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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

Sheriff candidates face off as early voting nears


Last updated 2/13/2024 at 10:03pm

Three challengers to incumbent Sheriff Jimmy Lane Mooney said they want to improve relationships between the Orange County Sheriff's Office and other agencies. Mooney said he stands on his work of the past three years, which includes negotiating a new contract with deputies and getting them pay raises.

The four appeared in a question and answer forum last week that was sponsored by the Orange County Republican Party. All four are running in the March 4 party primary with no Democrats running to challenge the winner in the November primary.

Early voting will start on Tuesday, February 20.

Mooney is seeking his second four-year term after winning to replace retiring sheriff Keith Merritt. Ron Dischler, a lieutenant with the Beaumont Police Department and longtime resident of Orange County, is a challenger, along with Vidor ISD Police Chief Mike Sanchez, and former Texas Ranger Major Bobby Smith, who said he retired to run for Orange County Sheriff. All four have years of law enforcement experience.

Sanchez was not able to attend the forum because he was diagnosed with Covid. His wife appeared for him with his answers. All candidates were given the questions ahead of time. The questions had been submitted to the party online days earlier. The chair of the Hardin County Republican Party was the moderator.

One question involved the county's former HIT unit, or Homicide Investigation Team. Different police and county agencies assigned officers to respond immediately to anywhere in the county that had a murder.

Mooney said he did not "shut down" the HIT unit. He said "it was gone before I got there." He said District Attorney John Kimbrough told him the unit had quit functioning.

Dischler, Sanchez, and Smith all said they would bring back the HIT unit. Dischler pointed out the he had worked as a homicide sergeant for Beaumont police and it's good to have assigned people to do the work needed for the investigation immediately. Sanchez said manpower is needed on such investigations and he would get back the unit. Smith said he had worked with HIT representing the Texas Rangers and he supports the unit.

One question was how would each candidate, as sheriff, handle a call someone from the FBI, ATF, or other federal agency was trying to take away their guns.

"I will not assist a federal or state agency that is going to come in and violate a citizen's Second Amendment right," Dischler said. He described himself as a "constitutional sheriff."

The constitutional sheriff theory is growing with the idea that a county sheriff is the highest law within the county and can supersede the federal government's authority.

Sanchez's reply was "I support the Second Amendment and I will stand by our law-abiding citizens."

Smith said as a citizen of Texas and the United States, he believes in the Second Amendment and the Fourth Amendment, which requires a "reasonable search." He said if a citizen calls about someone "seizing his weapons without probable cause," he would protect the rights of the citizen.

"I'm a strict Second Amendment supporter and there will be nobody coming into our county to take our guns," Mooney said.

Early voting will begin Tuesday, February 20, because the 19th is the Presidents Day holiday. Sites in Orange County are the Orange Public Library in downtown Orange, Mauriceville Community Center on Cohenour Road, Orange County Airport on Highway 87 South, and the Raymond Gould Community Center on Claiborne Street in Vidor.

Any registered Orange County voter with proper ID will may go to any one of the sites.

The hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, February 20, through Friday, February 23; 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, February 24; 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday, February 25; and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, February 26, through Friday, March 1.

Other contested local races include District 21 State Representative with David Covey of Mauriceville and Alicia Davis of Jasper County are running against incumbent Dade Phelan, who currently also serves as speaker of the house.

Also locally, Precinct 2 Constable Jeremiah Gunter is being challenged by Harold Hass and David C. Bailey. Precinct 4 Constable Matt Ortego is facing Sheriff's Captain Joey Jacobs.

Orange County Republican Party Chair Leo Labouve III is being challenged by Cheryl Warren in a party chair race that is drawing more attention than usual for that position.


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