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Bastrop Chamber hosts forum for school board, sheriff candidates

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    Tuesday night's Bastrop County sheriff forum. Top row, left to right: Incumbent and Republican candidate Maurice Cook, Bastrop Chamber of Commerce President Becki Womble, moderator Charlie Stone. Bottom row: Democratic candidate Mike Renck and time-keeper Kristi Lee.
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    Bastrop Chamber of Commerce President Becki Womble works to organize and host last Tuesday's forum for the candidates for Bastrop County sheriff. Photo courtesy of Bastrop Chamber of Commerce

Last Monday and Tuesday, candidates for the Bastrop ISD school board and the Bastrop County sheriff had an opportunity to answer questions publicly during two virtual forums hosted by the Bastrop Chamber of Commerce.

BastropVotes.com is a website run by the Bastrop Chamber of Commerce in order to be a resource for fair, impartial and informative information about candidates seeking elected office. Since 2016, they have hosted forums for candidates for positions with Bastrop County, the Bastrop City Council and the Bastrop ISD school board.

On Monday evening, the forum featured the candidates for place 4 on the Bastrop ISD school board: incumbent board member Molly McClure and candidate Gwendolyn Robinson. 

Then, on Tuesday evening, the forum featured the candidates for Bastrop County sheriff: current Republican sheriff Maurice Cook, and Democratic candidate Mike Renck.

In his opening and closing statements, Cook, who has been a commissioned Texas peace officer for the past 50 years and has worked as the chief of Texas Rangers, focused on his accomplishments during his past four years in office, including targeting narcotics use and dealing in Bastrop County. He also highlighted his involvement with the community and how he enjoys engaging with the people of Bastrop County.

In his opening and closing statements, Renck, a third-generation law enforcement officer and a fourth-generation Bastrop County resident with a background at the U.S. Department of Justice, focused on his promises to promote communication, de-escalation and better training for officers in response to the current conversations around police and the Black Lives Matter movement. He also said he wants to involve the community more in the sheriff’s office and restore trust with Bastrop County residents.

A few of the questions posed to the sheriff candidates centered on officer training, use of force and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The first of these questions asked how the candidates would protect First Amendment rights in light of protests over the past six months.

“Protecting rights starts with a well-trained organization so we know what the rights are,” Cook said. “I think that everyone has a right to peaceably assemble. I don't think we have the right to assemble and create anarchy. Whenever it gets beyond the point of peaceful assembly, then you're encroaching on other people's rights, and that's what law enforcement is created for. We're here to protect society against each other.”

“Some of the problems we have been experiencing in law enforcement across the country is the way they are reacting to demonstrators; instead of de-escalating situations, they are escalating situations,” Renck said. “There are certain crowd control devices that have been used but not used properly, such as a beanbag-launching shotgun. It shouldn't be aimed at somebody’s head, it should be aimed at the torso, the center of mass. That's why there have been all these injuries, because there has not been an effective amount of training in these devices.” 

Another question regarding this topic asked about their thoughts about the Black Lives Matter movement and what they would do in response to a protest.

“Just like any protest, we would want to monitor it to make sure that it remains peaceful,” Renck said. “It's a shame that we need (the Black Lives Matter movement), but it does appear that we have a need for that. I believe that all lives matter, but right now people need to be reminded, more importantly, that black lives matter, given the recent circumstances. We need to also be training our officers in properly restraining people and not going to extremes.” 

“There have been some different gatherings and so forth (in Bastrop County) where they promote Black Lives Matter, and there has not been an issue,” Cook said. “I think that the citizens of Bastrop County are well-mannered and are the kind of people that don't promote anarchism. We've seen Black Lives Matter all across the United States, and some of the things I don’t condone. Do black lives matter? Sure they matter. Do all lives matter? Certainly. Your life matters. The job of the sheriff is to protect everyone.”

Another question concerned the training that deputies should receive regarding use of excessive force.

A couple more of the questions focused on Second Amendment rights.

The first question asked the candidates how they feel about the Second Amendment.

“I believe very strongly in a citizen’s right to bear arms,” Renck said. “Especially in a county our size, with the amount of officers we have, you need to be able to protect yourself because it takes a while before you can get the cavalry to show up.”

“I think that all citizens should have the right to have firearms under some circumstances,” Cook said. “There are automatic weapons that the federal government regulates, and there probably needs to be some regulation on those, but bearing arms is the traditional right that we all ought to have here in the United States.”

Another question asked what the candidates would do if legislation was passed that banned guns for legal gun owners or required such guns to be registered. Both Cook and Renck said they would do everything they could oppose the passing of such legislation in the first place.

Other questions concerned the topics of human trafficking, diversity of employees at the sheriff’s office, cooperation between local first responder agencies, the growth facing Bastrop County, a potential inmate work program, the sheriff’s relationship with the county commissioners’ court and the top public safety issues facing Bastrop County.

The full videos of the candidate forums are available at www.bastropvotes.com/video-archives, as well as the Bastrop Chamber YouTube Channel and the Facebook page @BastropChamber.