About 60 people filled a room at Cross Timbers Church in Valley View on Thursday evening, Jan. 7, to hear from the four Republican candidates on the ballot for the Texas House District 68 special election.
John Berry, Jason Brinkley, Craig Carter and David Spiller are vying to fill the seat vacated by state Sen. Drew Springer, R-Muenster. A fifth candidate, Charles Gregory, is running as a Democrat on the ballot. He was not invited to the forum put on by the Cooke County Republican Women.
All four Republican candidates were given three minutes for opening and closing remarks. They were also allotted one and a half minutes per question asked.
Two of the questions asked by moderator Kimzie Moss were for ideas to help rural hospitals and the candidates' stances on monument protection legislation.
Berry, a Jacksboro financial planner, said rural health care has a lot to do with access.
“We have such a disconnect with rural hospitals that people are not addressing it and they're not willing to face the fact that we need to look at another way to deliver rural medicine,” he said.
He believes rural broadband internet access would help.
“One solution that we could look at is establishing small clinics with simply nurses and [physician assistants] and we could telemed in specialists,” Berry said.
He said the other problem with rural health care is recruiting people to work at the facilities.
Berry said the state has a program where it repays the loans of doctors, but not for nurses.
“We need to figure a way to help nurses, as well,” he said. “We could have nurses and PAs in these clinics to help take care of these folks in these rural areas.”
On monuments, Berry said people forget they are markers to remind of what happened in history.
“Monument defending is one of the eight priorities of this Republican Party that we are all members of,” he said. “We all agree as a party that this is something that we feel is important and worth defending.”
Brinkley, a Mountain Springs resident who recently resigned as Cooke County Judge but is still serving until a new one is selected, said a dozen hospitals have gone under in rural Texas in the past five years or so.
“In House District 68, there is, I think, six counties that do not have a physician,” Brinkley said. “This is a serious issue for rural Texas.”
He said having adequate rural broadband internet and making use of it whenever possible is key. Creating partnerships with medical schools to have recently graduated or graduating health care professionals come into communities to help serve as part of their learning experience is another step, Brinkley said.
“It is a multi-faceted approach but it's something that we have to address for rural Texas,” he said.
As for monuments, Brinkley and other members of the county commissioners' court have for months been discussing the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument that sits on the northeast corner of the Cooke County Courthouse.
In August 2020, members of the court voted 4-1 to keep the county’s statue where it stands on courthouse grounds. Brinkley opposed because he was pushing for a referendum to be placed on the Nov. 3 ballot.
“My position has been, and it remains to this day, is if there's an avenue to let voters to decide on cultural issues like that then you should let voters decide on cultural issues like that,” Brinkley said. “Otherwise, you are never really putting that issue to bed.”
Carter, Nocona owner of the Old Boot Factory, said he learned firsthand how underfunded and understaffed a rural hospital was when his wife got sick when his family first moved to Nocona.
“You start questioning, is this person actually going to make it here to, we need to get out of this hospital,” he said.
Carter said the issue comes back to funding.
“My approach to everything is go out and make sure that everyone is paying their fair share in taxes and then you have a surplus of funds,” he said. “And when you have a surplus of funds, you can reallocate them to make sure that our hospitals are funded, that they're staffed well, and that we can meet the needs of those communities.”
When asked about monuments, Carter said he has a commitment to history.
“It is just so sad to me to see people trying to tear down our history, where we've come from …,” he said. “I absolutely am against letting anyone tear down a statue because at some point in time someone was very passionate about it.”
Spiller, a Jacksboro attorney, said he has been general counsel for the Jack County Hospital District for 30 years.
“I understand on a daily basis, and deal with issues daily, with our hospital district,” he said.
He said the hospital district went from being on the brink of failing a Medicare inspection in a 1956 constructed building with one physician a few years ago to a “state-of the-art hospital facility” that's adding doctors.
“We've expanded from one rural health clinic to four rural health clinics in four counties,” Spiller said. “... I understand firsthand that there are many hospital closures all around us and I know full well the struggles of hospital districts in this area and I have many ways to address that.”
When asked about monument protection, Spiller replied there are people that want to rewrite history.
“History is history,” he said. “We don't need to erase our history.”
He said decisions need to remain at the local level and not come from Washington D.C. or Austin.
“The problem is we are letting certain people control us and dictate to us what we can do with our history and with our statues … we have the right to make a decision for ourselves rather than let someone make it for us.”
Early voting for the HD-68 special election is underway from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays at the Cooke County Courthouse Annex, 112 S. Dixon St., and ends Tuesday, Jan. 19. There will be no voting on Monday, Jan. 18, in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Election Day is Saturday, Jan. 23.
There are 26,776 registered voters in the county, according to Brandy Carr, the county's voter registrar.
HD-68 spans 22 counties, including Cooke, Montague, Childress, Collingsworth, Cottle, Crosby, Dickens, Fisher, Floyd, Garza, Hall, Hardeman, Haskell, Jack, Kent, King, Motley, Stonewall, Throckmorton, Wheeler, Wilbarger and Young.