Debaters seek voters, not friends

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 19, 2008

VIDALIA — When the candidates for Seventh Judicial Court district attorney attended the debate Thursday night, they were there to win votes, not friends.

During the most heated part of the debate, the candidates appeared to be campaigning more on who they are not affiliated with than who they are.

After opening statements from the candidates, the debate — sponsored by the Catahoula-Concordia NAACP, the tri-parish ministerial alliance and the Concordia Parish Republican Executive Committee — got under way when moderator Derrick Carson asked candidate Brad Burget to clarify a statement he made in an earlier debate about standing up to the local political machine.

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“Who are the members of the machine and how can you neutralize this?” Carson asked.

Burget said he stood up to the machine when he refused to prosecute a felony robbery case against former sheriff candidate James Whittington because it was “at best a theft.”

Burget said he believed Sheriff Randy Maxwell wanted him to prosecute the case as a felony to keep Whittington out of future campaigns, and that he testified in court the sheriff had asked him to prosecute the case as a felony.

“Politics as usual at that courthouse has got to end,” he said.

Candidate Ronnie McMillin characterized the political machine as the sheriff, “and all those who come under his sway and input and who will go along and not oppose him when he is wrong.”

But the third candidate, Andy Magoun, said the political machine goes far deeper than the Maxwell, and proceeded to name Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland, Ferriday Mayor Glen McGlothin, a judge, the current district attorney and even former elected officials.

“There are many others in the machine,” he said. “None of those individuals are in my camp.

“I don’t do political hatchet jobs.”

The next question was aimed at McMillin’s campaign promise to only run for one term before retiring.

“If you receive one term and one term only, how can the public hold you accountable for your campaign promises?” Carson said.

McMillin responded that he, and the office, would have a relationship with the community, and would make records available online.

“I intend to spend 6 years changing the culture of the district attorney’s office,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to have a public information lawsuit to find out things that are public record.”

Magoun faced a question about his involvement in the contentious election contest Lipsey v. Maxwell.

“Some of the employees in the sheriff’s office took some of the legal tactics you used personally,” Carson said. “Given your history of being at odds with employees of the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office, are you the best candidate to work closely with the agency?”

This election is not a reprisal of that lawsuit, Magoun said.

“We presented our best case and we lost,” Magoun said. “I spoke with Randy Maxwell personally and told him that as an elected official I owe you the respect afforded that office.”

“It’s over and done, and I can’t resolve those issues,” he said. “It wasn’t personal — it was legal and it was professional.”

Restructuring the district attorney’s office has been a part of all three candidates campaigns, and they detailed how they plan to do that.

Burget said he would like to update the current system of keeping track of where cases are by adding new computer software, whereas now the office keeps up with where things are by putting notes on a calendar.

He also said he would have the assistant district attorneys screen cases themselves so they would be more familiar with the cases.

McMillin said he would have an assistant district attorney in charge of each parish, and Magoun said he would establish a clear chain of command.

“One of the issues I took with the DA’s office when I was there was ‘Who’s my boss?’” Magoun said. “There were five or six people telling me what to do.

The candidates all discussed what they would do to streamline the decision to prosecute a case or throw out charges.

District Court Division “A” Judge Kathy Johnson was also supposed to debate challenger John Reeves Thursday night, but Reeves was unable to make it because of a prior engagement, Carson said.