Dave Rogers

For The Record

Kenneth Luce, a former candidate for Orange County Judge, has endorsed challenger Dean Crooks over incumbent Judge Stephen Brint Carlton in the March 6 Republican primary.

Luce has been busy getting out the word, because his withdrawal came too late to keep his name off the ballot.

“I’m strongly encouraging all my supporters: Please don’t cast a vote for me,” Luce said. “Cast a vote for Dean Crooks.

“That way, there’s not a run-off and we’ll have a new judge.”

Both the Sabine Area Labor Council and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association have endorsed Crooks.

But no group has done as much for an Orange County candidate as the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 450, which contributed $2,500 to the campaign of Barry Burton, who is seeking re-election as Commissioner of Precinct 2.

“We’re not going to endorse anybody; what we really say is ‘we support’ a candidate,” explained Brandon Willis, the local’s political director.

“We have not formally supported either candidate for county judge. We have formally supported Barry Burton and Robert Viator [candidate for Precinct 4 Commissioner].”

Willis said his union represents heavy equipment operators in plants and noted “we do have a disproportionately high amount of members in Orange County.”

Burton is no stranger to Local 450.

“We had a previous relationship with Commissioner Burton,” Willis said. “He’s always been available to us about making sure local crane companies have preference over out of town [companies], so we can keep our guys working.

“He understands the importance of putting local people to work on these projects.”

On Jan. 13, The Sabine Area Labor Council, headquartered in Port Arthur, endorsed primary candidates for six counties, including Orange.

It endorsed Crooks for county judge. For the other contested Republican primary races, it endorsed Christy Khoury for county treasurer and Robert Viator for Commissioner Precinct 4. Democrat Deborah Mitchell won its endorsement for Commissioner Precinct 2 and Louis Ackerman won the endorsement for Democratic Party county chairman.

While the Labor Council also endorsed all the Republicans running unopposed in the primary, the deputies association limited itself to races that will have opposition either in the primary or general election.

The deputies endorsed Crooks for judge, Khoury for treasurer, Theresa Beauchamp for Commissioner Precinct 2, Viator for Commissioner Precinct 4 and Hershel Stagner for Justice of the Peace Precinct 1.

The deputies battled in 2017 with Commissioners’ Court over certificate pay and a new work contract, disputes that were ultimately resolved. The deputies did not endorse any of the three incumbents from the court seeking re-election.

“To be 100 percent, everyone was invited to come speak to our association,” said Charles Williams, OCSOEA president. “None of the incumbents chose to come ask for our endorsement.”

Luce, a former deputy emergency management coordinator for Orange County, said he has visited with Crooks.

“We sat down and had a long talk and our ideology is basically the same in what we want for Orange County,” Luce said.

He reiterated that it was financial reasons that caused him to withdraw.

“I just did not have the funding,” he said. “Could I have actually had a shot at this? I think I could.”