The Tyler Loop interview: Curtis Wulf, candidate for Precinct 4 constable

After the race for Smith County Precinct 4 constable ended in no candidate receiving over 50% of the vote, the race for the Republican representative has left voters with two candidates in the upcoming run-off election on July 14th. As no Democratic candidates are running for the office, the run-off will determine the next Precinct 4 constable. 

With early voting for runoff elections underway (with a rocky start due to omission of the Precinct 4 constable race), The Tyler Loop talked with candidates to understand their platforms and plans for Precinct 4, as well as their response to the current protests against police brutality and racial injustice in policing while running for a law enforcement office. 

Here, we speak with Curtis Wulf, a retired Texas peace officer with 10 years of law enforcement experience who earned 29.67% of the vote in the initial four-way race. 

The Tyler Loop also reached out to Wulf’s opponent, Josh Joplin, who was appointed to the position of Precinct 4 constable in January 2017 and earned 42.88% of the vote earlier in this race. Joplin initially agreed to an interview with the Loop but later did not respond to calls, voicemails or messages.  

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. All photos are courtesy of Curtis Wulf.

Tell me about your platform. What issues are you focusing your campaign on? 

My main issue that I’m focusing on is obviously rebuilding the strained relationships with the other law enforcement agencies around the county, and then having better communication with the public in general. Also, make sure that the Tyler Precinct 4 gets all forces present that everybody else gets in the precinct.

When you say strained relationships, what do you mean by that?

Well, for example, the current constable has an issue working with other law enforcement agencies, working with Sheriff Larry Smith and other constables and other police departments. And I know right now it’s well known that he’s not even allowed in the Smith County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Operation Center building. So, I’m just trying to make sure that we can all work as a team because there’s assets that other departments and agencies have that can really be utilized in Precinct 4 if we’re just able to work together. 

What would you say is the most important issue in your district, and how would you plan to address that issue?

I think my most important issue is a lot of the people on the outskirts of the county feel like they don’t get to see the Constables’ Office or law enforcement present as much as they would like. So, I think my main issue/ focus would be, other than repairing the strained relationships with other agencies, would be making sure that we’re actively patrolling all the areas, we’re seen throughout the community, seen on the back roads, the county roads, where they just don’t really get to see the law enforcement patrolling, and make sure that there’s community involvement with the whole Constable’s Office throughout the entire community. Precinct 4 is a really big area, so there’s a lot of separate, different communities inside the precinct. So, instead of just focusing on one or two, make sure that we allow enough time to focus on all of them.

What are the greatest challenges the Smith County Precinct 4 Constable faces?

Right now, like I said, I mentioned that there are so many different communities in the precinct. Right now, there’s a lot of division between the different communities. So, I think the biggest challenge would be bringing unity with all the community together because my platform has been — look, everybody’s a team here. We’re doing it for the better of the community, and we’re all just one big community, and we need to help each other out. So, I think the biggest challenge is to kind of get that out to everybody and let them know that we’re going to be working on unity here.

Given the constable’s law enforcement duties and your background as a police officer, what is your response to the protests against police brutality that have been happening in the past few weeks? How will this affect your election and your prospective term?

So, I’m all for peaceful protesting. If something needs to come to light and draw attention to it, I’m definitely for that. When you’re a police officer, you have to have a certain type of temperament where you’re able to deal with, you know, unruly persons or be able to de-escalate situations and not let them get carried out of hand. So, again, part of my platform is, you know, we don’t need the division that we have right now. We have division among different communities. We have division between the Constable’s Office and other agencies, and we just can’t have that. We have to all be a team no matter who we are or where we live or anything.

So, how do you see the current climate affecting your prospective term?

Smith County has a different atmosphere than, you know, much of the rest of the nation has. So, I don’t know if it will really affect this election or not, to be honest with you. If it does, I don’t think it will have a very big impact.

How might you respond to your constituents who, like protesters around the nation and world, are calling for fewer dollars and less manpower to be given to law enforcement?

Well, I definitely think that’s not the answer. I understand that there’s some things that need to be addressed, but getting rid of law enforcement, I think, is the very last thing that we need to do. We live in a world of law and order, and to have that, you gotta have police out there to protect and serve. There is a bad apple every now and then, but you can’t just group everybody together just because somebody, one person, made a mistake.

I stand strong with having law enforcement officers. We can’t have a world without law enforcement. There has to be a better solution than getting rid of the police. If you’re going to defund the police departments and not have as many law enforcement officers out there, you’re just going to have chaos. And that’s just not what we can have.

Talk to me about voter turnout. The initial race brought out fewer than 3,000 voters. How has the current pandemic affected your campaign? How is your campaign addressing challenges to voting?

So, obviously we’re trying to reach voters through different means. During the primary, we did a lot of door knocking and face-to-face, a lot of meet and greets. Now, we’ve had to turn to radio commercials, internet ads, things like that. When we do meet people, we’re very respectful and make sure that we’re standing back within six feet. And if they don’t want to talk, we obviously don’t push the issue. If somebody reaches out to us, then we definitely make it a point to go out there and talk to them. We speak with a lot of people over the phone, stuff like that. So, as far as voter turnout, I could not tell you if I’m expecting it to be as high or low in the runoff.

You have been endorsed by Grassroots America — We The People and The East Texas Regional Fraternal Order of Police. What is your relationship to these groups and what do their endorsements say about you?

Sheriff Larry Smith has endorsed me. Constable Josh Black has endorsed me. Constable Jeff McClenny has endorsed me. The former two candidates that were in the race, John Smith and Charles Garrett, they’ve both endorsed me. And then, this conservative Republican law, order and justice group has endorsed me as well.

My relationships with Grassroots and the FOP — obviously I’ve known them, and I think Grassroots is known for their vetting process. When they’ve met a candidate, they dig through their character traits and their background and make sure that they’re the very best possible candidate before they endorse them. So, I’m very thankful for all of my endorsements, but I do know that a lot of these do put in the time to actually vet their candidates.

And what about the Fraternal Order of the Police? Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Yeah, so it’s made up of just a group of law enforcement officers that are here in Smith County, and they call us in for an interview, and I went in for an interview, and shortly after that they returned my phone call said that they were happy and proud to endorse and support me.

So, what would you say that these endorsements say about you and your character?

Well, it just says that I have the right maturity level and mentality to be able to work in law enforcement and to make the positive changes needed that are needed in this precinct. All these groups want is for somebody that’s able to work with everybody else and not work against them. And Sheriff Larry Smith does not get involved in many campaigns. I think it really says a lot when he stepped out and fully endorsed me.

On your website, you have a quote that states you have the experience and character to “make a great constable and rebuild the relationship with the Sheriff’s Office,” and you emphasize that you will “work effectively with other law enforcement agencies.” Why the emphasis on these relationships in particular? 

I mean, those are just a few of the ones that don’t have great working relationships with the constable now. I’ve already reached out to them and let them know what my vision was for the future of the Constable’s Office — heard their advice. And I think we’re all on the same page and looking to start going from day one.

What would you say that vision is? Is it just to have those working relationships? Are there any other things that come to mind when you think about your vision for the Constable’s Office?

Well, I think being proactive, actively patrolling the area, being seen and just letting the community know that we’re here for you if you need us — and not just some of the community, but every single person in the community. Whether they’re a supporter of yours or not, let them know that you’re their constable. If you need us, we will be here for you, just like we will be there for anybody else.

You say you want to take a “proactive approach to law enforcement” and provide “equal coverage for everyone.” What do you mean by this, and how do you plan to accomplish these tasks? 

What I mean by it is some of them, some of the outlying communities like the Red Springs, Starrville, Winona, Gladewater areas, they don’t express their concerns. They don’t get to see the Constable’s Office ever. And I think a simple fix is that we have the constable, their deputies, to patrol those areas, along with all the other areas in the precinct.

Your website also includes a section where you talk about “Christian and family values.” Could you explain how those values are reflected in your work as an investigator and as a prospective constable?

Once you have children or are involved in family life, you kind of really get a different perspective on the world in general. So, I have a family, and I know how much I care about my family. I know how much I care about the community that they grow up in. And I know that a lot of the people in this community feel the same way. So, family’s real big for me. I’m a real big family person. You know, as a parent, you just want the very best for your child. With that being said, wanting the best for your child, I want them to be in the best community possible. 

What are some of the ways that you’re making people care that set you apart from your opponent?

I think just explaining to them what I want to accomplish, what my goals are and getting out and meeting them and just being sincere and being honest with them. I think another factor they’re looking for is, they just want someone reliable in office.

If you had to pick one thing for people to know about you, what would that one thing be?

I think more than anything, it’s just I’m dedicated to the whole community.

Is there anything that I haven’t asked that you would like to add that you would want readers to know about you or your campaign or anything like that?

Just that I’m ready to make some positive changes.

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Yasmeen Khalifa, a Loop 2019 summer intern, is a Mass Communication and English student at the University of Texas at Tyler. She is the managing and lifestyle editor of The Patriot, a student-run newspaper investigating issues on- and off-campus, exploring the changing East Texas culture, and giving students a voice. Khalifa recently co-founded a new music series in The Patriot titled “Music in the Pines: Exploring Eclectic East Texas.” The series highlights local musicians, venues, concerts and other events as the music scene in East Texas evolves and thrives. Yasmeen also works as a lab technician in the Mass Communication department. Khalifa is the founding president of the Keep Tyler Beautiful Youth Advisory Committee, a group of students working together to encourage beautification, litter reduction and recycling in Tyler.