Jefferson County judge's seat contested for the first time in seven years
The county judge's seat is the top political position in Jefferson County, and for more than seven years it has not been contested. Jeff Branick ran twice unopposed. This year, Branick, 59, switched political affiliations from Democrat to Republican.
Branick said, "I'm not here for me, I made a lot of money practicing law than I make as a county judge. I'm here because I want to be of service." Branick is seeking his third, and what he says will be his last term in office.
On Monday, the last day to file for the 2018 elections, former U.S. Representative Nick Lampson filed to run as a Democrat for county judge. Lampson, 72, is now in the private sector. He's vice president of operations for Riceland Healthcare, but politics is still in his blood. He recently wrote a book titled "The Death of Washington's Democracy?", in which he explores the polarization of our political scene. Lampson wants to change that.
Lampson said, "I wanted to practice what I'm trying to preach."
Neither candidate has a primary opponent, so they'll go head-to-head in next November's general election. Branick is not enthusiastic about the upcoming match-up, saying, "I'm so busy responding to Hurricane Harvey, I really don't have time for the distraction that this contest brings about. I'm going to concentrate on Harvey's recovery, I'm going to concentrate on getting people back to their home."
That's something that might become a campaign issue. Lampson wonders if enough's been done to get evacuated Jefferson County residents back home to Southeast Texas.
Lampson said, "I don't know that we know what happened here when people began to be moved from this county. Those are critical things for families, it's critical for our economic development."
Branick defends his team's response. He said, "My emergency management team is top notch, did an outstanding job during Harvey." Branick also touts what his administration has done for beach restoration after the erosion from Hurricanes Rita and Ike. Branick said, "We've gotten awards of approximately $50 million that will restore the beach dune system and protect us from future storm surge events, and protect our homes and our industry and the jobs that industry creates."
Branick says the county's economic development is going well and moving in the right direction. Branick said, "I think that we've had a lot of accomplishments, out of 254 counties in Texas, we're 240th lowest tax rate."
Lampson, a former school teacher, worries about the state of the county's education, and its impact on education. He said, "We have educational problems that are affecting our economic development, we don't address ninth grade drop-out, the educational quality of our children, that's not the responsibility of commissioners' court, but it's the responsibility of the leaders within our community to address these shortcomings."
Lampson is not new to county politics. He served almost 20 years as Jefferson County's tax assessor-collector.