Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell is seeking his second term as a Republican against Democratic challenger Blane Conklin. Gravell won his first term in 2018 after beating Conklin and another opponent as an independent.
The 58-year-old county judge previously served a term as a Justice of the Peace for Precinct 3 and also spent 22 years as a youth pastor. He won a Republican primary in March against Ryan Gallagher by 5,976 votes. In 2018, Gravell beat Conklin, as a Democrat, by 12,838 votes, and Bill Kelberlau, as an independent, by 96,132 votes.
Gravell holds a bachelor’s degree in theology from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Conklin, 51, is a senior business analyst at the University of Texas. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Bible, Theology, and Church History from Central Bible College of Missouri and a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary of Missouri. He also holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Semitics from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He faced no opposition in the March primary.
Early voting begins October 24 and ends November 4.
Both candidates answered a series of questions about their campaigns.
Q. What are you hearing from voters about the most important issues facing the county?
Conklin: By far, the biggest problem mentioned by voters is our rapid growth and development. While our current county leadership has been focused on inviting and encouraging this development, the question that needs to be addressed is whether we are ready for it. The main tasks of the county government are to provide public safety services and infrastructure. Our public safety has been underfunded. Two of the pressing infrastructure needs that have been overlooked by the county are broadband and water.
Gravel: The biggest challenge we face is inflation and its impact on our community. Our residents are struggling to make ends meet. When the cost of eggs went from $0.82 to $2.82 per dozen and gas prices/food prices/rent/utilities etc. have all seen large increases, this is having a profound impact on our community. Washington, DC leaders are out of touch in Williamson County, Texas. The solution is two-fold; create better-paying, quality jobs locally and replace leadership in Washington.
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Q. What are your goals if elected?
Conklin: I want to invest in mental and behavioral health resources in a way that truly reflects its priority for us as a growing county. I want to fully fund our first responders every budget cycle, not play election year games to try to catch up. I believe we need to explore the possibility of a county-wide regional water authority that would provide a unified approach to the future water needs of everyone in Williamson County. I support bipartisan legislation to study groundwater conditions in Williamson County and surrounding counties.
Gravel: I want Williamson County to remain the best place to live, work and raise a family. I will provide law enforcement with the resources and training they need to keep Williamson County families safe. I cut property taxes and led the charge to increase the homestead exemption for the elderly, disabled, and veterans in Williamson County. I led the charge to bring new jobs and economic opportunity to Williamson County.
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Q. Are you in favor of moving the Confederate statue that stands on the county courthouse grounds?
Conklin: A county courthouse, although no longer used for court proceedings, should itself be a public symbol of the administration of equal justice for all. The need and desire to honor one’s ancestors and their lives is natural and understandable. Confederate veterans may be honored at an appropriate location. I don’t believe the county courthouse should be that place.
Gravel: As a county judge and chief executive of Williamson County, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on this matter due to ongoing litigation.
Q. What makes you the best candidate for the job?
Conklin: I am not a professional politician. I’m just a neighbor and citizen who believes county government should work for all of us, not just the well-connected. I am not in the pockets of special interests. I will not accept political contributions from companies that do business with the county, and I will not use my office for personal enrichment or that of my family and friends. I will focus on the essential and central functions of county government. I have the support of voters who want less drama and more action from their county government.
Gravel: Experience matters. As a county judge, I am the chief of emergency management. Over the past four years, we have seen much suffering and loss. From loss of life to loss of property. The pain and suffering have been great. I still have with me a list of names of some 951 people who died during COVID. We can never forget their names and the suffering that occurred in our community. If re-elected, I will use every tool at my disposal to protect life and property.