The Wiley Center was packed to capacity as several community members braved the cold for the Hood County Republican Women’s Club candidate forum Jan. 17.
As the venue quickly filled up, it was soon standing room only as residents eagerly waited to learn more about the candidates running for Hood County Chair and Hood County Precinct Chair.
Richard Hattox, husband of Republican Women’s Club President Mary Hattox, served as a guest speaker and honored the late Shirley Hooks for her contributions to the community and to the Republican Party.
“One of the few people that approached me when I started in politics and asked me to remain and be a Republican was Shirley Hooks,” Richard said. “Mary and just a few people got together and really made Granbury what it is. The Southerns — what I call the old nine — families here in town all got together. We were on the county boards, Mission Granbury, Opera House, and all the historic preservation on this square. All the things that these families are doing, Shirley and Bill Hooks contributed to what we do here today. They made Granbury what it is, so pray for her family, pray for the good work she did, and use Ms. Hooks as a real example of what loving your community, loving your school, loving your home, loving your town, loving your county really is. We will miss Shirley and we should all be like Shirley Hooks.”
He also honored past president Cheryl Troxel, who recently lost her husband, Gerald.
As Clint Head, candidate for Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 and Morris Duree, candidate for Precinct 1 Commissioner, were both serving as sponsors for the current building, they were each given three minutes to introduce themselves and explain why they were seeking office.
CLINT HEAD – JUSTICE OF THE PEACE PRECINCT 1
Head, current development director and lifelong resident of Hood County, came up to the podium and explained that he has had a dream of serving as Justice of the Peace since his youth.
“The role was not just a title to me — it is a pledge to serve our home that has given me so much, and yes, I'm prepared to take a pay cut because serving justice and our community is worth that sacrifice,” Head said, during the meeting. "My promise is simple. Let my actions and my abilities speak for themselves. Engage me, challenge me, and through our conversations you will see the core of who I am and what I stand for.”
He went on to say his background in navigating the intricacies of restrictions, regulations and local government code equips him with the precise knowledge and expertise to handle the cases that come before him as Justice of the Peace.
"I'm here to ask for more than your vote,” Head said. “I'm here to ask for your trust and support. It's not about winning an election; it's about ensuring that justice in Hood County is in the hands that value fairness over politics, service over self-interest, and community over individual gain.”
MORRIS DUREE – PRECINCT 1 COMMISSIONER
Duree has been a Hood County resident for about 50 years. He and his wife, Mandy, have five children and two grandsons. He said his real claim to fame is that he is the father of 11-year-old triplets. He added that his children and grandchildren are the reason why he’s running for Precinct 1 Commissioner.
"My children and grandchildren, they're gonna be here for a long period of time,” he said. “I love it here. I just want to be a part of helping make sure that our growth is handled in a responsible manner.”
He said the large concerns in the area are the highways, water, taxes and the growing need for first responders.
"Our sheriff's department, fire departments, EMS, the hospital, these are all things that we have a lot of potential issues growing, and we need to be thinking — not reactive, but proactive — in how we handle those things," Duree said. "Sometimes it's a tough decision between what our wants and our needs are, but I want to make sure that we are taking care of our needs as a priority, and then looking at that future and laying the groundwork for those kids and grandkids. I appreciate your vote.”
Chris Davis, vice president of programs, announced the Hood County Republican Women’s Club would then allow each of the Hood County Precinct Chair and Hood County Chair candidates to speak for one minute each about their candidacy.
"What these people do is they promote Republican principles within the county to make sure that we keep Hood County red,” Davis said. “The county runs the jail, and the county runs the elections, so it’s a very important level of government. The precinct chairs in Hood County are going to be the people in your neighborhoods who turn out the vote for the Republican candidates.”
With 16 precincts in Hood County, several candidates are running unopposed, like Precinct 101 (Terry McNew), Precinct 103 (Tina Lawrence), Precinct 105 (David C. Cooke), and Precinct 408 (Melanie Graft). The candidates for Precinct 107 (Roger Gaines and Lee McKellar) were not present during the forum.
As Precinct 112 candidates Orville Johnson and Laura Tuttle were not present at the meeting, Robert Granger was asked to give his spiel on why he is running.
Granger graduated from Glen Rose High School in 1978 and moved to Granbury in 1979. As a Republican voter, he said he believes the Republican Party should be reaching out and encouraging more people to vote — especially the younger generation.
"We've got high school seniors that are fixing to be out voting and they're my equal,” he said. “I think we need to support these kids. I think we need to reach out and get as many voters into this Republican Party as we possibly can. Our country needs us, our state needs us, and our county needs us.”
For Precinct 202, candidates Craig Mayberry and Zeb Ullom were not able to be present during the meeting, so they asked their wives to speak for them.
Denise Mayberry, speaking on behalf of her husband, Craig, said the pair moved to Granbury in 2007. Craig has 30 years of experience as a registered pharmacist, and he believes in “standing up and speaking the truth in spite of opposition.”
"He's not going to back down,” Denise said. “He's an unwavering conservative. He believes in the constitution and all of the platform components of the Republican Party, which are very important. He believes in true common sense, and we need to bring that back. He upholds all the traditional values, and he would appreciate your vote.”
Alison Ullom, speaking on behalf of her husband, Zeb, explained that he shares the same values as the Republican Party when it comes to life beginning in the womb and “two genders instead of 94.” She said Zeb also believes in supporting the military, strengthening the border, supporting education and authorizing our freedom to bear arms.
"He is running because he wants to help the HCRP (Hood County Republican Party) vet and endorse candidates who have values and experience that align with the values and needs of Hood County and not Austin,” Alison said. “He is running to restore the faith in the local party that so many residents here have lost because the Republican Party of Hood County should be a respected organization that picks true leaders.”
Precinct 211 has three candidates: Ericka Grim, Paula McDonald, and Shannon Wolf. Grim was not present and had previously revealed she will not campaign for the position.
McDonald graduated from Granbury High School a year before Duree in 1978. She says she still “bleeds purple and gold” and that she was wearing purple to honor Hooks as it was her favorite color. Since she moved back to Granbury eight years ago, McDonald said she has been deeply involved in the community and the school district.
"I have a child in the school district, so I am deeply involved,” she said. “We love Hood County. We love what we do in our businesses on the square. I am here because of my love for the county and my involvement — and I've pledged to do a great job as your elected precinct chair for 211.”
Wolf said she is running for Precinct Chair 211 because the position involves serving others. She explained she served as a missionary in Budapest, Hungary and has been a pastor’s wife for the last 30 years. She is also a tenured professor at the seminary where she teaches master’s-level and doctoral-level students on how to care for people who are hurt or deeply wounded.
"I served the state of Texas by being on the task force for anti human trafficking,” Wolf said. “Matter of fact, I was one of the founding members on our attorney general's task force. I specialize in child victims. Recently, I have served the United States as an expert witness in trafficking trials for children. I help put traffickers away. I want to serve my community in a different way.”
Tim Bolton and Jim Lilly are both running for Precinct Chair 216. Lilly was not present during the meeting.
Bolton said he is Amendment 10, Amendment 2, and Amendment 1 — adding he’s “not going to call you by your preferred pronoun.” He also considers himself a patriot and a "statriot.”
"I am Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, and that God created the male and female. I'm Psalm 139, fearfully and wonderfully made. I’m Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul. I'm John, Paul, George and Ringo,” he jokingly added, making a Beatles reference. He went on to include a “Seinfield” reference, saying he is also “George, Jerry, Elaine and Kramer.”
Precinct 218 includes candidates Clinton Helton and Matt Westlund.
Helton described himself as having a “constitution conservative passion” to working with other patriotic Republicans to preserve liberty in Hood County.
"If I'm elected, I will work hard to keep Precinct 218 voters informed on critical issues, and I will work hard to get out that vote to keep Texas — especially Hood County — red,” Helton said.
As Matt Westlund was not present, his wife, Sharee, chose to speak on his behalf. Westlund is driven to be a voice of unity and represent the constituents for Precinct 218 and Hood County as a whole “with stability and dignity to restore the rights and principles that make our party strong,” according to his wife.
Sharee Westlund said there are also three major takeaways from the Precinct Chairman’s Handbook and the Texas GOP platform: grow the Republican Party, register and encourage voter turnout, and grow opportunities for voters in the precinct. Sharee added that Matt “vows to promote a unity of community.”
Candidates Brian Gaffin and Zane Hatch are running for Precinct 310. Since Gaffin was not present, Sharee Westlund also chose to speak for him during the forum.
Gaffin grew up in Granbury in DeCordova where he had his first job as a busboy at 11 years old. He has had businesses in both construction and architecture for 36 years. He graduated from Granbury High School in 1979 and from Texas Tech University in Lubbock in 1984. Gaffin is a Rotarian, a Paul Harris fellow, and is a member of the Acton Methodist Church where he became the project architect on the primary sanctuary at just 24 years old.
"He wants to help add stability and strength to the Republican Party by working as a team to help vet and elect strong candidates for every elected position,” Sharee Westlund said. “It is time to elect a new leadership that will not encourage unvetted candidates to run against qualified candidates, effectively slugging the voters of the Republican Party, making them appear to be indecisive and weak, therefore making the Democratic Party appear to be cohesive.”
Hatch said he never thought he would be “standing here” as he had no desire to be a part of politics. However, he said he has learned a lot since the “election was stolen,” and he took a deep dive.
“I love this community,” he said. “I've been here since my dad passed away, and I just want to be involved, so I appreciate your vote, but most importantly, I just want to say, I really want us to talk to each other instead of about each other. I really want to work together.”
Earl Erdmann is the incumbent running for Precinct Chair 313 against Stephen Erickson, who had to work during the forum.
Erdmann began by introducing the phrase, “Houston, we have a problem,” followed by “Hood County has a problem.” He said the Republican Party is divided but he believes the problem can be fixed by putting “quality candidates in the precinct chairs.”
"If we do this, we can reunite the Republican Party,” he said. “We can once again walk the streets of Hood County with our heads up high and proud, and we can be in the news for all the right reasons.”
Gary Merritt and Bret Deason are the current candidates for Precinct 314.
Merritt has been a resident of Hood County for 40 years. He said Hood County is at a crossroads, adding that we must be more attentive to important issues and have better communications.
"The members of Precinct 314, all I've got to say is, I am your neighbor, I am your voice, and I will be your voice,” Merritt said.
Deason said he moved to Granbury 18 years ago and is a business owner. He serves on multiple boards and says he is actively involved in the community.
"I'm running because we need a change,” he said. “We need a change in the voice of the Republican Party that actually attracts people to our party and not detracts people from it as well, too. It's time to unite the Republican Party, and let's work together to grow our club, and grow the Republican Party — not only here, but across Texas as well, too. I appreciate your vote.”
Candidates for Precinct 317 include incumbent Cathy Hays and Jason Gore.
Hays moved to Granbury in 2007. She said she never realized how important local politics was until about 20 years ago and that’s when she decided to get involved. She has been precinct chair of 317 for six years and said it has been “eye-opening.”
"I am a constitutional conservative,” Hays said. “I've always voted along the lines of the Constitution, and I will continue to do so. I don't run as one thing and then turn around and vote as another. I won't ever do that. I will always vote according to the Constitution.”
As candidate Jason Gore was not present during the forum, his wife, Courtney, spoke on his behalf. She said Jason is grateful for the opportunity to be able to serve the residents of 317. He first decided to run because he saw a need for good information to get out to the voters.
"He knows how to build relationships and network, and he plans to bring those skills to the Republican Party to help grow and unite the Republican Party and get the people out to vote,” Courtney said.
Precinct 404 candidates are Mark Jackson and Alejandra Munoz. As both Jackson and Munoz could not be at the forum, Melanie Graft — who is running unopposed for Precinct 408 — chose to speak on Munoz’ behalf, while Sharee Westlund spoke for Jackson.
Graft said Munoz is a conservative Republican and has been a Granbury resident for 35 years. Munoz wants to protect the American values and keep Republicans informed of important voting matters and dates.
"She’s a political ambassador dedicated to the preservation of the fundamentals of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and she says voting is important and she wants to ensure that voters are registered and every vote counts,” Graft said.
Jackson is running for Precinct Chair 404 because he “values and respects the rights of all individuals of Hood County.” His focus will be on local needs coordinated with sound consistent and efficient delivery of government services while also holding fast to fiscally conservative values.
"With over 30 years and specialized service in the banking industry and an MBA in corporate finance and present experience as a CFO, I have the unique ability and perspective to review financial proposals and make frequent recommendations to the people of Hood County,” Sharee Westlund said, speaking for Jackson. “If you've grown tired of a local Republican Party that does not use a balanced approach when it comes to your needs and does not give you fact-based information, then vote for me on March 5 so that we can begin a positive change for our community.”
Precinct 409 candidates are Bradley Yarborough and Rachel Reed — both of whom were not present, but Sharee Westlund also chose to speak for Yarborough.
Yarborough has been a Granbury resident for 35 years and was a 1996 graduate of Granbury High School. For the last six years, he has been actively involved in several local and national charities, including Rancho Brazos Community Centers and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In the last two years, Yarborough has been more involved in local politics, and has seen a need for change in the Hood County Republican Party.
"He feels that the party has been pushing Austin values onto Granbury residents, and it's time to bring back our local values which make Granbury so great,” Westlund said, speaking for Yarborough. “It's time to start supporting our local schools and residents, and he would appreciate your vote.”
After all of the precinct candidates were announced, Davis then went on to announce the candidates for county chair: Greg Harrell, Melanie Jensen, and Zach Maxwell.
Harrell said the reason he is running for Hood County Republican Chair is because he believes it’s a service position that must be filled. He said he feels he is uniquely qualified to do the job as he has served as a leader in the corporate world and was part of the executive team that helped put together the Union Pacific and the Southern Pacific railroads.
"My task and my promise to you will be to be a Republican that you're never concerned about, that you're never ashamed of, that will respect each and every one of you in this room,” Harrell said. “I will listen, and I will make all of you proud Republicans. Thank you for your vote.”
Jensen moved to Hood County 25 years ago with her husband and three children. Soon after they moved to Granbury, they started their second towing business and opened Willie and Dick’s Grill in 2005. She said she has been in a leadership role since she was about 23 years old.
"The experience that I have gained doing business in the service industry and in hospitality, I feel well-equipped for this position,” she said. “The community that I found so fitting to raise our children and now our grandchildren in has no doubt attracted many newcomers, and I see this as an opportunity to rally behind other like-minded conservatives to further the Republican ideals and policies and grow the party as a whole. And I am asking for your support.”
Maxwell said he is a family man and it’s one of the reasons why he’s a Republican — because of the strong family values. He said he has a long history of fighting for conservative values and serving with the Republican Party. Maxwell said he has also been to every convention since 2014 and that he was actually a committeeman on the Senate District 22 platform, where he helped write the current platform.
"I want to unite the Republican Party. I think it's important as a community that's so strong and so conservative that we need to come together and stop all the nonsense back and forth and come together and unite,” he said.
GUEST SPEAKER – LESLIE THOMAS
Davis then ended the candidate forum and introduced guest speaker Leslie Thomas, the new state Republican executive committee member for District 22.
Thomas, a Blum resident, is a member of Blum First Baptist Church and has been a B.E.S.T (Boosting, Engineering, Science and Technology) robotics coach. She’s a member of the State Bar of Texas, the Republican National Lawyers Association, and has been involved in national and state election training.
Thomas is also a U.S. Navy veteran and served on the Duncanville City Council. When she lived in Dallas County, she served as a committee woman for Texas Senate District 23 and served on numerous committees, along with serving as chairman at the state convention.
She began by talking about the Grassroots Club, the sustaining membership organization for the Republican Party of Texas.
“In the English, common law tradition, there are callings, those are things that God calls you into,” she said. “In politics, we are called grassroots. Those are the guys that go knock on the door, and they call on legislators that come to events and that host events. Those are callings, those are those people that God put in that place. We all have our lane to stay in.”
Thomas then launched into the history of the Grassroots Club and all the bills that were passed within the last few years.
"Here's what you need to do. Meet with your legislators, thank them for what they've done, ask them what their focus is and their priorities are, pay attention to your platforms and your resolutions committees, create a resolution and get it in the process,” she said. “Now's the time.”
For more information about the Grassroots Club, contact Thomas at 214-73-2682 or email LeslieThomasesq@gmail.com.
Residents will soon be able to vote for the Hood County Precinct Chair and County Chair on Election Day, March 5.
Early voting will take place Monday, Feb. 21 through Friday, March 1. The last day to register to vote in this election is Monday, Feb. 5.