Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Filing issues continue for some candidates as drama heats up

Posted

While some Hood County candidates have been successful in filing for the March 2024 primary, several have continued to express their frustrations with the Republican Party of Hood County.

Filing for the March primary elections officially opened on Nov. 11, but a severe lack of communication left many Hood County residents confused as to the procedures behind filing for candidacy.

The day filing began, a post was created on the Republican Party of Hood County’s Facebook page letting candidates know they were supposed to contact the GOP headquarters to schedule an appointment to file.

However, candidates like Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds and Bradley Yarborough were not aware of the appointment scheduling policy.

“On Monday night the 13th at 9 p.m., I found out from a Facebook post I was told about,” Deeds told the HCN via text.

“Found out on the 12th. I was out of town then filing opened,” Yarborough told the HCN. “I waited until I got back to start calling and trying to set up a time.”

Deeds said he knew that the starting date to file was on the 11th, and he immediately began trying to get in contact with Republican Party Chair Steve Biggers.

He eventually received a response on Tuesday, Nov. 14, with Biggers explaining he was currently not in Granbury.

“I am traveling out of state,” the text read. “Parents medical legal stuff. Will contact when available.”

Deeds said he waited for a response and attempted to contact Biggers directly several times until he finally received another response on Thursday, Nov. 16.

“On Thursday the 16th I was contacted by text that he would get with me so I could file,” he said. “We finally got together Thursday night and he got my paperwork to file and my check. I never was able to set up an appointment, but I had left messages to do so.”

Deeds told the HCN that he was successfully able to file, and that Biggers told him he has a plan to get the other candidates’ paperwork filed.

“He said he has a plan to get everyone filed before the deadline,” Deed said, in a text to the HCN.

However, many candidates have said they have attempted to reach out to Biggers to schedule an appointment themselves but were met with silence.

"I'm running for Republican Party Chairman of Hood County, and we have made many, many attempts,” Granbury resident Zachary Maxwell said, speaking for the other candidates who have yet to file. “We have called every single day since filing has been open.”

Yarborough was told that he would get his paperwork taken care of on Friday, Nov. 17, and again on Monday, Nov. 20, but both times no one from the Republican Party of Hood County showed up at the headquarters.

“The rhetoric issued by the Republican Party Chairman Steve Biggers is another example of an attempt to undermine democracy by suppressing several citizens’ right to run for public office,” Yarborough said in a text to the HCN. “The Hood County Republican Party is playing a very dangerous game by purposely making it impossible for certain citizens to apply for elected positions. It is dangerous because it violates basic rights of representation guaranteed to us as American citizens.”

"Notices have been posted on party web site along with Facebook page and office location,” Biggers told the HCN via email. “The process is clear and is working smoothly, with nearly 1/3 of ballot positions having applications submitted.”

On Wednesday, Nov. 15, the Republican Party of Hood County Facebook page issued a statement, stating that six applications have already been received and were in the process of being reviewed.

Additionally, the post announced that appointments would only be set up on a Wednesday afternoon submission, with 95% of slots filled for Wednesday, Nov. 22.

“It sounds like based on the Facebook posts that it's taking some time to approve the applications because he said that people have filed and they're awaiting approval,” Maxwell said. “It shouldn't take more than two seconds to get approved because he can't actually deny an application unless there's a big glaring error on the application, like if your name was misspelled, or if you didn't check a particular box; that's the only thing that you can deny somebody's application for, statutorily by law. But by law, he also has to make himself available, or appoint a designee or have the Republican Party Secretary —whom he appoints — receive, accept, and approve our applications, and he has not done any of those things. He's making it very difficult.”

Bret Deason, chairman of the United Republicans of Hood County, sent an email to Hood County Election Administrator Stephanie Cooper on Wednesday, Nov. 15, explaining that he had received “multiple complaints from citizens” who are wishing to file the paperwork for the upcoming primary elections and had continued to reach a voicemail at the Hood County Republican Party headquarters.

“It is the responsibility of Chairman Biggers to appoint someone to receive these applications if he is not available,” Deason’s email reads. “We even have existing elected officials that are wanting to file for re- election and are not receiving call backs from the chairman. Given the chairman's unprofessional behavior leading up to this point, it is highly suspect that this is happening.”

Cooper emailed back and explained that “state law does not allow her office to resolve the situation.”

Chris Davis, Hood County Republican Party secretary, replied to Deason, explaining that she spoke to Biggers on Wednesday, Nov. 15, and that he would be posting on the Republican Party Facebook page when he will be able to be in the office each week between the filing period. She explained that candidates who are unable to reach him will be able to email Davis herself to set up appointments to come in and file for office.

“Chairman Biggers is doing all he can within the constraints of his busy life and work to make the filing process run smoothly and efficiently. I am sure you can understand and appreciate that,” Davis said.

“I and many others have made calls and left voicemails to the party number provided with no returned communications,” Maxwell said, joining in the email thread. “I told you Mrs. Davis that there were a large group of people that requested next Wednesday the 22nd and it seems from this post that 95% of the slots on that given day are now full? Am I reading that correctly? It’s very frustrating as none of those people I mentioned had received a call to date, certainly not since we talked. You made it clear in response to my request that you would make yourself available, have you been ordered otherwise?”

Maxwell added that if they did not get proper clarification, he would be forced to make a formal complaint with proper authorities at the Secretary of State and State Party.

On Thursday, Nov. 16, Maxwell sent an email to Biggers stating that himself and others had been attempting to make contact with him to schedule a time to file and have their paperwork approved, but that no one had gotten a response.

Maxwell stated he would be coming by the Republican Party headquarters that day and if no one was present to take his application, he would be taking legal action.

On the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 16, Davis sent an email to Maxwell Thursday afternoon explaining that Biggers would be “happy to take care of your application for you.”

Maxwell immediately sent a response back saying the only reply back he had heard from Biggers was that he “wasn’t allowed to contact him.”

“So please advise on how and when that is supposed to occur?” Maxwell stated in the email. “Put yourself in my shoes. I have been nothing but respectful.”

According to an article on the Texas Conservative Report, a phone call, a text message, and an email were sent to Biggers to inform him a group of individuals who needed to file paperwork would be at the Republican Party of Hood County headquarters at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16.

However, when the candidates arrived at the party offices at 1:20 p.m., they were met with a locked door and a shocking notice on the front door.

The sign stated, “Nobody from the Hood County Republican Executive Committee is here at this time to accept paperwork for placement on the 2024 Republican Primary Ballot. Please call Hood County Republican Party Chair Steve Biggers to schedule an appointment.”

Additionally, a note attributed to former Hood County Republican Party Chair Nate Criswell stated that five individuals — Zeb Ullom, Michael Ray Davis, Bret Deason, Maxwell, and Yarborough — were not allowed on the premises.

“Let this document serve as official notice to only the aforementioned individuals that you are hereby trespassing, and after reading this clearly posted notice on the door, you have received your warning to leave,” the notice reads. “Failure to do so will result in being prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This area is under audio and video surveillance.”

“I went with Morris Duree that day to file to enjoy the festivities,” Cresson Mayor Teena Conway told the HCN. “The outcome was shocking with the sign posted on the door that called out specific folks that were not allowed ‘on the property’. It’s one of the strangest things I’ve witnessed as a citizen.”

Conway explained that Criswell and Hood County Commissioner of Precinct 4 Dave Eagle were inside the Republican Party headquarters and would not open the door.

"They yelled out to us on the sidewalk and said, ‘We are calling the police.’ Three cars and four officers arrived and were delightful to work with,” she said. “Commissioner (Jack) Wilson took the lead to speak with the police. The officers then went in and spoke with Mr. Criswell and Commissioner Eagle. This took about 20 minutes and the group just waited patiently to learn if they could file or not.”

The incident was also recorded and posted on social media. In the video attributed to Maxwell, an officer can be heard telling the group that they are within their rights to be outside the building on public property, but they cannot threaten or intimidate the individuals inside.

Conway said since Biggers was not in the office, the candidates were told they would have to call and make an appointment.

“All the participants said they had already called several times with no response,” Conway said. “From there I left the site and was disgusted with ‘our’ Republican party. I shared with Commissioner Eagle my thoughts and he said he has no control over Mr. Biggers.”

An updated post was made on the Republican Party of Hood County Facebook page on Sunday, Nov. 19, stating that 15 applications were received that first week — but many have still not been able to file.

Maxwell told the HCN that he knew “for a fact” that Biggers personally went into County Attorney Matt Mills’ office to pick up his application for reelection.

“I messaged Matt Mills and called him, and he confirmed via phone and on messenger that that was what Steve was doing there was to hand pick up his application for reelection, yet, none of us have been able to file so only his handpicked people are allowed to file, but we can't file yet,” Maxwell said.

Biggers contacted the HCN on Friday, Nov. 17 and said that notices explaining the filing process were posted on the party website, along with the Facebook page and office location. 

“The process is clear and is working smoothly, with nearly 1/3 of ballot positions having applications submitted,” he stated. “The party office is not open on regular hours, as most filing office throughout the state, and there are only two officials that can receive the applications. (Secretary of State regulations).”

He explained that when looking at the best avenue to receive candidates, Wednesday of each week was the best option as all involved have “active lives and work requirements,” and that “working in the duties of this free elected job is sometimes challenging.”

Biggers also confirmed that when the filing cycle opened, he was out of town on a family matter. He said candidates who had his personal contact information then reached out to set up times to file.

In regards to the headquarters incident, Biggers explained that the party office has a sublet tenant and that over the past election cycle their business was “quite disrupted with all the campaign activity.”

“They were working in that office and really wanted no interruptions. The posting on the door was clear,” he said.

He also explained that another factor involved with the issue was the Secretary of State. Biggers said that there are credentials needed to process the paperwork in the SOS database, and that the credentials were not finalized until Nov. 14.

Biggers concluded that there is nothing “nefarious, bias, or undermining going on with the filing process.”

“The few disgruntled citizens were attempting to demand their way and when that didn’t happen, made a scene. Pounding on the door demanding entrance. The tenant thought best law enforcement needed to be called,” he said.

The HCN reached out to Biggers on the morning of Nov. 14 and asked the following questions:

  • In your email this morning, you stated that the credentials with the secretary of state to finalize the paperwork for candidates were not done until the 14th.  Why were these credentials not created prior to the beginning of the filing period for candidates? 
  • A notice on the Republican Party of Hood County Facebook page was posted on Nov. 15, with information regarding appointments for filing. Why wasn’t this information posted earlier to inform the candidates how to secure their paperwork? 
  • It is also my understanding that you personally picked up some candidates’ paperwork for filing. Were you aware Clint Head, Morris Duree and Roger Deeds had announced their intent to file for office? If so, why were these candidates not afforded the same courtesy as other candidates? 

Biggers replied on the evening of Friday, Nov. 17 and pointed out that the HCN would have to contact the SOS in regards to the credentialing delay.

In response to the question regarding the post on the Republican Party of Hood County Facebook page, Biggers explained that the first post on Facebook and the party website was on Nov. 11, and that information on the various positions are made available through the Secretary of State.  

In response to Biggers personally picking up paperwork for specific candidates, Biggers explained that he was in “personal contact” with Deeds and that he was aware Biggers was out of town on a family issue.

“His application was secured Thursday. The other mentioned candidates were contacted and appointments set up,” he said.

He added that on business day three, the “demand to file” occurred, with the threat of legal ramifications if not present.

“That’s not how the process works. Every interested candidate will have the opportunity to file prior to the December 11th deadline,” Biggers said.

The HCN reached out to Biggers again on Monday, Nov. 20, and repeated the question about him personally picking up candidates’ paperwork.

The HCN also asked if the credentialing delay was the fault of the Secretary of State.

Biggers responded the same day and said that many candidates who have his personal information contacted him seven to 10 days prior so they could find out the schedule.

“I explained Wednesday each week are filing days. Arrangements were made while I was out of town with family issues. Some came to the office, some I picked up while in the area. Trying to make process easy that first week,” he said.

In response to the Secretary of State question, Biggers said that the SOS “changed the whole system this year.”

“With 254 counties times 2 parties plus additional certified officials, plus new cyber training, I imagine they were quite busy,” he said.

The HCN attempted one more time to receive an answer to the question regarding the candidates that Biggers personally picked up paperwork for.

Biggers responded that “every application is personally picked up,” and that “releasing any names until filing is finished would be irresponsible and unethical.”

The HCN also asked why the credentialing process was not in place on the day the filing period started.

Biggers replied that the Secretary of State underwent a complete revamping of the process.

“Cyber training had to occur before any access. That training was taken 2 weeks earlier, submitted around the 1st. It is the SOS duty to follow through with credentials. Those credentials were not accessible, so I had to contact and secure,” he said.

He also added that it has been “a long, established practice to set appointments.”

The HCN then reached out to several surrounding party chairs and asked what their process was when it came to filing.

Dave Washam, chairman of the Republican Party of Erath County, confirmed that the Secretary of State does require that individuals posting information to the TEAMS system take and pass a security training class.

“My credentials were finalized the week before the filing season started,” Washam told the HCN.

Democratic Party of Hood County Chair Adrienne Martin told the HCN that she is available anytime for candidates to file.

“Candidates can contact me by phone or email, and I’ll make arrangements,” she said.

Martin also added that she didn’t have to attend cyber training through the Secretary of State as this is her sixth year as a chair and her third as primary.

“If you are unable to log in, you cannot process the candidates on the SOS site, but you can still accept the paperwork and payments,” she said.

Somervell County Elections Administrator told the HCN that Republican Party Chair Julie Douglas does not have a designated office space for the party. However, she was set up all day on Saturday, Nov. 11 and Monday, Nov. 13 for candidates to file.

"If anyone else wants to file after those dates, they contact the party chair to set up a time and place to turn in their application and filling fee,” Covey said.

Deeds told the HCN that this was his fifth term that he had filed to run for sheriff but had never run into this many problems.

“The last four times we knew the start date for filing and the Republican County Chair always was available for people to file,” he said. “I don’t remember a single problem for me or anyone.”

According to the Texas Election Code Sec. 172.022(b), the county chair must post notice on the party’s website or in the location where a candidate files an application for a place on the ballot of the address at which the county chair or secretary will be available to receive an application on the last day of the filing period — which is

According to the Texas Election Code Sec. 172.022(b), the county chair must post notice on the party’s website or in the location where a candidate files an application for a place on the ballot of the address at which the county chair or secretary will be available to receive an application on the last day of the filing period — which is Monday, Dec. 11. If both the county chair and the secretary will be available on that day, then the notice must include an address where both individuals will be available to receive those applications. That notice must be posted no later than the day before the last day of the filing period, which would be Sunday, Dec. 10.

“What happened to the days of being able to disagree with somebody and being able to just live?” Maxwell added. “This is not Republican. It's certainly un-American. It's certainly not Texan, and it's an embarrassment to our community.”

On the afternoon of Nov. 22, the HCN was informed that the Republican Party of Hood County now has a sign on the headquarters door announcing office hours during the filing cycle.