Shelby County voters will decide winners of contested sheriff and DA races

Shelby County voters will decide winners of contested sheriff and DA races
Shelby County Sheriff candidate Willis Blackwell (R)
Shelby County Sheriff candidate Willis Blackwell (R)
Appointed Shelby County DA Kenneth Florence (R)
Appointed Shelby County DA Kenneth Florence (R)
Shelby County DA candidate Stephen Shires (D)
Shelby County DA candidate Stephen Shires (D)
Incumbent Shelby County Sheriff Newton Johnson (D)
Incumbent Shelby County Sheriff Newton Johnson (D)

SHELBY COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Campaign signs have been visible in Shelby County in voters' yards and on roadways for going on a year now. They have been there so long that they may no longer be noticed by anyone except Willis Blackwell, the county's Republican candidate for sheriff.

Blackwell is getting tired of looking at all the signs.

"I'm so tired of looking at signs and going past any kind of signs," Blackwell said. "It's just a cluttered mess."

Campaigning is usually vital down the home stretch, but the two candidates for the Shelby County Sheriff position wonder if it's really necessary this time. Newton Johnson (D), the incumbent Shelby County Sheriff, said when people aren't talking about a particular race, it means that their minds are already made up, one way or the other.

"There's not been a lot of talk publicly, and usually, that means people got their mind made up," Johnson said.

Blackwell agreed with his opponent in that regard.

"I think most of the voters have made their mind up," Blackwell said. "I don't think you're going to change a lot right now."

However, both candidates are taking no chances. They will make last minute appearances at every fall festival they can find.

"If they didn't have one, they'll schedule one," Blackwell said.

Each candidate is attempting to bring voters' attention back to the issues.

Blackwell said drugs have become rampant in Shelby County.

"The dope and the thieving and everything has gone rampant," Blackwell said.

However, Johnson said serving as sheriff involves more than just slamming a steel door.

"It's more to being the sheriff than just slamming a steel door or putting cuffs on somebody. You have to do all the administration work," Johnson said.

Both men run on experience. Johnson, a certified Texas peace officer with 38 years of experience, is seeking a third term. Johnson reminded voters that he hired more deputies, developed courthouse security, and made tax-free purchases of equipment and its storage.

Johnson said that respect is earned.

"This badge, it doesn't demand respect," Johnson said. "You have to earn respect if you want it, and just because you got a gun and a badge, that doesn't mean everybody is going to respect you."

Blackwell, a former game warden and Shelby County chief deputy, knows what to expect if elected.

He said one of his pet peeves is the sheriff's department not answering calls.

"A pet peeve of mine is when people call you, you need to answer the call," Blackwell said. "You need to be available, or they won't call back for the second time when they need you."

Once the sheriff enforces the law, the case is usually turned over to the courts. That brings us to the district attorney's race.

Kenneth Florence, a prosecutor, and Stephen Shires, a criminal defense attorney, agree that a debate or forum isn't really necessary.

"Man, don't you think we did enough of it during the spring," Shires, the Democratic candidate for Shelby County District Attorney, said. "I mean we were everywhere."

Republican Kenneth Florence, the county's appointed district attorney, said it has been a very long process.

"I think it's been a very long process to this point," Florence said. "We both have announced we've been running over a year."

In the primary and runoff, Florence focused on giving voters a face with a name, something Shires already had.

"I'm the guy with experience. I'm the criminal lawyer," Florence said. "He's the civil lawyer. He's the hometown boy, and I'm not."

Florence was hired by former district attorney Lynda K. Russell. She resigned following allegations of extortion of drug money. Following the primary runoff, the governor appointed Florence as district attorney.

Florence said being the DA lends authority, but he wants the support of all voters.

"I will really feel better when I have the mandate from the voters, all of the voters, to say yes, you're the man, let's go forward with it," Florence said.

Florence's challenge is to separate himself from what's gone wrong in the DA's office.

"I want to continue my policy of being fair and impartial in handling cases and working with upmost honor and integrity so we can bring respect to Shelby County," Florence said.

Shires must convince voters he can put what he calls the 'bad apples' away. Yet, he does believe some lives can be turned around for the better. He said that he will work hard to help people.

"I'm going to work just as hard or even harder to try to help some of these other folks get their life straightened out, and I think that's the real power of what can be done in this office is to really help people," Shires said.

A year of listening to principles, ideas, and goals draws to a close. Starting today, voters are making their decision for the future leadership of Shelby County.

Copyright 2012 KTRE. All rights reserved.