Special from DA Alan Nash
ERATH COUNTY (October 16, 2017) – Over the weekend, I read with consternation Erath County news media reports relating to public threats by Ranger College supporters to seek criminal prosecution of Erath County citizens who oppose Ranger College taxation/annexation.
Quotes attributed to supporters of the Ranger tax increase suggest that the District Attorney’s Office of this county had been contacted to investigate whether letters from landlords to tenants regarding the financial effects of the potential 43-cent property tax constituted violations of the Texas Penal Code sections relating to bribery and coercion.
Despite this claim, to date, I have not been contacted by anyone with Ranger College or its political action committee. I find it quite disconcerting to read in public forums threats relating to the awesome power of felony criminal prosecution. Given that the Ranger surrogates published the threats in multiple Erath County newspaper columns without having contacted the local District Attorney, these threats appear to be calculated to suppress, deter, and punish opposing political expression and political activity. It is particularly alarming that those very public warnings about felony prosecution are made by surrogates for a government entity (such as Ranger College) against its political opposition.
The District Attorney for this county does not countenance public threats to prosecute citizens for political expression and political activities. We do all our work with discretion and without public pronouncements unless and until we have sufficient evidence to approve a sworn warrant application, an indictment, and then present a case in a public courtroom. It is not the role of the District Attorney’s Office to interject speculation about criminal complaints or investigations into a political campaign.
However, I will not allow it to go unanswered when the District Attorney’s Office is invoked in an overtly public manner in order to chill political speech or political activity using the specter of a criminal investigation, particularly when none has been initiated and none has been requested. If the Ranger tax supporters do what they intimated they’d already done and inquire of my office, we will, with even-handed attention, review the referenced Penal Code statutes. At that time, we will, quietly and without public fanfare, determine how the law applies, if at all, to conduct of Ranger College officials in promising tuition reductions and direct financial benefits to targeted classes of voters, as well as predictions of economic consequences of a tax increase voiced by the opposition.
In the meantime, advocates for Ranger property taxation should leave their desire to use the District Attorney’s Office to jail the political opposition out of the public discourse.