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Two conservatives fought to get top law position in Tarrant County

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Cristian ArguetaSoto
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Fort Worth Report
Republican District Attorney candidates Matt Krause, left, Mollee Westfall, center, and Phil Sorrells, right, participate in a debate on Feb. 21.

From the beginning of the campaign trail, state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, and Tarrant County Criminal Court No. 10 Judge Phil Sorrells have clashed on the role of the district attorney.

Krause said it’s more about shaping policy now. Sorrells insists the seat is still focused on the courtroom. TCU political science professor James Riddlesperger thinks it’s a competitive race, and voter turnout could be low.

With the two conservative candidates who have similar views on most issues, voters are tasked with deciding what kind of experience they want in Tarrant County’s district attorney on May 24 in the Republican primary runoff. Early voting starts May 16.

Voting information

Early voting starts May 16 and runs through May 20. Voters can visit the polls 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Find your voting location here.

Election Day is May 24.

What kind of experience matters?

Sorrells, 58, has been in the courtroom for 30 years and devoted his life to criminal law, which is experience he said his opponent does not have.

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Courtesy
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Fort Worth Report
Matt Krause

Krause, 41, has a proven conservative record in the past 10 years, he said. Serving in the role of a judge, he said, has its limitations.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Krause said. “For 10 years, I’ve been at the forefront fighting any issues that are important to Republican primary voters.”

Those issues include pro-life, election integrity, border security, the Second Amendment, or religious liberty.

“I have a proven record over and over and over of fighting for those,” he said.

The district attorney office is turning more into one of policy and not day-to-day prosecution, Krause has previously said.

For Sorrells, the office has not changed, he said.

“The DA’s office does the same thing that it’s always done, and it’s here to protect the community to keep the community safe,” Sorrells said. “And that’s to deal with crime.”

Getting new votes

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Courtesy
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Fort Worth Report
Phil Sorrells

Mollee Westfall was the other candidate in the primary, and she received 33,885 votes. Sorrells got the most votes with 48,026 and Krause pulled in 36,711.

Turnout in a primary runoff election in the summer can be an issue, Riddlesperger said. He anticipates it will be low and said it is difficult to guess who will show up to the polls.

Those Westfall votes could make a significant change in the runoff. Krause’s campaign has spent time talking to a lot of Westfall voters and changing their minds to vote for him, he said. There also are people from the Westfall campaign who are working for him now, he said, because of the mutual respect between the two candidates.

Krause knows he hasn’t converted every Westfall voter to his campaign, but he’s grateful for those who have and hopes for more. Westfall is currently serving as a visiting judge in Criminal District Court No. 2 and cannot make an endorsement, according to the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Sorrells doesn’t want to get just Westfall votes; he wants Krause’s, too, he said. He believes as people get educated on the race they will see he is the best choice. People probably voted for Westfall because they valued her courthouse experience, he said, which would sway them to vote for him now.

Both candidates have significant endorsements. Krause has endorsements from Texas Right to Life, Texas Values Action, Texas Homeschool Coalition, Gun Owners of America and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

The most significant endorsement for Sorrells comes from former President Donald Trump. The candidate also is endorsed by the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, Moms for Liberty, Texas Conservatives Unite PAC and others.

Aaron Dean trial

As the Aaron Dean trial over the death of Atatiana Jefferson draws near, voters are looking at how future Tarrant County officials might handle such a case.

The trial needs to play out to 12 jurors and let them hear evidence and information about the case, Krause said. Because he hasn’t seen the evidence, Krause said, he did not want to discuss the particulars of the case.

The district attorney is the face of law enforcement to the community, Krause said.

“You have to have somebody who’s used to interacting with various folks with various interests and worldviews and ideologies, to try to come to some kind of consensus or at least be able to have that open communication,” he said. “Being in the statehouse working with 149 individuals from all over the state from all different beliefs, backgrounds, political backgrounds, and all that has given me an insight into the ability to, even if we don’t agree at the end of the day, we still have that communication.”

A district attorney who is able to be out in the community and build trust means when a trial like this one comes up, the community trusts in the county.

Sorrells also has not seen evidence on the case, and it would be reckless to comment on the trial just based on what he’s read in the news about it, he said.

Other issues on voters’ minds

Both Krause and Sorrells identified key issues voters in this primary care about include election integrity, border security and crime.

“If you cannot trust your elections, it’s very difficult to trust your leaders,” Sorrells said on election integrity. “If you don’t think they were fairly elected, if you think there was cheating involved, then it’s going to undermine the authority of those that are in the elected position.”

To address this, Sorrells would start an elections integrity task force if elected. This task force would look into complaints filed regarding election integrity.

Krause dealt with election integrity at the state level by supporting Senate Bill 1, a law that aims to help create election integrity and security, he said.

The court of criminal appeals ruled a couple of months back that the attorney general does not have the ability to initiate election fraud lawsuits and that power resides in the county and district attorney positions, he said.

His experience with this issue at the state level should give voters confidence in his ability to do so at the county level, he said.

Sorrells also said people crossing the border are not just staying at the border, but going into other counties. He said it increases drugs and human trafficking.

Texas has spent billions of dollars on the border, but records show trespassing is the largest offense at the border, not violence or trafficking.

Gov. Greg Abbott has enacted his Operation Lone Star to deal with his border concerns and the federal government runs Immigration and Customs Enforcement. So what jurisdiction does a county not at the border have? Sorrells says he can have an impact.

If elected, he said the county would hold detainees as long as it can until there is a switch in policy from the federal government.

The Biden administration is letting detainees out on bonds and assurance they will appear for a hearing, a policy he wants changed, he said.

One of the biggest responsibilities of the DA is to keep the community safe, Krause said. Reducing violent crime is an issue he is ready to take on if elected, he said.

And he believes that issue goes hand-in-hand with border security, Krause said. He also said there is an increase in drugs and human trafficking coming from the border.

The DA office will have to work with law enforcement and the Legislature to make penalties more severe and put “bad actors” away longer, Krause said.

On crime, Sorrells said the COVID-19 pandemic created a backlog of cases in the courts. To resolve this, Sorrells said the DA office will have to work with defense attorneys to get cases moving. This will help ease the jail population, which allows the office to next “go after” people with active warrants.

“It will also send the message to the community that this is a safe community, we are handling crime and when you get these bad actors off the street, you’re gonna see crime coming down,” he said.

As early voting draws near, Riddlesperger said it’s still anyone’s race.

“Since Sorrells led the first election, he is perhaps the favorite,” Riddlesperger said. “But Krause is a high profile candidate, too.”