Landgraf-Gray forum a heated event

Texas House of Representatives candidate Casey Gray speaks to State Rep. Brooks Landgraf during a forum Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, at the Odessa Country Club. (Jacob Ford|Odessa American)

Texas Legislative District 81 Rep. Brooks Landgraf started out Tuesday’s Republican Party forum saying “the truth will prevail” and he isn’t going to engage in mud slinging while seeking to keep his seat. His opponent, Casey Gray, started out telling the audience he was drawn out of his military retirement by corrupt politicians like Landgraf.

“I’ll work hard for the four counties. I’ll work hard for you and I will be a state representative that’s accountable. You’ll be able to call me on my cell phone numbers on any of those flyers,” Gray said. “I’ll be the hardest working employee you’ve ever hired.”

The Ector County Republican Party forum at the Odessa Country Club for the District 81 candidates and those seeking the vacant seat in the 244th Judicial District had a packed audience. Candidates gave opening and closing statements, answered prepared questions and a few questions from the audience.

The forum was held roughly one week after a Texas-based news and political website called Current Revolt wrote an article alleging Landgraf had engaged in extra-marital affairs and released texts and nude photos it claims supports the allegations. The woman in the nude photos came forward Tuesday to deny the allegations, saying Gray and his supporters stole them in an effort to hurt Landgraf.

State Rep. Brooks Landgraf, left, answers a question during a forum with his challenger Casey Gray held Tuesday at the Odessa Country Club. i(Jacob Ford|Odessa American)

Gray repeatedly attacked Landgraf’s morals throughout their portion of the forum and Landgraf repeatedly said he wasn’t going to take the bait, prompting bouts of applause every time in support of Landgraf.

Gray also attacked Landgraf’s record. When the candidates were asked if they’d vote for Proposition 6, which would prohibit Democrats from chairing House committees, both candidates answered in the affirmative. However, Gray alleged that during the last session Landgraf gave Democrats chairmanships, they fled to Washington, D.C. and Texans had to “negotiate away” hard-earned rights. He further alleged Landgraf helped reduce voter fraud penalties from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Landgraf, who is seeking his fifth, two-year term, reassured the crowd that voter fraud is still a felony in Texas and said, in fact, that the penalties were strengthened for 24 types of voter fraud.

The state representative said there’s been a longstanding rule in the state that allows the speaker to appoint committee chairs and it doesn’t specify what party they ought to be.

“We shoved so many Republican Party principles down those Democrats chairs’ throats that they fled the state, they choked on it. We got Constitutional Carry passed, the Heartbeat bill passed, election integrity passed, all with those chairs. So when they’re on small committees like that, it doesn’t really make a difference. I say look at the results.

When asked about enhancing security at the border, Landgraf said lawmakers are constructing the state’s own border wall and will continue to do so using federal policy “to the extent that we’re permitted to do under the Constitution.”

Gray responded with a laugh.

“We didn’t get a real answer there. What he’s gonna do, he’s gonna do nothing because he did nothing. What’s going on at the border right not, it’s very easy,” Gray said.

Texas House of Representatives candidate Casey Gray speaks during a forum with State Rep. Brooks Landgraf Tuesday at the Odessa Country Club. i(Jacob Ford|Odessa American)

In talking about his experience and skill set, Gray said he served in the Naval Special Warfare, the CIA, the Texas National Guard and is a “100% disabled veteran from the U.S. Army.” He also said he was a diplomat for the State Department in Israel.

Gray alleged Landgraf tried to give a tax abatement to a nuclear waste plant in Andrews, tried to get a bill passed that would’ve allowed sand trucks to carry limitless loads and pushed for an agenda that financially benefited his father.

In addition, Gray said Landgraf “attacked” the Grow Texas Fund, which would have taken money from the general fund and put it into an economic stabilization fund and the state highway fund. He said the representative tried to rewrite the bill, it had to be pulled and it died in committee.

Landgraf told the group he stands by his record and pointed to the passage of Monica’s Law as one example of the success he’s had as a legislator. It took three years, but Monica’s Law created an online protective order database, he said. He also told the audience that during his time in office, the money devoted to transportation needs has increased by seven times, up to $360 million a year.

As for the tax abatement, Landgraf said there was never a tax abatement and the company Gray was referring to is a private entity that is not subsidized by the state or federal government. The company’s surcharge fees were adjusted, he said.

Landgraf laughed over Gray’s allegations about the Grow Texas Fund.

State Rep. Brooks Landgraf answers a question during a forum with his challenger Casey Gray held Tuesday at the Odessa Country Club. i(Jacob Ford|Odessa American)

“First of all, the Grow Texas Fund was my bill. It’s my idea. I love it. It’s great for West Texas. The fact that I would kill my own bill is ludicrous,” Landgraf said. “I have worked for two sessions to get that done. It has been passed in various forms in the Texas House of Representatives. It has always met its death in the Texas Senate. I still believe in the idea. The big cities don’t like it because it would take money away from them because the oil and gas severance tax that would fund Grow Texas currently benefits large metropolitan areas. Guess where most of the legislators are from? The large metropolitan areas.”

Gray and Landgraf were both asked to address “accusations and allegations” of a personal nature against them by the moderator.

Gray has an April trial date in Walworth County, Wisconsin, on a charge of bail jumping. The prosecutor in the case said last month that Gray is accused of violating a restraining order twice and jumping bail on the two cases that were filed as a result of those alleged violations. Online records also indicate Gray is involved in a child custody dispute in that same county.

Court records also indicate that a Jan. 6 status hearing was held on the violate/harassment restraining order charge that was originally filed in February 2018. Gray entered a not guilty in May of 2018.

Gray told the group the bail jumping charge is the result of him simply changing his P.O. Box address. He also said the case was over, but online records still indicate the April trial date.

“It’s over an address change which has a $500 penalty. My opponent wants to claim that these are a big scandal. What I would like to see is the true scandal that Mr. Landgraf is there that pales in comparison to anything I’ve been accused of,” Gray said.

Landgraf responded by saying, “I haven’t made any accusations about my opponent. I don’t intend to start now.”

When someone in the audience asked who was behind the nasty allegations, Landgraf said he’s not concerned about that, he considers it just a “sideshow.”

Gray said Landgraf engaged in an affair with a staff member and “he was also engaged in an affair with five other women.”

“I would challenge Mr. Landgraf to attempt to publicly deny right now that none of that is true. Because if you do, you know that evidence is going to come out and prove to you to be a liar. So please answer that,” Gray said.

“As I said, I’m not taking any bait,” Landgraf responded.

In the race for the 244th Judicial District, retired Odessa Municipal Court Judge Dennis Jones and attorneys Cindy Weir-Nutter and Lori Ruiz-Crutcher answered questions about their judicial philosophy, work experience and their views on bail setting and “victimless crimes.”

244th District Court Judge candidate Lori Ruiz-Crutcher, center, gives her introduction during a forum with her challengers Dennis Jones left, and Cindy Weir-Nutter Tuesday at the Odessa Country Club. (Jacob Ford|Odessa American)

Each of the three said they would take into consideration a defendant’s ties to the community, the seriousness of the crimes and their criminal history before setting bail. They each agreed the public’s safety would be their prime concern. They also agreed there is no such thing as a “victimless” crime.

The most heated portion of their forum was when they were asked about past disciplinary measures by the Texas State Bar. Ruiz-Crutcher is the only one of the three not to have been disciplined.

“What we need to be talking about is capability. Are you capable of sitting on that bench? Are you capable of exercising good judgment? Are you capable of analyzing complex matters? Are you capable of working hard? Are you capable of doing what’s right for our county?” Ruiz-Crutcher asked. “Some of us have shown a pattern and a history of incapability. Some of us have retired once, are you capable of working hard? I ask you to take these things into consideration and know there are some qualities you can’t learn. Those qualities are do you have a work ethic? Do you have integrity? Do you have good judgment? You either have those things or you don’t? And the fact is, I do.”

244th District Court Judge candidate Cindy Weir-Nutter, right, gives her closing remarks during a forum with her challengers Lori Ruiz-Crutcher, left, and Dennis Jones Tuesday at the Odessa Country Club. (Jacob Ford|Odessa American)

Weir-Nutter said her violation was a minor one she didn’t fight because she was in the midst of escaping from an abusive relationship at the time with her small children. She urged voters to go to her Facebook page for the details. She also said she is the only candidate who has practiced both criminal and civil law.

Jones said his happened in 1999 and he has learned from his mistakes. The retired judge also said his experience out shadows that of his opponents.

“I believe I’m the best since I have the most experience. I believe I’m the best because I’ve actually practiced in the court that I’m hoping to set on the bench. I believe I’m the best because I’ve had an active criminal practice since I left the city, and it’s just something that there’s some intangibles there,” Jones said. “he more you deal with criminal cases, the more you deal with the rules of evidence, the more you deal with criminal motions, it becomes second nature and you can move. You can see the issues of a case and you can move fast. My opponents, I don’t think, could move quite as fast as I could.”

244th District Court Judge candidate Dennis Jones, center, answers a question during a forum with his challengers Lori Ruiz-Crutcher, right, and Cindy Weir-Nutter Tuesday at the Odessa Country Club. (Jacob Ford|Odessa American)