Republican candidates for county judge in Sebastian County had differing opinions on whether partisan politics had a place in county offices when they faced off during a candidate forum for the League of River Valley Voters Monday (March 21).
Candidates Denny Altes, Steve Hotz and Jeff Turner all participated in the forum with Hotz and Turner saying they would like to see the county judges race go non-partisan like the Sebastian County prosecuting attorney race and circuit judges, and Altes wanting to keep things like they are. Turner, the director of emergency management for Sebastian County, said he would like to see all county positions become non-partisan.
“Partisan politics don’t really play a part in county government. County government is boots on the ground, services provided. Things happen a lot faster in county government than in the state government and federal government,” Turner said. “The ability to do that would be accentuated if we could take out party politics from this position.”
In addition to being the county’s director of emergency management, Turner is a member of the Greenwood Public Schools Board of Directors and is a volunteer firefighter with emergency medical training.
Hotz agreed, saying that while a Republican or Democrat designation might help give some ideas of a person’s view, it makes more sense to take the partisan role out of the position. Hotz is the Sebastian County Treasurer/Collector after being appointed by SebastianCounty Judge David Hudson and confirmed by the Quorum Court in December 2019 following the resignation of Judith Miller. He is not eligible to run for re-election as treasurer/collector because he was appointed. Hotz has 25 years of business experience and 10 years of experience in county government, including director of human resources for the county.
“We are not a legislative group. We are there to serve. And I really don’t care if you are Republican or Democrat or Tea Party or Libertarian,” Hotz said.
Altes, a former state representative and state senator, disagreed. He said the Republican viewpoint is the more conservative viewpoint and as a result partisan politics need to stay involved in the judge position.
“A liberal judge would maybe want to meet more needs and spend more money that’s not even there. We need to be more conservative in our viewpoint as a judge, and I think that’s why we have three Republicans running for judge,” he said.
Altes served in the House of Representatives from 1999-2003 and represented Senate District 13 from 2003 to 2011. He returned to the House of Representatives in 2011 and represented the 76th District until January 2015. Altes has also served two stints with the Sebastian County Quorum Court.
All three candidates did agree that one of the primary challenges facing the county in the coming years is the Sebastian County Jail.
“We have had the Department of Justice with us for several years over that issue. And we’re back into an overcrowded jail again,” Hotz said.
The three candidates agreed that the answer isn’t necessarily building adding more space, but rather better using alternative sentencing such as drug court and mental health court to keep nonviolent offenders out of jail. Turner said another challenge for the county in the next few years will be consolidating the county’s 911 centers and renewal of the 1% county-wide sales tax, which will be up for renewal in 2023.
“Renewal for that is going to be on whoever is in this office as soon as they take over,” Turner said. “One of the other areas is maintaining public safety and making sure we have the deputies, firefighters and EMTs to take care of the county.”
He said in order to have a successful Sebastian County, the county needs to stay on top of updated technology and better communication of what the county does and what services it provides. Altes said with new people moving into the county from New York, California and many other areas, the county will grow and that means the county will have to have better streets and highways.
“We have a bridge that has been out for over a year on White Bluff Road. I was talking to the roads foreman, and he thinks the main problem there is with ARDOT (Arkansas Department of Transportation.) We have a cooperative program with them, and it takes so long to get them to react. I think I can work with them. I have friends at ARDOT, and I think I can work with them to get them to help us more with our infrastructure system to increase the quality and the length of our highway system,” Altes said.
Hotz said in order to be successful, the county also has to make certain it is fiscally responsible so as not to overburden anyone with taxes. He added that he wants to work more with the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority to create more amenities.
“We need to have communities where people want to live. People (considering coming to the area for professional jobs) are looking for amenities. They are looking for the trails; they are looking for the dog parks. They’re looking for entertainment, restaurants and places to shop. So we need to continue to grow those things,” Hotz said.
The three candidates will face each other in the May 24 Arkansas primary election to see who will fill the position held by Hudson. No Democrats filed for the position.