Former Ranger Tracy Murphree Wins in the Vicious GOP Primary for Denton Sheriff

Tracy Murphree stood in front of his campaign signs, speaking to a room full of supporters, some wearing red T-shirts with the words “Team Murphree” on the front and “Justice is coming 2016” on the back. The road to earning the Republican nomination for Denton County sheriff has been long and weary for the former Texas Ranger, who prepared to give his acceptance speech at his election party inside Fuzzy’s Taco Shop in Denton.

It’s unclear where his opponent, incumbent Sheriff William B. Travis, was holding his election party on this Tuesday evening. Someone mentioned the local Waffle House because most of Travis’ political supporters abandoned his campaign, removing their endorsements when an Observer investigation into his time as a DEA agent revealed an affair with a high school-aged girl in the late '90s, according to court documents.

“This job is all about integrity,”  Murphree tells his supporters, his white cowboy hat pulled low, blue western shirt starched like his jeans. “It’s all about telling the truth.”

Integrity seemed to be on voters' minds in Denton. Murphree beat Travis by 10,000 votes or so, and Denton County Commissioner Hugh Coleman somehow retained his seat against his challenger, Bret Larson, a Republican candidate from Frisco who appeared to be funded by developers. In southern Dallas, however, Democrats voted overwhelmingly to keep District 3 county Commissioner John Wiley Price, who's under federal indictment on a variety of corruption and tax charges. He easily defeated former Dallas City Council member Dwaine Caraway in the Democratic primary, effectively letting Price keep the seat he's held for 30 years in the solidly Democratic district — at least until the outcome of his criminal case.

Murphree and Travis never came to near blows as Price and Caraway did on a gospel radio show a couple of weeks ago. He didn’t drop an F-bomb or accuse his opponent of sleeping with his wife, either. (Caraway did.) Unlike his opponent’s attack fliers, Murphree sent ones that highlighted the reasons he deserved to be sheriff, including his more than 25 years working in law enforcement and the experience he gained working as a state trooper, a narcotics agent and a Texas Ranger..

Integrity and transparency were also two key themes of Murphree’s campaign, ideals he stressed at the various Republican forums across the county. He offered up his law enforcement record, admitting to one of his mistakes, when he waited a couple of days to tell his supervisor about accidentally firing his shotgun in his patrol car when he was a young state trooper.

Travis promised Republican voters that he would release his DEA records, but didn't.

“No man in the wrong can stand up against a man who’s in the right,” Murphree told his supporters Tuesday night. 

Travis still retained a few of his endorsements from politicians in Copper Canyon and Cross Roads, and many Republican voters had already voted during early voting before our story was published a week before the March 1 primary. More than 32,000 people voted for Travis in Denton County, according to the elections website.

Murphree’s supporters hovered around a laptop, watching the Denton County elections website, waiting for some word about early voting because whoever led in the polls would most likely win the nomination, they said.

Shortly after 7 p.m., Murphree learned that he was leading with 53 percent of the vote to Travis’ 42 percent, and he kept that lead for the remainder of the night as votes slowly poured in from the 158 precincts. 
Travis will remain in office until his term ends at the end of the year unless county officials remove him from office or he resigns of his own accord. Murphree still needs to defeat his Libertarian opponent Randy Butler in the November elections before he can fulfill his promise to his supporters in the sheriff’s office and across the county.

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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.

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