Democrat,” and said that he is “a proud Republican.”

Before leaving the stage, Ashby was informed that the NRA endorsed incumbent Marva Beck earlier in the day, to which Ashby replied, “I’ll go toe to toe with anyone,” on the second amendment.

Bius was the final candidate to speak and outlined his background in the area. He said that he was a precinct chair during the push to get Ronald Reagan elected in the early 1980s, and spoke highly of his predecessor, Steve Ogden, who has declined to run for re-election this year.

Bius also touted limiting overreach by Washington, D.C. and returning more local control as priorities if he is elected. He said closing the border and reforming the public school system would also be paramount during his potential time in office.

Bius elaborated on his plans for public education and referred to the state’s “educational delivery system,” as “broken.”

“We need to realize that not every kid has to go to college,” Bius said. “We need to restore our vocational education. We need to restore our schools to common-sense values.”

During the question-and-answer period, Bius said he is “100 percent pro-life” and against assisted suicide.

“Win or lose, I’m standing for election because I know I’m the most qualified, I’m the conservative in the race, and I’m here for you,” Bius said.

Pct. 1 county commissioner Ricky Driskell was the final candidate to address the audience, and answered one question: “Do you know how to build a road?”

Driskell answered, “Yes, sir.”

County Commissioners each serve as the road and bridge administrator in their precinct except in places where a county unit road system has been adopted by local election. Under the unit system, which is not in place in Madison County, a county road administrator handles all duties related to roads in the county.