Approximately 35 people listened to comments from four local candidates in next week's Anderson County Democratic Primary runoff election during a political forum Monday night at the Ben E. Keith Hospitality Room.

Incumbent Carey G. McKinney and challenger Linda Bostick Ray, candidates for Anderson County judge, and Rodney A. Howard Sr. and Rashad Q. Mims I, candidates for Anderson County precinct 2 commissioner, attended the hour-long forum sponsored by KYYK 98.3 FM.

Gary Richards, news director for KYYK, served as the forum's moderator.

After making opening statements, the candidates took turns answering questions before concluding the forum with closing remarks.

McKinney, who received 74 more votes than Ray in last month's primary, touted his 20 years of county government experience, including seven-plus years as county judge.

During his tenure, McKinney said the county has been allotted $50 million in federal funds for highway widening projects and more than $2 million in state transportation funds for county bridge projects.

McKinney also seemed to address those who have perhaps labeled him as insensitive to open government, saying he has organized town hall meetings relating to several major county projects.

"We're trying to get the information out," said McKinney, adding such meetings have typically been lightly attended. "We did public hearings."

McKinney also said he has displayed each line item in the proposed yearly budget for public inspection during commissioner court meetings, utilizing a power point presentation.

"That's more open government than there ever has been," McKinney said.

Like her opponent, Ray boasts approximately two decades of service in county government, having first being elected Anderson County precinct 1 justice of the peace in 1986.

If elected county judge, Ray vowed to lend an ear to the public's input.

"I have a willingness to listen to the taxpayer," Ray said. "...Conflict resolution and bringing peace to adversarial situations are my stock and trade. Simply stated, I will lead by example."

In closing, Ray acknowledged that many aspiring politicians seek office because they need a job or eventually want to receive a retirement check.

"I'm seeking the office of Anderson County judge to make the lives of Anderson County residents better," Ray said.

In last month's Democratic Primary, Mims, a 28-year-old political newcomer, got 13 more votes than Howard, the former two-term precinct 2 commissioner, in a tight three-way race.

Mims told the audience he has been politically active in local campaigns since age 14 and stressed his belief that more dollars are needed for precinct 2, saying, "Anderson County needs to change."

If elected, Mims promised "periodic town hall meetings.

"The voices of my constituents will be heard," Mims said.

Howard, who served on the Anderson County commissioners' court from 1991-94 and 1999-2002, pointed to his experience in the position; almost 45 years business experience; and more than 250 hours in county government continuing education as reasons for voters to support his candidacy.

"I am the proven representative for all the people," Howard said.

The former commissioner also refuted claims that he had returned monies to the county budgeted for precinct 2 roads during his two terms.

Howard said "documentation will show that (budget) amendments were made" and the "monies were rolled over" and utilized the following year.

Early voting continues from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day through Friday at the Anderson County Courthouse Annex.

Runoff election day is Tuesday, April 11, with polls set to be open throughout the state from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The McKinney-Ray winner will face Republican Susan Perryman Evans in the Nov. 7 general election, while the Mims-Howard victor meets Republican Larry Coker on the same day.

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Paul Stone may be contacted via e-mail at pstone@palestineherald.com

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