Candidates running for state representative of District 59 – incumbent J.D. Sheffield and challengers Shelby Slawson and Cody Johnson – exchanged jabs during Monday’s forum at Bond Auditorium hosted by the Erath County Republican Party.

Candidates were asked about their stance on abortion.

“I’m 51 years old,” Johnson said. “I was born in 1968. My biological mother was 16 so I can promise you back then I was one of three thoughts: abort, keep or put up for adoption. Back then being pregnant at 16 wasn’t a good thing so I'm lucky to be here. I will forever fight for unborn life because conception is when life begins to me.”

Sheffield said there are three pro-life groups in Texas and he is endorsed by two of them: Texas Alliance for Life and Texas Life Pact.

Sheffield also said he was a joint author of Gov. Greg Abbott’s pro-life bill.

“I believe that life begins at conception and a heartbeat is a life created by our God. Texas should be leading on the issue of pro-life, not sitting in the backseat,” Slawson said. “I take particular issue with representation that has not stood up for us in that regard. As a mom watching a video of our state rep standing on the floor of our Texas house, talking about how in his medical expertise, how some babies with defects must be dealt with...Hearing those words is chilling and appalling.”

Sheffield also touted his endorsement by Gov. Greg Abbott.  

“We’re proud that he endorsed us in this race. He didn’t endorse every Republican, but he did endorse us,” Sheffield said.

But Slawson said that claim is not entirely true.

 “What has happened this session is that Governor Abbott has issued a blanket endorsement to 100 percent of Republican incumbents running for re-election, that includes even the openly pro-choice Republican Sara Davis out of Houston that two sessions ago, he ran against unsuccessfully, calling her a fake Republican,” Slawson said. “There’s been a change in policy this last session that our incumbent is benefiting from, but there hasn’t been a change in politics.”

CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING QUESTIONS

Shortly after Sheffield, Slawson and Johnson began fielding questions on stage, Johnson’s campaign manager Colton Buckley began asking questions of his own.

“They changed the script when it came to the state rep race,” Buckley told the E-T. “There were softball questions thrown to (Slawson) and the ones to (Sheffield) and (Johnson) were unfair.”

Buckley said he sent a text message during the forum to Carla Trussell, who helped plan the event and formulate the questions.

In the exchange, Trussell told Buckley that Senator Pat Fallon arrived at the forum with a list of his own questions, which he gave to Parks just before the forum started.

“I had questions from two different sources and I used the best ones from both in the time that we had,” Parks said.

When asked if he thought the questions favored Slawson, Parks said “absolutely not.”

“The video is on the Erath County Republican Party’s Facebook page,” Parks said. “Watch it carefully. Each of the candidates got an easy question and all three of them got a hard one.

“It was dang fair.”

But “fair” isn’t how Buckley describes what happened Monday and has contacted the Texas Republican County Chairman’s Association.

“The chairman assured me that he would look into this,” Buckley said.

Trussell said the fallout has left her frustrated.  

“We told the candidates that we would not take questions from the audience and I feel like taking questions from Senator Fallon was like taking questions from the audience,” Trussell said. “We also told them they would all get the same questions, but that’s not what happened.”

After learning about the uproar, Fallon contacted the E-T Tuesday to say he was “shocked and disappointed.”  

“The questions were designed to be thought-provoking and imminently fair,” he said. “All three candidates got hard-hitting tough questions about four issues important to many voters in rural Texas – water, eminent domain, the second amendment and pro-life.”

Fallon said he has met privately with both Johnson and Slawson and had no plans to publicly endorse either candidate, but that could change. 

“I understand that candidates running for office can be thin-skinned,” Fallon said. “But if they think the Democrats in Austin are going to coddle them during House debates and not go for the jugular, they are sorely mistaken. (The forum) was child’s play in comparison.”

But Johnson maintains he was treated unfairly.

“The whole night was strange and not at all what we were expecting,” Johnson said. “I am 100 percent certain that the questions from Fallon were geared to benefit Slawson. The first question I got was made to make me look dumb and unqualified.”

Slawson was contacted by the E-T, but declined to comment.