Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Republican committee divided: District clerk nomination sparks controversy as Graft secures win over Zamarron

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Hood County’s most recent election proceedings have stirred contention and division among residents.

During a meeting held entirely in executive session June 26, the Hood County Republican executive committee conducted a ballot voting for the positions of county clerk and district clerk. The Republican nominees for both positions will appear on the ballot for the general election this November.

Christine C. Leftwich — who has been serving as the interim county clerk since Katie Lang’s retirement in May — was unanimously selected as the county clerk.

While the county clerk nomination process was smooth sailing, tensions unfolded following the district clerk vote.

The two nominees were Roberta Zamarron, who has been serving as the interim district clerk following the passing of Tonna Newman in February, and Melanie Graft, current Granbury Independent School District board member and Precinct 408 chair.

Members of the Hood County Republican Party executive committee voted for the district clerk nominee by way of a secret ballot. Approximately 14 voting members were present during the meeting.

During the voting portion of the executive session, Zamarron and Graft found themselves deadlocked in a 7:7 vote. After a revote, Graft emerged victorious with an 8:6 vote, which immediately sparked discussion on social media.

Following the result, many Hood County residents took to Facebook to complain about the transparency and fairness of the electoral process. Some expressed concerns that the meeting was not held in open forum while others stated how it was “unfair” to allow Graft to vote as a member of the executive committee when Zamarron was not a member of the board. Comments also stated that Graft should have recused herself during the vote.

Zamarron herself took to Facebook June 28 to address the recent election results. She started out by thanking Judge Bryan Bufkin for appointing her to the position in March.

“We have made some amazing progress to update past-due accounts and bring the office current,” she said. “I would like to thank Matt Mills, Ryan Sinclair, Rob Christian, and many more of my supporters for trying to inform the executive committee why I was the better choice being a conservative Republican AND having the knowledge and experience necessary to be the district clerk and better serve the constituents of Hood County.

“I will continue to update you on the progress of the district clerk’s office through the next few months. This team has worked very diligently to restructure this office to better suit the needs of the public who we serve daily.”

Bufkin also took to social media June 28 to “lay out the facts as clearly and fairly” as he could regarding the district clerk nomination process.

He explained that since Newman passed away in the middle of her term, the law states that Bufkin was in charge of filling the vacancy and that his choice would immediately step in to be the district clerk until the next election.

“I took my job very seriously,” Bufkin said. “I reviewed many applications and interviewed several candidates. As a conservative judge, I was looking for a conservative person who was eminently qualified to do the job. At the time of the vacancy, due to the prolonged illness of Mrs. Newman, the District Clerk’s office badly needed somebody who could come in immediately, get caught up, and bring some stability. My main concern — as it always is — was the pursuit of justice for all. I chose Roberta Zamarron. She stepped into the role, hit the ground running, and has done a great job. She has made me look good. I am extremely thankful to her for the job she has done.”

Bufkin stated that due to the timing of the vacancy, the window for filing to be in the Republican Primary had already closed. In this situation, he states, the law lays out that the Hood County Republican Party executive committee must vote on who to put on the ballot as the Republican candidate for the general election in November.

“The end result is that the person I choose will be the District Clerk for the remainder of the year, and the person the executive committee chooses will be on the ballot as the Republican nominee,” he explained. “Whoever wins in the general election in November is District Clerk for the remainder of the term.”

Bufkin explained how the voting portions of the meeting were held in executive session and since he is not an officer, he could not be in the room for those portions. He confirmed that both Zamarron and Graft were nominated for the position.

"I will note that Mrs. Graft did not apply during my interview process, so she was not one of the people I interviewed,” he said. “Each person was allowed to speak and could have others speak on their behalf. As a judge with ethical requirements preventing public endorsement of a candidate, I did not speak on behalf of either person at the meeting. As I understand it, there were 14 voting members present at the meeting. The votes were made by secret ballot. After the first vote, there was a 7-7 tie. Then, as I understand it, there was a re-vote and somebody changed their vote from Mrs. Zamarron to Mrs. Graft, which gave Mrs. Graft eight votes. As a result, Melanie Graft will be on the ballot as the Republican nominee for District Clerk in November.”

Bufkin added that he “believes in — and must trust — the process,” and that he is proud of the choice he made in appointing Zamarron as district clerk.

"There is a process in place to ensure that when there is a vacancy, I immediately fill it so that justice is not affected,” he said. “There is a separate process that allows a candidate to be placed on the ballot as a Republican by the executive committee. The executive committee is made up of the county chair and precinct chairs all voted on by the individual precincts. The people select them to make choices like this. Now that the process is complete, I accept the results and move forward for justice. I have reached out to congratulate Mrs. Graft on her nomination.”

Bufkin said as a judge, he stays above the fray on political disputes and says this was a unique situation in which he had to make a choice with political ramifications.

"Since we still have an upcoming general election, I do not want to presume anything. But to whomever is the district clerk on Jan. 1, 2025: I will do everything in my power to make this a smooth transition and pledge to work well with that person to the best of my ability,” he said.

He added that he has known both Graft and Zamarron on a personal level for the past few years and that he has had talks about God with both of them.

"Even though all three of us are very different people, we all need the love of Jesus. These are my Christian sisters,” Bufkin added. “Let’s not forget the humanity of everybody involved when we engage in the discourse. As always, I covet your prayers for our justice system. I care for it so deeply.”

The Hood County News reached out to Republican Party Chair Greg Harrell and asked several questions regarding why the meeting was held in executive session and why Graft was allowed to vote for the district clerk nomination. Harrell did not respond to those questions.

“We’re trying to bring people together is what we’re trying to do,” Harrell told the HCN.

He added that the meeting was a “representative form of governance” and that the Hood County Republican Party executive committee “discharged their duties properly.”

"They were faithful and I'm very proud of them,” Harrell said. “Now, we will go out and we will elect Republicans in November.”