Kyle Stephens has always known he’d like to run for county judge. It just needed to be at the right time.
Stephens, a Decatur resident, announced this week that he will run as a Republican candidate for Wise County judge in next March’s primary.
He previously served as Precinct 1 county commissioner from 1993-1996 and again from 2001-2004. He resisted the temptation to run for the office a third time.
“After I lost that race (in 2004), people wanted me to run again for commissioner, but I told them, ‘Never again. The next time you see my name on the ballot it will be for county judge,’” he said.
But he didn’t want to run against his friend, County Judge Bill McElhaney.
“Out of respect for him, I wouldn’t run against him,” Stephens said.
After McElhaney’s death on Oct. 14, Stephens said he began receiving phone calls from people who knew of his ambitions, and they encouraged him to run.
The time was right, he said.
“When I look back at my life, I have always served the citizens on a local, county and state level,” Stephens wrote in a press release. “I want to continue giving back to the people of Wise County.”
Except for a few years when he was in college at Texas Tech University in Lubbock and working in Kilgore for a few years, Stephens has spent his entire life in Wise County. He was inspired to enter public service by his father, who spent 12 years as a member of the Decatur school board.
“Watching him do that, and give back to the people who gave to him, that’s what I wanted to do was serve,” he said. “When I came back to Decatur in 1986, I joined the fire department, and I’ve been there ever since. That was serving the people and helping, and it’s something I enjoy doing.”
As with his current run for office, Stephens said many people encouraged him to run for county commissioner in 1992. He said he felt the taxpayers’ money wasn’t being spent efficiently, and he aimed to change that.
When he was elected, he said he began building up his precinct’s budget and that included building up the funds to do a quality job on projects such as roads. But in emphasizing quality, quantity suffered – and that can hurt around election time.
“Both times I took office, the commissioner the prior term had spent all their money, and so I had little to work with and had to build it up,” he said. “By the time I had it built up, well, it’s time for election again, and people weren’t happy because some things weren’t getting done.”
But Stephens said he’s proud of the work he did as commissioner and can point to roads built during his time in office that are still in good condition.
“You can throw something down to make it look good, but it won’t last,” he said.
That time provided him with valuable experience both working on and sticking to a budget, giving him management experience, he said, to go along with his experience as a facilities supervisor for TXI and as owner of his current business, North Texas Extinguisher Service.
As a commissioner, he worked with department heads in his precinct on their budget requests to find items that could be eliminated to make it fit into the overall county budget.
Stephens said the county is currently in good shape with its budget, thanks in large part to McElhaney’s leadership.
“I think McElhaney did an excellent job of setting the budget and keeping it workable for the taxpayers,” he said.
The biggest issues he sees for the county right now are growth and water.
“I think growth is always going to be an issue,” he said. “With growth you’ve got infrastructure and services you are going to have to keep providing. How are we going to pay for it?”
Stephens said it is important to attract businesses to the county to lessen the tax burden on citizens.
Another growth-related issue is the need for a centralized county government building. Stephens said it is important to get those buildings that currently house county offices in various locations back on the tax rolls.
Protecting water resources, both for current and future residents, is also a high priority for the county, he said.
In addition to his county service, Stephens has also served as a board member of the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association, including two years as president. He said the association is the largest fire organization in the nation and ninth-largest association of any kind in the state of Texas. As a board member, he also gained experience working on the association’s budget and purchase of a new office.
Stephens was born in Fort Worth to the late Coy and Virginia Stephens. He is married to Debbie and has two children, Kyle Jr. and wife, Heather, and Misty Loffler; two stepchildren, Rachel Wasson and Ranie Woodruff; and four grandchildren, Maven, Chloe, Zane and Kade.
He graduated from Texas Tech with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture science in 1979, is a member of the Church of Christ and a 27-year member of the Decatur Fire Department. He has previously served as an officer on the Decatur Economic Development Corp. board and was appointed to a two-year term on a North Central Texas Council of Government grant committee by Governor Rick Perry.
In Stephens’ announcement, Wise County Republican Chairman Allen Williamson said, “I’ve known Kyle for over a decade. He is a great guy, and I am pleased that he has indicated he intends to run in the primary for county judge.”
If elected as county judge, Stephens said he would turn over his business to his son, who is working for him, so that he could be a full-time judge.
So far, only one other candidate, J.D. Clark of Chico, has announced his intention to run for county judge. He also intends to run in the Republican primary.