Candidates: Tom Ervin, Philip Kingston, Michelle Ocker, and Andrew Sommerman
What is the single most common issue voters have raised with you during your campaign, and how do you plan to tackle it?
Tom Ervin: The issue voters bring up the most is public health. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, we have done a good job of managing caseload, testing, and vaccination. The pandemic is not yet over, so the County must continue to publish data and information about the progression of COVID. We must also work harder to address the social determinants of health and the pandemic of poverty that leads to some Dallas County ZIP codes having life expectancies up to 10-years lower than the County average. I will address this issue by establishing additional satellite health clinics, managed by Parkland, in our most underserved neighborhoods. Additionally, I will be a voice for the community on issues that affect us, like the delay we’re experiencing from Austin in approving Medicare/Medicaid expansion.
Philip Kingston: The most common question is “What does a county commissioner do?” In part that’s due to the commissioners court maintaining a lower profile as it handles quotidian tasks. With the pandemic and Republican attacks on voting rights, it’s time for bolder leadership.
Andrew Sommerman: People want to know they are safe. Safe from Covid, safe from crime, and safety at the ballot box. I have fought against those who put politics above science. I have fought with Clay Jenkins against those who risk our lives and our families to appease their political base. We must help those who are mentally ill and homeless so they do not clog our judicial resources and our jails so we may deal with serious criminals. We must make sure there is integrity at the ballot box so our votes are safe from those who would choose whose valid vote can count and whose doesn’t.
Michelle Ocker: Over and over again, I hear concerns about how to recover from the economic effects of COVID. I plan to make sure that the county encourages employers to allow remote work when possible, provide subsidies for child care, make sure we open spaces safely, and provide a way for businesses to recover with the use of the federal grant money coming to the county.
How would you have responded to the pandemic? Be specific.
Ervin: I admire how the County mobilized resources from different community groups, government agencies and health care companies to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. Judge Jenkins and his supporters on the Commissioner’s Court deserve commendation for their efforts to protect our residents in these difficult times. Similarly, I would have worked to establish partnerships with public and private entities to ensure our testing and vaccination infrastructure was accessible and inclusive for all residents.
Kingston: Having worked with Judge Jenkins on Ebola and West Nile, I have written a primer on how local officials should respond to a public health emergency. Here it is: Find Clay Jenkins, stand behind Clay Jenkins, and gravely nod in agreement when he speaks. State law is very clear that he is in charge when a disaster is declared, and we’re lucky to have him. The one small criticism I have is that I would have sued much, much earlier. I looked back through my text thread with him, and I first asked him to sue Abbott on March 19th, 2020.
Sommerman: I am one of the attorneys who represents Clay Jenkins in his litigation against Greg Abbot and JJ Koch so that we may have reasonable and scientific Covid measures. I have agreed with Clay Jenkins in how he has fought Covid. My Republican opponent has not fought Covid but rather has fought science. We must have elected officials that take steps that are at times unpopular but that protect families against a pandemic.
Ocker: I applaud Judge Jenkins’ actions. Hindsight is 20/20. I’m not going to second guess his decision. Going forward, I will ensure that the Commissioners Court has a say in emergency decisions and listens to everyone affected by the decision.
Do believe that everyone has fair and equitable access to the right to vote? Explain.
Ervin: No. Unfortunately, the Texas GOP has worked hard to limit the options Counties have to make the vote easier to access. While I would absolutely support drive-through and overnight voting, as well as universal mail ballots, these options have been taken away by legislators intent on disenfranchising our residents. We need to be creative in combating these policies. I believe this is another excellent opportunity to develop regional partnerships with other counties. Here in Dallas, voters are able to vote at any polling location in the County, not just the one designated for their precinct. Why not expand this option to include regional voting centers covering all of DFW? Commuters between counties would then have a much easier time submitting their vote even during a busy workday. I also believe the county should automatically send voter registration paperwork to all eligible unregistered residents to make it as easy as possible for them to get registered.
Kingston: Obviously not. A supporter of mine requested a mail ballot and used both her Social Security Number and her driver license number because her precinct chair had warned her about applications being rejected. She still didn’t get a ballot because at 78 years old, neither her SSN nor her TXDL were associated with her voter registration. This is a woman who has been voting by mail for years. We had to drive her to the poll where she voted from the car rather than going in because of an immune system concern. The Elections Dept. does an excellent job of running elections but it is not doing enough to defend our voters from Republican attacks. It needs more personnel and more funding to do outreach to seniors and people with disabilities and to do more voter registration.
Sommerman: Absolutely not. Over 34% of requests for mail in ballots were retuned because of Republican efforts to make these requests so difficult to obtain. One must remembers which of several numbers they used to register to vote. How are the elderly and disabled supposed to remember which number they used many years ago to register to vote? Now we must thousand and thousands of dollars trying to help those who did not vote to be able to vote. While this is a partial and expensive remedy it will not help many who have become unable to participate in our democracy. The Elections Department of Dallas County can and should take measures to anticipate theses difficulties and overcome them. If elected I will work to make sure everyone who is registered to vote can vote.
Ocker: Unfortunately, Texas has made it harder and harder to vote. I have more than 8 years’ experience as an Election Judge. I have been fighting and winning against Republicans for almost a decade on this issue, expanding voting rights to every eligible voter.
How are you different from your opponent (or opponents) in this race?
Ervin: I am the only candidate in this race with a background in business and management, skills that are vital for County Commissioners who manage the business of the County. My 30+ year career of providing acquisition, divestiture, merger, operations, and management services give me the experience to be an excellent Commissioner.
Kingston: Experience. It’s easy to say you want affordable housing and healthcare and voter protection. I have a record of actually delivering on our Democratic values.
Sommerman: I am uniquely qualified for the challenges that are ahead. I have been a voter protection attorney for over 20 years. I understand the election laws and the challenges recently created by them. I am ready to take on the existential threat of those who wish to decrease number of voters. I have fought against voter suppression (politicians deciding who gets to vote). I am fighting against redistricting (politicians deciding who we get to vote for) and now I am ready to fight against those who are trying to decide whose vote counts. I have been an assistant city manager. I understand how to administer a local government. I have been a congressional investigator rooting out corruption and inefficiencies in our Federal government. I bring those experiences to the county so that we may have an efficient and effective government. I have represented Clay Jenkins. I understand the challenges ahead for the County. I am ready to work with him and other commissioners to make the county safe and make our counties efforts effective for its citizens.
Ocker: I am the only person in this race who has ever run in a partisan race. When fighting against the GOP, experience matters. I nearly flipped a house district that no one thought could be flipped, while my opponents have either lost in reliably liberal districts or not run a race at all. I’m the battle-tested candidate.
What is the biggest issue the county will face in the next five years, and what is your plan to address it?
Ervin: Until the COVID pandemic is truly over, public health must be our priority. We need to move on from reactive public health policy and do more to prevent future crises. One way to do this is to invest in public health services, public health infrastructure, and public health education. We need to bring healthcare infrastructure to the communities that need it most to provide the basic care that promotes long-term health. We also need to reestablish community trust in our public healthcare system to ensure that public health guidelines are taken seriously. Hopefully, whoever the County Judge is when future pandemics hit will benefit from more support for necessary public health measures than we’ve seen this time.
Kingston: Lack of affordable housing threatens our entire economy and ultimately our very society itself, and that’s not an exaggeration. Dr. Garcia has done a superb job kicking off the county’s housing program, but it must be accelerated by building mixed-income housing on every available piece of county property.
Sommerman: In addition to voting issues mentioned above we will face a serious challenge in our jails. We must lower jail populations WITHOUT putting the community at risk. We must improve our mental health facilities so that the mentally ill and homeless are not crowding our jails. We must have a plan to similar to that in New Jersey on bail reform. The Fifth Circuit has telegraphed that our present system of bail is unconstitutional. We must have a plan in place to address this issue. the New Jersey plan is the best one that has been tried and is effective and can be improved upon in Dallas.
Ocker: The biggest issue is still COVID recovery. I have experience working with the federal government from when I worked for the Obama administration, and I will get grant money to help build our businesses back without increasing taxes.