A few days ago Liberty Dispatch told its readers that “in the spirit of fair play” they were inviting Steve Stephens to “defend himself” against Democrats and all other detractors’ charges. Liberty Dispatch made it clear we did not want to take sides in the run-off but we did want Stephens to have an opportunity to defend himself against the deluge of last minute negative comments that are causing Republicans to get angry with each other. Stephens declined and now we must ask the question: How does his refusal to answer questions about his management of taxpayer money affect, not only the County Judge's race, but the Republicans running in November?
Since we have made that offer we have had a deluge of a different kind of comment from our readers. We have decided those comments merit action from us. Basically, some of our readers have pointed out that regardless of whether a voter is a Steve Stephens’ supporter or a Craig McNair supporter, if you want to see Republicans win in November “we can not afford to nominate a candidate who either has no defense of his actions or refuses to defend his actions.” Liberty Dispatch believes that is more than just a legitimate point of view. We believe Stephens’ silence on the issues that have been the subject of such hot public controversy in the last few days could hurt the entire Republican ticket.
Liberty Dispatch is certain that the recent criticism of Stephens’ comes from places beyond the campaign of his run-off opponent, Craig McNair. Democrats have enjoyed stirring this up and they have enjoyed watching the party split over the Stephens’ allegations. The Democrats have nominated a candidate that will need every negative thing possible to be said about Republicans in order to even have a chance of running a close race. We believe that Stephens’ lack of response should ultimately raise Republican primary voters’ antennas and should cause them to vote for Craig McNair. We also believe Democrats who are voting in the Republican primary to cause chaos will vote for Steve Stephens because they know their party will benefit across the ballot by the questions Stephens has left unanswered for all of these months.
Liberty Dispatch tried to maintain an open mind and not take sides between Craig McNair and Steve Stephens. In an effort to do the best thing for the Republican Party and be fair to both candidates, Ray Akins contacted Mayor Stephens and shared concerns about how his actions and his silence could affect every Republican on the ballot in November. Akins reiterated his offer to give Stephens unedited space to respond to all of the allegations as he explained the potential for something like this to infect every campaign on the Republican side of the ballot. Stephens told Akins he did not need to respond because he "has done nothing wrong".
We believe voters deserved to get to hear how Stephens responded to these allegations before deciding who they wanted to nominate. These allegations will not go away the day after the run-off is settled. These allegations will be pushed even harder by Democrats this summer and in the fall if Stephens is the nominee. They will not even go away if Dayton receives reimbursement somehow. Accusations that Stephens should have bid the FEMA contracts and that he should not have given them to friends are serious allegations. Stories about how Stephens almost made a point to NOT to get along with the FEMA people and that if Dayton gets the over one million dollars in reimbursement that they need, it will be because FEMA felt sorry for the community having a leader like Stephens are being told as far north as Cleveland and as far east as Devers. Stephens needed to explain to those who will decide who will be our next County Judge that what he did during the aftermath of the storm was not only the legally correct way to handle FEMA and storm recovery contracts, but that it was the BEST way to handle it. Even if reimbursement occurs, voters deserve to hear how these questions are answered.
Some of Stephens’ supporters responded to their candidate being pressed for answers by criticizing Craig McNair’s campaign contributions, but that will not help calm the fears that some Republicans have. There is nothing unusual in McNair’s financial disclosure. In fact the last time we checked the Democrats’ nominee, Ken Morrison, has a great deal more of what some are saying McNair has on his financial disclosure. When last we checked, with the exception of Morrison’s contributions to himself, ALL of his campaign contributions are from outside of the county. $1,000 from Steve Kass, a self employed estimator from Dickinson. $100 from Francis Harrison of Huckley Texas and four more small contributions from people who live in counties other than Liberty County are listed in Morrison campaign contributions. Republicans are not vulnerable in this area. McNair will not lose the County Judge’s race or affect other races because of his campaign finance report.
Mr. Stephens, we assured you that you could have answered your critics unedited on this site, and we also encouraged you to respond somewhere – though we believe it would have been wise to respond here. We would have posted your comments for Liberty Dispatch readers. Undecided voters would have been a whole lot more likely to react positively to your explanation than to your supporters attacking Mr. McNair. If your explanation was judged by our readers to be acceptable, we believe that the number of votes you got in the primary would have been an indication you would probably win this run-off. But your lack of an explanation leaves the Republican Party vulnerable to a constant drumbeat of corruption or incompetence in November …… as a result we believe you and the Republican Party are better off if Craig McNair wins.