Quiet race turns into fierce fight

Im­mi­grant com­ment, al­le­ga­tions fuel GOP com­mis­sioner race

The Dallas Morning News - - Metro & State - By NAOMI MARTIN Staff Writer [email protected]­las­news.com

What started as a quiet race for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion for Dal­las County com­mis­sioner has turned into a pitched bat­tle over crim­i­nal al­le­ga­tions and illegal im­mi­gra­tion.

The May 22 runoff elec­tion in north­ern Dal­las County’s District 2 pits for­mer State District Judge Vick­ers “Vic” Cun­ning­ham against lawyer J.J. Koch. The Repub­li­can nom­i­nee will face a Demo­crat, Wini Can­non, and a Lib­er­tar­ian, Al­berto Perez, in the Novem­ber gen­eral elec­tion.

Koch, 38, who has rep­re­sented po­lice of­fi­cers and worked in tech­nol­ogy, has not shied from con­tro­versy. Last year, he filed a law­suit seek­ing to oust Dal­las County Elec­tions Ad­min­is­tra­tor Toni Pip­pins Poole.

Cun­ning­ham, 55, de­cided to get into the race be­cause of that suit, say­ing he was con­cerned that Koch would be in­ef­fec­tive in the sole Repub­li­can seat on the five-mem­ber Com­mis­sion­ers Court be­cause he had al­ready alien­ated many county of­fi­cials. The law­suit was later dis­missed.

“He’s very com­bat­ive, very in­y­our-face, New Jer­sey smash­mouth pol­i­tics,” Cun­ning­ham said, ad­ding that the Democrats would “make him sit in the cor­ner. He would ef­fec­tively re­move him­self from any rep­re­sen­ta­tion on the court.”

But Koch said he knows from his le­gal ca­reer how to main­tain good re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple on the op­po­site side. Be­sides, he said, he’s just speak­ing the truth.

In a re­cent email to sup­port­ers, Koch blamed Dal­las County’s shrink­ing mid­dle class on “illegal im­mi­grants.”

“We have to speak truth­fully about the prob­lems we face,” he said last week. “Not to be hate­ful to­ward a group of peo­ple, but the fact that there are a lot of illegal im­mi­grants here fac­tors into dif­fer­ent prob­lems that re­late to poverty.”

Koch’s com­ments drew con­dem­na­tion from Com­mis­sioner Elba Gar­cia, a Mex­i­can im­mi­grant, who called them “fear-mon­ger­ing” and “par­ti­san grand­stand­ing.”

Gar­cia de­clined to en­dorse a can­di­date but said it’s im­por­tant for the win­ner to care less about na­tional pol­i­tics than about “get­ting things done for the bet­ter­ment of all your con­stituents and Dal­las County.”

Com­mis­sioner Mike Cantrell, a Repub­li­can who is bow­ing out af­ter rep­re­sent­ing District 2 since 1995, en­dorsed Cun­ning­ham as a “per­fect fit” for the seat be­cause of his ex­pe­ri­ence as a crim­i­nal court judge who han­dled court bud­gets, as well as his solid re­la­tion­ships with the Com­mis­sion­ers Court.

“The chal­lenge is how do you work with in­di­vid­u­als that have a dif­fer­ent phi­los­o­phy and a dif­fer­ent idea of how to get to places than what I have, and how to still be a par­tic­i­pant in the out­come,” Cantrell said.

Koch has said he would be a bet­ter pick be­cause of his ex­pe­ri­ence in the tech­nol­ogy sec­tor and as di­rec­tor of le­gal so­lu­tions at Thom­son Reuters.

The is­sues of county gov­er­nance were largely over­shad­owed in the race by the illegal im­mi­gra­tion con­tro­versy and an al­le­ga­tion that Koch had tried to bribe Stephen Stan­ley, a for­mer Gar­land City Coun­cil mem­ber, to drop out of the race be­fore the pri­mary elec­tion.

Koch ac­knowl­edged that he of­fered to pay Stan­ley’s cam­paign debts if he left the race but said he was do­ing so to be a good guy, be­cause he’d heard that Stan­ley had fi­nan­cial trou­bles and planned to drop out any­way.

Stan­ley sub­mit­ted a com­plaint — along with an au­dio tape of his call with Koch — to the Texas sec­re­tary of state. In Jan­uary, that of­fice re­ferred the mat­ter to the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice to in­ves­ti­gate whether a crime had oc­curred.

It’s un­clear whether the mat­ter re­mains un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice de­clined to com­ment. Nei­ther Stan­ley nor Koch has been con­tacted.

The si­lence, to Koch, means there is no in­ves­ti­ga­tion. His at­tor­ney, Pete Schulte, said he had heard through his “sources” at the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice that “the mat­ter is closed.”

Koch said the real crim­i­nal vi­o­la­tions in the race were com­mit­ted by Cun­ning­ham. He pointed to a Texas Ethics Com­mis­sion com­plaint over Cun­ning­ham cam­paign signs calling Cun­ning­ham a “Judge” with­out clearly stat­ing that he was re­tired. Cun­ning­ham agreed to add the pre­fix “(Ret.)” to his signs.

“He should stand on his own two feet on his mer­its, rather than pump him­self up to be some­thing that he’s cur­rently not,” Koch said.

Last month, Koch posted a video to Face­book with the cap­tion: “My op­po­nent can’t fol­low the law! TWO CLASS A MIS­DE­MEANORS!!!” In the selfie-style video, Koch shows one of the signs with­out the “(Ret.)” pre­fix on the lawn of a home in Cun­ning­ham’s neigh­bor­hood.

“He said he would fix all the signs that are out there and he hasn’t,” Koch says. “This is less than half a mile from his house. I dont think it’s any type of mal­ice or any­thing like that; it’s that he’s lazy.”

Cun­ning­ham dis­missed the sign flap as in­signif­i­cant, say­ing he was con­sid­ered a se­nior district judge by the state for life. He said he had agreed not to con­test the al­le­ga­tion so he could move on. He said he com­mit­ted no crime.

“It’s just so ju­ve­nile,” Cun­ning­ham said.

Hav­ing en­tered the race more than a year ear­lier than Cun­ning­ham, Koch has raised and spent far more. Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent public re­ports, Koch had col­lected $70,000 and spent $102,600. Cun­ning­ham had taken in $52,100 and spent $64,000.

Can­non lagged, hav­ing raised $2,400 and spent $2,310. Even so, the Demo­crat and for­mer Dal­las mu­nic­i­pal judge said she be­lieves she has a strong chance at win­ning the district that leans Repub­li­can.

“Peo­ple who are Repub­li­cans, in­de­pen­dents and Democrats will vote for me be­cause I’m known in the com­mu­nity, I’m liked and I’m trusted,” she said.

VICK­ERS CUN­NING­HAM

J.J. KOCH

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