The retirement of Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace Jerdy Wolverton will leave the seat open for the first time in 18 years, and five candidates are vying for Rusk County residents’ votes.
The four Republican candidates who will appear on the March 6 primary ballot are Teresa Jones, Pat McCrory, Bob Overman and Charles Robinson Jr.
The winner of the Republican primary will then face off against Democratic candidate Janice Bagley.
Jones has served as a clerk in Wolverton’s office since 2013 and decided to enter the race for JP after Wolverton announced his upcoming retirement.
As the office clerk, Jones said, she has learned the ins and outs of the office, learning the various legislative changes and conducting follow-ups on each case Wolverton sees.
“I feel like I am experienced enough to have this position,” she said.
Jones said the campaign has gone by quickly since officially filing for the election in the fall. With a positive outlook on the campaign, Jones has been putting out signs and going door to door meeting people.
She might not have the number of signs other candidates do, but that is OK, she said.
“I can only do what I can do and God can do the rest,” she said.
One thing that has surprised her in the process of campaigning is the people who know her in the office but not as a candidate. By meeting them, she can make sure they understand the Teresa Jones they know as Wolverton’s clerk is the same one in the election.
“Everyone knows me at the office, but they don’t know that I’m Teresa Jones,” she said. “That’s been a surprise. They do know me. They talk to me regularly and they say hello, but they did not know that was me.”
A former Kilgore school teacher, she said it has been nice reconnecting with some of her daughter’s friends from school and students she taught during her 10 years at the district.
She has also used her meetings to explain what the office does because some have never gone to court and do not understand the purpose of the JP’s office.
She has ideas of changes she would like to implement if elected, but said she does not want to make any promises she cannot keep because any changes would have to be approved by the Rusk County Commissioners Court first.
“I want to make a difference in the community,” she said. “I want to be a part of the community. I don’t want to be just a judge in an office. I want to be out there and I want to educate students and let them know what we’re all about,” including the good and bad results of their actions. “That’s something I really do feel strong about is knowing at a young age and an older age too why things have to happen the way they happen.”
McCrory sees the opportunity to run for the justice of the peace position as a way to give back to the Rusk County precinct 1 residents.
Although the campaign has been time consuming, he said, it has been great also being able to meet people and put out signs.
“I’ve enjoyed meeting a lot of people and reconnecting with people I haven’t seen in a year, maybe five years, and just flat knocking on doors,” he said.
He is getting better at making cold calls to people, but said it is still a strange thing to do.
“Most people are very cordial and accommodating… I don’t want to be a pest to anybody or a bother, like a vacuum cleaner salesman,” he said.
He has put up a lot of signs, but before he puts one in anyone’s yard or on any piece of property, he said, he talks to the owner first to make that connection and make sure they are comfortable showing their support with a sign.
“I know those people are supporting me with their vote, and that’s the last thing I’ll leave them with is, ‘I treasure your vote if you would like to give it to me,’” he said. “But if anything on March 6, go out and cast your vote. Whether you vote for me or somebody else, go cast your vote because it’s so important to our democratic society. You can’t complain if you don’t vote.”
McCrory said his business experience as owner of New Generation Farms in Overton has given him the experience necessary to run an office, in addition to his educational experience.
“I’m fair, I’m able to be able to weigh situations and decide in a fair manner… I think integrity is important in this because people are putting their trust in you,” he said, adding he has no ‘axe to grind’ in running for the office.
The experience has given him a greater respect for local elected officials who go out and campaign every election cycle when their office is included.
“It’s physical work. It’s tiring work, and I’m sure my opponents will say the same thing,” he said, but added it is “a trip” seeing his signs along the roadways.
The number one thing, though, is just for people to vote.
With more than 30 years with the Overton Police Department, Overman has an educational background and experience in investigations.
He is getting ready to retire from the police department, but he does not want to give up the work he does in Rusk County.
“I don’t want to quit, so I decided to run for JP,” he said. “From what I understand of the opponents, I think I’m the only one who has any experience in law enforcement.”
One major take away from the campaign for Overman has been the civility and the caliber of people appearing on the primary ballot.
“It’s been fine. The other candidates are all nice people,” he said. “I haven’t seen any mudslinging or anything like that.”
Overman also emphasized the importance of people getting out and voting, pointing to the historically low turnout for during non-presidential years.
During his visits with people throughout the precinct, Overman said, he encourages people to vote and has also explained the purpose of the justice of the peace.
“Most people don’t even know what the justice of the peace is or what they do,” he said, noting some did not even realize an election was coming up.
When he goes to meet people and get to know their concerns, Overman is putting a little more focus on getting to know people in the northern part of the precinct near Kilgore.
“I know about everyone in the Overton area,” he said, citing his years in the community and his involvement with the police department. Now, he is looking to learn more about what people in other parts of the precinct want to see out of their office and how he can serve them if elected.
“The office is pretty much dictated by the state and judicial committees and by the county regulations and stuff, so I just want to be able to provide the service that the people need and to do it in a fair manner,” he said.
Charles Robinson Jr.
The number one thing on Robinson’s plan for the office if elected is to be more accessible to the residents.
“On my cards I’ve given my telephone number. Whether it’s one o’clock in the day or one o’clock at night, if they want to call, they’re welcome to call,” he said.
His commitment to making the office more accessible is the responsibility the winning candidate has to work for.
“We also want to be accessible to the local police and fire and have an open-door policy and try to mainstream this office if we can,” he said, adding all changes are dependent on approval from the Rusk County Commissioners Court.
Robinson said he would like to re-introduce night court and hold court at specified times at the substation on Peterson Road to make it more convenient for people.
“I would like to have some night court so the folks that do work during the day don’t necessarily have to take a day off work and miss pay,” he said, noting it might be once a week or once a month. “They can come see us at night… Plus, I’d like to, if approved by the Commissioners Court, bring court to the substation on Peterson Road, so folks that live up in the northern part of the precinct don’t necessarily have to drive to Overton, so we can kind of meet them in the middle.”
He called public service his passion, viewing the justice of the peace as another way to serve his community.
“I’ve been in public service since about the age of 15 when I joined the local volunteer fire department. From that point on, I’ve pretty much dedicated half of my life to public service from one fashion to another,” he said. He now owns American Safety and Environmental Services.
Citing his involvement in the Kilgore Lions Club, the United Fund of Kilgore and the Overton-New London Chamber of Commerce, Robinson said, he is active in the community and wants the office to be active in each community also.
As the campaign continues, Robinson has been meeting people throughout the precinct, making new contacts with each person and learning their concerns and the issues they want to see addressed.
“For the most part, they want someone in the office that they can have rapport with, that they know will be accessible, and that they can call on at any time,” he said. Some of the primary hopes he has heard from people is to save money either at home or at work. “Everyone wants to save money at any step of the way… Any politician or elected official has a fiduciary responsibility to save the money and to do what’s best for the taxpayers for what money we have coming in.”
He might not have as many signs as others, but said it has been fun meeting people by just picking a street to begin knocking on doors or speaking to a group.
“I don’t know if there’s even a right way or wrong way of reaching people. Everyone’s got a different opinion about it and a different way of doing it,” he said.
Early voting begins Feb. 20 and ends March 2 before Election Day March 6.