County party chairs share thoughts on November election

Published 7:16 pm Thursday, November 17, 2016

BEAUMONT — Now that the 2016 General Election is over the county chairs of both major parties got together to share their thoughts.

The two spoke at the monthly meeting of the Press Club of Southeast Texas at Café Del Rio in Beaumont.

Cade Bernsen, chair of the Jefferson County Democrat Party, and Dr. Garrett Peel, chair of the Jefferson County Republican Party, gave a brief presentation and took questions from the media.

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Bernsen said he was pleased with local Democrats races overall. Peel said he thinks it’s important to have contested elections and a two-party system in the area and to support those elected to office.

One question from the audience dealt with voters believing fake news stories on social media during the election and if the chairs were finding it harder to recruit candidates to expose their lives not only to traditional media, but to social media as well.

Bernsen said journalism is more important than ever, particularly with President-elect Donald Trump threatening to impose libel laws on the media.

“Society needs a robust understanding of what journalism is. We need y’all now more than ever,” Bernsen said. “With the erroneous information on Facebook, that’s why we need journalism more than ever.”

Peel said the national media didn’t do a good job reporting the polls as fact. The only poll that was correct was the USC/L.A. Times poll.

He added that Trump used social media extensively in the campaign.

“It can be a very positive thing for candidates to get out unfiltered information,” Peel said. “I think the press and the parties have a responsibility to get accurate information out. Facebook has a future; it’s all in how we use it.”

The next question was about a rumor Jefferson County Sheriff’s candidate, Ray Beck, and County Court At Law 2 candidate, Luke Nichols, both Republicans, were going to ask for a recount since 2,400 votes separated Beck from declared winner Zena Stephens and 1,500 votes separated Nichols from declared winner Terrence Holmes.

Peel said he believes County Clerk Carolyn Guidry and her staff did a good job administering the election and recounts are up to the candidates.

He added that the Jefferson County GOP will look at all questions raised by poll workers and election judges to ensure every vote is accurate and lawful.

Bernsen said it’s time to move on beyond the election and the system has integrity.

He said Holmes lost by 700 votes in 2014 and he didn’t ask for a recount.

“We can focus on the history that was made here. Zena is the first African-American female sheriff ever in the State of Texas,” Bernsen said.

Peel, likewise, said he never wants to hear the word corruption again in regard to Jefferson County.

“Where is it? I have full faith in the system. I don’t see corruption,” Peel said. “However, a close election can be a good thing because it keeps faith in the system.”

Another question was if the makeup of the parties was changing.

Bernsen rhetorically asked if the Democratic Party was changing.

“The demographics of the county are changing. We’re a melting pot here in Jefferson County and that’s a good thing,” he said.

He added that African American votes were down compared to 2008 and 2012.

“Demographics are changing,” Bernsen said.

Both chairs said, however, straight party voting was still a good thing for the parties.

Peel cautioned about the media placing voters into particular boxes.

“You can’t pigeon people into parties,” he said.

The last question taken was related to abolishing the Electoral College. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote while Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote.

Both chairs said abolishing the Electoral College would be a major undertaking and would require amending the U.S. Constitution.

David Ball: 409-721-2427