West Texas Democrat Wants to Bring Critical Thinking to Commissioners Court

An interview with Nick Harpster.

Nick Harpster, an instructor at Vista College in Lubbock, is the Democratic nominee for an open seat on the Lubbock County Commissioners Court in Precinct 2.

The Lubbock County Commissioners Court is responsible for maintaining roads, bridges, and other county infrastructure that doesn’t fall under federal or state jurisdiction.

Often overlooked in November, a Commissioners Court can have more impact on a community than the state or federal government because of its power to levy taxes and commission public works projects.

Harpster’s opponent is Republican Jason Corley, who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Congress in Texas’ 19th Congressional District in 2016.

In deeply red Lubbock County, a West Texas county that voted for Donald Trump by 38 points, Harpster and other local Democrats wanted to make sure Democrats filled the local ballot this year. However, they are running for more than just representation on the ballot.

“It’s not just a warm body on the ballot,” said Harpster. “We have lots of people that have experience behind them and qualities that will definitely be needed for a good candidate.”

Lubbock County has had some of the highest early voting turnout in Texas. Through Monday, October 29, almost 30% of registered voters had already cast their ballot.

Harpster believes an engaged electorate is favorable to his campaign but is happy to see high turnout regardless of party affiliation.

Early voting in Texas runs through Friday, November 2, and Election Day is Tuesday, November 6.

Read my Sunday, October 28 interview with Harpster below it is lightly edited for clarity.

MR: What about the current Lubbock County Commissioners Court made you want to run for the Court in 2018?

Harpster: What I have seen here in Lubbock County is there has been a problem with reaching all of the constituents. We have seen commissioners that have disappeared in between election years. Even people that have been friends of the commissioners have said that they do really well for a while and then they fade out and they don’t see them anymore. I know that’s an issue. So I wanted to step up and be that voice that these constituents need to be represented and to feel like they are represented.

MR: You have said your biggest focus is critical thinking. What do you mean by that and how would you bring an approach that favors critical thinking to the Commissioners Court?

Harpster: Yeah, critical thinking is really important. Being an educator, for over ten years now, I always push that on my students and make sure they use critical thinking. It’s something that you really need to practice. The more you do it, the more it comes to you.

Bringing that to the Commissioners Court as far as making sure that all of the avenues of an issue are looked at. Making sure that you have any statistics, you have all the background, you have all the information you need in order to properly make decisions. Part of that includes making sure that you’re reaching out to all the constituents in areas that will be affected by an issue and getting their input as well, besides just hearing from the experts on whatever issues you are deciding.

MR: You’re running as a Democrat in a traditionally red county. This is a bit of a different year in terms of Democratic energy. What kind of reception are you getting from voters?

Harpster: For the most part I am getting pretty positive results. I’m working the block walking, which typically you have doors to knock on that are more than likely Democratic in the first place. I am definitely getting a good reception from the Democrats. I am hearing a lot of “wow, there’s actually a Democrat running this year.” Because we have had so many issues with Republicans just running unopposed. That’s something we have definitely set out locally to take care of and make sure somebody is on the ballot.

But it’s not just a warm body on the ballot either. We have very good candidates. We have lots of people that have experience behind them and qualities that will definitely be needed for a good candidate. But I am also seeing Republicans, depending on the issues, willing to get rid of this partisan thing we are seeing nationally and it’s trickling down locally too. Everybody is becoming so polarized that they are just going to vote straight ticket, or they’re going to vote Republican or Democrat no matter what kind of candidates they have in front of them. But you are seeing a lot more people that are willing to look at the candidate, look at the issues, and see how that candidate will respond and how that candidate will fit their needs rather than just voting a straight party.

MR: If you make it onto the court, what’s the main day one priority for you as a Lubbock County Commissioner?

Harpster: One of the most pressing needs that I am seeing in more of my rural areas, when you look into Slaton, Roosevelt, Buffalo Springs, or Ransom Canyon, the more rural areas, they are having a lot of problems with their roads. I understand a lot of it really depends on precipitation in the area as far as grading roads. I think a big part of that also comes down to the training that we have for the people who are working on our roads. We need a lot more actual training. We need to send these people somewhere and get them properly trained so they know the correct way to grade these roads. I grew up with my dad being a county road maintainer in Nebraska for several years. So I have seen and heard from him how these things need to be done. I have talked to him about how there typically isn’t a whole lot of actual training programs. You are going to have to send them somewhere to get this done, instead of just doing on-the-job training. Especially since there’s not a whole lot of older road maintainers that have that experience that they could pass onto someone else. So they are on-the-job training, but not even really knowing where to start from. I think that would be a good priority. Make sure that we have the right people. The properly trained people to make sure that we are not only going out and working on these roads, but we are working on them to make them last a lot longer than what they would because they had the knowledge of exactly how it needs to be done.

MR: How do you think the current Commissioners Court has done addressing the issue of the roads and having competent people to work on the roads?

Harpster: I know we have had a lot of issues getting people hired. It seems like for the longest time we have always had two road maintainer positions open. I believe we have finally filled them all, but I am not sure of the qualifications of the people that have been hired, honestly. They have done a good job as far as, they used to have it split up to where each of the four precincts had their own road program, so they had to buy their own equipment and hire their own people for each precinct. They recently, within the last few years, have consolidated that so all of the precincts have this pool of equipment and people to work from. Which I believe is a very good cost saving idea. That being said, you need to have a commissioner in there that is willing to fight for your precinct. You can’t let the other precinct commissioners run you over and say “my roads are more important than yours.” You need someone there that is willing to be firm and stand up to make sure that your own precinct is getting its fair share of the work.

MR: Lubbock County has had some of the highest early voting turnout in Texas. Do you think the turnout is helpful to your campaign?

Harpster: I really think it is helpful. We have seen just ridiculous numbers here. We are seeing numbers that are even higher than during a presidential election year and easily double what we saw in 2014. So, to me, I think that is really good just to see people turn out, even if they aren’t all voting for my party. Just to see that many people willing to get involved now is just a wonderful process. I do believe that a lot of that turnout will hopefully work in my favor. I just think it’s a positive thing, overall.

MR: To all the people who will be voting on Election Day, what’s a final pitch from you as to why voters should support you on November 6?

Harpster: The biggest thing is I have seen politics become less and less about people. With my experience being an educator, and I also have a strong criminal justice background, both in education and in the work that I have done. Having that criminal justice background will bring a new perspective to the Commissioners Court. There is no one in there that really fully understands how the criminal justice process works. Since nearly 50% of our budget is dealing with the Sheriff’s Department, the county jail, the county courts, and everything like that – I think that I’ll be able to more seamlessly work with the Sheriff. We have had several conversations about the direction that things are going. We have had so much growth here in Lubbock and Lubbock County that we definitely need to make sure and stay on top of those criminal justice issues. So just overall, me being able to communicate with a very diverse group of people. And then being able to have that knowledge of the criminal justice system to understand what we need, when we need it, and exactly how things need to be processed. That will bring a very different and needed view to the commissioners court.

Interview // Local Politics / Midterms / Texas