With Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley leaving office after more than a decade, two Democrats are seeking to lead the Commissioners Court into a new era. Five Republican candidates are also vying for the open seat.
This will be the first county judge election since 2007 where no incumbent is on the ballot. Whitley, a Republican, ran unopposed in the 2010, 2014 and 2018 primaries.
Early voting in the primary elections starts on Monday, Feb. 14. Election Day is Tuesday, March 1. To find more information about polling places and voting by mail, visit Tarrant County’s elections website.
Once elected to a four-year term, the county judge serves as Tarrant County’s chief elected officer, working with county commissioners on issues like property tax rates, transportation, public health, higher education and the maintenance of government facilities. Despite the name, the position does not involve judicial duties.
Marvin Sutton of Arlington and Deborah Peoples of Fort Worth previously ran for mayor in their respective cities before seeking the county’s top job, which pays a salary of more than $198,000.
The Fort Worth Report interviewed the candidates to learn more about their priorities if they win the Democratic primary in March and are elected as county judge in November.
From his seven-plus years in the U.S. Air Force to his decades of involvement in local Democratic politics, Marvin Sutton, 59, says he has dedicated his life to community service.
Alongside a 30-year career in air traffic control services and most recently as an accountant, Sutton spent several years as a precinct chair, election judge and Democratic delegate representing Tarrant County. He served a two-year term on Arlington City Council before running for mayor last summer and finishing third behind eventual winner Jim Ross.
Now, Sutton wants to serve on the county level and rebuild relationships with communities who have become skeptical of their government, including working class families, seniors and veterans.
“I want to bring people back to the table,” Sutton said. “I want people to feel like you can trust your government just like you can trust your best friend.”
As county judge, Sutton said he would lower property taxes, work with cities to stimulate economic growth, and improve the county’s response to COVID-19 with more streamlined testing, contact tracing and vaccination policies.
While Peoples may have the more recognizable name as former county Democratic Party chair, Sutton said he is up for the challenge of convincing voters to support a candidate with experience in aviation, accounting and politics.
“The name of the game is getting the most folks to the polls to vote for you. That determines the outcome – not the name, not the money,” Sutton said. “Voters will get someone from day one that’s capable of operating that office at the highest level of competency, efficiency and transparency.”
After two runs for Fort Worth mayor that ended in defeat, Deborah Peoples, 69, says she’s ready for her next chapter as Tarrant County judge.
“I believe I can bring something to the people of Tarrant County, and it’s not a ‘conservative-conservative’ agenda. It’s not a ‘liberal-liberal’ agenda,” Peoples said. “It’s an agenda focused on making their lives better.”
Before entering politics, Peoples spent three decades at AT&T, where she served as a vice president overseeing revenue growth in several states. After retiring, she was elected to lead the Tarrant County Democratic Party in 2013, becoming the first Black woman to serve as chair.
In 2019, Peoples lost her first bid for mayor to Betsy Price, the Republican incumbent who is also seeking to succeed Whitley as county judge. Peoples led another mayoral campaign last year, losing in a June runoff to current Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker.
While the mayor’s job offers a higher profile, the county judge can make headway on crucial issues like increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates, improving the quality of care at John Peter Smith Hospital and implementing policies that attract corporations to Tarrant County, Peoples said. She also wants to increase oversight of the county jail, where 17 inmate deaths were reported in 2020.
The Commissioners Court is losing decades of experience with Whitley’s exit, creating a need for a candidate who can lead from day one, Peoples said.
“I am this unique blend of corporate and community,” she said. “What I bring is not only my wealth of experience, but my ability to problem solve and my commitment to the citizens.”
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.