If Hardin County is your world, and you were in Kountze Monday night, you may have had the chance to see the Greatest Show on Earth. Ringling had nothing on these gentlemen. The runoff candidates for Sheriff squared off in the Hardin County Republican Women forum that did not disappoint for drama.
Mark Davis, Hardin County native, 29 year law enforcement officer and Silsbee police chief of 4 years.
Against Bryan Skinner, Beaumont lieutenant, night shift commander and Hardin County resident for some 14 years.
Do you support a militia? What about segregated transgender bathrooms? Have you offered jobs to your buddies if elected? What do you think of Trump? Whew. Was Anderson Cooper in the foyer feeding in this stuff?
“My opinion is President Obama can stuff it,” said Skinner on the question of allowing birth-gender men into female bathrooms. And from there, the rhetorical jiu-jitsu just got more breathtaking.
“I’m a father of two daughters… and that is where we learn empathy and self-sacrifice… I will be there to protect you,” said Skinner.
Davis was equally intransigent.
“I think this is another example of extreme overreach by the federal government… I think you’ve got to have a backbone and know what is right… the person who comes in here is going to have to have some intestinal fortitude,” he said as he forcefully opposed the directive released this month by the White House.
Both men denied ever being terminated from posts, denied the notion of ‘cleaning house’ at the Sheriff’s Office if elected, and both supported gun rights.
Davis said he was “front and center” for 2nd Amendment rights, while Skinner promised to “defend your rights here” while vigorously vamping to uphold the “whole” Constitution.
Both said they would support the Republican nominee for President. Skinner called Donald Trump a “blowhard and a self-serving jerk.” But both candidates promised to back Trump over the Democratic nominee.
Both were asked if there is room for a militia-style group in Hardin County and answered with what sounded like cautious support.
“…I think with the proper training… there is a mechanism for a reserve force… at little or no cost to the (law enforcement) agency… I’m for it,” said Davis.
Before a crowd of 123 people, HCRW President Janis Holt drilled down on the questioning of whether either candidate had offered anyone a job in the event they are elected.
Davis mentioned 3 persons saying, “I told them that if they were interested in a job they could apply and it’s never been promised… there’s no promises or favoritism. That’s a sincere offer.”
Skinner responded to Holt’s question saying, “The question in the context of what you stated is a crime. The crime of bribery. And of course I have not done that. In fact, I have went beyond even the appearance of such things… so that no one can get that impression… there have been absolutely no offers to anyone for anything.”
To a question of how the candidates would handle conditions at the jail and handle inmates and jail visitors Davis shot straight at his opponent.
“You can’t sit in the sheriff’s chair having never been in that jail,” he said. “You’ve got to be ‘in touch’… I’ve been there.”
Skinner admitted he did not yet want to say what he would do (preferring more assessment time) but said, “we will be kind, treat them (inmates) professionally and be sure we are doing the right thing… but until I get inside those walls… I want to know what’s going on and why.”
And if the tension wasn’t already as thick as chicken gumbo, both candidates then expressed concerns about the drugs in the county. Skinner went so far as to say he would evaluate budgetary conditions before deciding on anti-drug programs but argued that, “the war on drugs? We’re losing.”
Then the heavens reared back and thunder came down.
To a question of whether either candidate had “ever left a man behind” Skinner shot forth the recitation of an incident more than 2 decades in the past.
“22 years ago I was in Ft. Worth at a police conference with 4 other guys who did not attend the conference and used the money to party and vacation and have illicit affairs with people that are not their wives. I was their designated driver… The next morning they were too passed out to be able to leave when we needed to, and I did in fact take one vehicle – drive it back because I had to go to work - and I didn’t have time for their business… These 4 grown men are whining to this day…” said Skinner to applause.
It was hard to determine who was most thoroughly scratched in the most dramatically polite cat fight in political history. The beauty will undoubtedly come in the eye of the beholder. But both put forth strong arguments.
Maybe it was most interesting when Skinner and Davis referenced “famous” sheriffs around the nation like Arizona’s Joe Arpaio.
Both spoke in lofty and fairly admiring terms of Sheriff Arpaio and both told us what the citizens wanted to hear.
Skinner: “If you don’t have integrity, you have no business with a badge. It’s not just important, it’s required.”
Davis: “I think you’ve got to lead by example. I’ve never compromised my integrity. I’ve been in the business for 30 years and I’m not going to start now.”