|McALLEN, November 11 - Later on, some of them will nosedive to ignominious defeat but on the first day of filing for elected office, candidates and their campaign staff are full of optimism.
Such was the case on Saturday morning at Koko’s Uptown Cafe in north McAllen. The restaurant was packed with politicos as Hidalgo County Democratic Party kicked off the opening day for filing for the March 4 primaries. Dozens of candidates showed up with family members and campaign staff to sign the necessary paperwork to be on the ballot and pay their filing fees.
(Editor’s Note: A list of those who filed Saturday can be found at the end of this story)
“This is when you find out who is really serious about running. It is exciting,” said former La Joya Mayor and Hidalgo County Clerk, Billy Leo. Democratic activists were pleased to see Leo at Koko’s because he has been recovering from a stroke that forced him to close his general store in La Joya. He said he is thinking of reopening the store so he will have a place to catch up on all the political chisme during a hot election cycle.
Leo predicts the race between longtime Hidalgo County DA Rene Guerra and his challenger, Ricardo Rodriguez, a former state district judge, would be the hottest race locally in 2014. Rodriguez came into Koko’s with his campaign team to file on Saturday. “Rene is not used to working a campaign. This guy is (Rodriguez) is younger and hungrier. Rene will have to work,” Leo predicted.
For his part, Rodriguez said he would run a positive campaign based upon his record as an attorney and state district judge. “I am going to stick to my game plan. I am going to run a positive, hard, campaign,” he said. Rodriguez discounted speculation that the race against Guerra would turn ugly. “This campaign is not about any ill-will towards Mr. Guerra. This is not about me disliking Mr. Guerra. All I am giving the voters is an option, a choice. I will run on my merits, I do not need to bash Mr. Guerra. The people can see what Mr. Guerra has done the last 34 years. I want to set a new precedence. I want to turn a new page,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez added that voters know what they will be getting if he is elected district attorney. “I will continue to be the same person I was on the bench, I will not change. I will protect our society, our community; our victims. I will make sure that a person’s constitutional rights are afforded equally and fairly. I will give the voters of Hidalgo County an opportunity, an option for change.”
Of the statewide races, Billy Leo said he is particularly interested to see how the likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Wendy Davis, does. “It would be something of an upset to have a woman running Texas. It is possible, though, because, for the first time, I see a real division in the Republican Party. The Tea Party extremists want to run the party and now there is pushback. That helps the Democrats. But, Wendy does not have a lot of experience. I am hopeful. I would like to see this year bei the Year of the Democrats.”
Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia was sitting with Leo at Koko’s, watching a steady stream of candidates and campaign staffs come in. “Billy is Mr. Democrat, it is great that he is here,” Garcia said.
Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair Kelly Rivera Salazar presided over the filing formalities on Saturday. However, she also announced she would not be seeking a second term in office.
“I have had a lot of success but I have a four month-old baby and she demands my focus right now. It would not be fair to try to maintain this office and be a good Mom at the same time,” Rivera Salazar, an attorney, said. “But, I will still participate in the Democratic Party.”
Asked what the state the Hidalgo County Democratic Party is in right now, Rivera Salazar said: “I think it is strong. We have a lot of faithful supporters. My focus has been to build up the structure, build up a team of volunteers who really care about our projects. We have got a very strong team and I am sure it will continue into the next term.”
Rivera Salazar said that while Saturday was an exciting day for the candidates she hopes it will turn into an exciting election cycle for her party. “I am very hopeful. We are thrilled to have Wendy Davis at the top of the ticket, running for governor. She is exceptionally bright. She is a woman who made herself. Nothing was handed to her and that mirrors the culture we have in the Rio Grande Valley. We all work very hard. We strive hard. She mirrors much of what we have in the Rio Grande Valley.”
Rivera Salazar’s trusted treasurer these past two years has been Kenna Sue Giffin, an educator at South Texas College who used to be secretary of Denton County Democratic Party. Giffin filed Saturday for Hidalgo County Democratic Party chair. “I want to build on what we have been doing here. Kelly has been a tremendous leader and I want to build on that. I want to help our Get Out the Vote. I think we have a good solid base on which to grow.”
Asked about the criticism that the local party does not have enough house meetings where party members can formulate policy, Giffin said: “We do not have a recent tradition of monthly meetings or a lot of events. We have been working on that and the response has been very positive. We need to do more education and a lot more motivation. I plan to support our candidates and the elected officials from our party.”
The Guardian conducted brief interviews with some of the candidates as they left Koko’s. Hidalgo County Commissioner for Precinct 2, Joseph Palacios, said he loves campaigning. “I believe in the democratic process. I love the fact that we have to defend ourselves. I have never had a problem with campaigning. And today is special. This is the moment, you are either in or you are out. It is very exciting.”
In addition to the DA’s race, another big battle in the March 4 primary will be fought out in the PSJA area. Longtime Hidalgo County Commissioner for Precinct 2, Hector “Tito” Palacios is being challenged by former Pharr City Commissioner Ricardo Medina and the commissioner who defeated Medina for Place 4, Eduardo “Eddie” Cantu.
Cantu filed to run on Saturday. Asked why voters should go with him, Cantu told the Guardian: “I am going to bring more money to Precinct 2. The current commissioner concentrates on what he has in his budget but there are additional funds out there that need to come into the district. With that you can do many more projects. I am an outside the box thinker. My outside the box thinking helped build the Boys & Girls Club in Pharr, helped bring the Aquatic Center to Pharr, and brought more businesses to Pharr. That is what I want to bring to the Precinct.”
With that, Cantu headed to Las Margaritas in Pharr to meet up with about 30 campaign workers. They were planning to block walk an area from E. Bell Avenue to E. Ridge Avenue in Pharr. “It is the biggest box. There are a lot of homes there. It is our first day of walking and we want to get our message out. Many people don’t know what a county commissioner does and they don’t know who their county commissioner is. That shows there has been a disconnect between our current commissioner and the public. I want to bring the Precinct back to the people.”
Attorney Fidencio Guerra, Jr., of McAllen, is a perennial candidate on the primary ballot. Some thought the former state district judge was at Koko’s to file for precinct chair but he threw a surprise by filling in the forms to run for the 275th State District Court. “I am challenging Judge Juan Partida because it is time for a change,” Guerra told the Guardian. “Judge Partida told me he was not going to run again. From what I have seen, he hasn’t been at court that often. I figured he was a lame duck and nothing much mattered to him. So, I am going to run. I miss judging,” Guerra said. Judge Partida also filed for re-election Saturday. The Guardian will run his story in an upcoming feature.
Another candidate to file on Saturday was attorney Marla Cuellar of Mission. Cuellar will be making a breakthrough for women if she wins her race for Hidalgo County Court at Law, No. 8. There has not been a woman judge on any of Hidalgo County’s county courts at law for 25 years. The last was Leticia Hinojosa. County Court at Law No. 8 is a new court.
“I think I can bring a different perspective to the court. I was born and raised in Weslaco and come from very humble beginnings,” Cuellar told the Guardian. “I come from a family of migrant farm workers and, though some people might not believe this, I was a field worker. I was not good at picking cantaloupe. I was better at oranges. What you learn the most coming from such humble beginnings is is the value of hard work and humility - it is a very humbling having a farm worker experience. I bring that humility to the court. I am not any better than the person next door, just because I have received an education.”
Cuellar has been a practicing attorney for 17 years. She said young women looking to run for elected office need good role models. She believes she can be that role model, as can Wendy Davis. “It is exciting to be on the same ticket as Wendy. She went through many struggles to achieve her dreams. I am not saying the men are not competent but it is good to have a judge who has a mother’s perspective, a daughter’s perspective. I will bring a different perspective. Our young girls need a role model. Also, county courts at law handle divorce cases. I have been divorced so, I also have that perspective.”
Enrique Omar Maldonado, of Edinburg, also filed to run for judge of Hidalgo County Court at Law No. 8 on Saturday. The Guardian will run his story in an upcoming feature.
Jaime “Jerry” Muñoz of San Juan also filed to run on Saturday. An attorney for 17 years, Muñoz said his experience in civil and criminal cases makes him the best candidate for the open Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2, Place 4, slot. “We have picked up a lot of momentum. Things are going well,” Muñoz said of his campaign. Precinct 2, Place 4, covers Pharr, San Juan, Alamo, Valley View, Hidalgo, and the southeast corner of McAllen.
The candidates to file for the Hidalgo County Democratic Party Primary on Saturday included:
Eddie Cantu, of Pharr, for Hidalgo County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Joseph Palacios, of Edinburg, for Hidalgo County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Ricardo Rodriguez, Jr., of Edinburg, for Hidalgo County District Attorney
Laura Hinojosa, of McAllen, for Hidalgo County Clerk
Luis Manuel Singleterry, of Edinburg, for judge of the 92nd state District Court
Juan Ramon Partida, of Palmhurst, for judge of the 275th state District Court
Jaime Joel Palacios, of Pharr, for judge of Hidalgo County Court at Law No. 2
Federico “Fred” Garza, Jr., of McAllen, for judge of Hidalgo County Court at Law No. 4
Marla Cuellar, of Mission, for judge of Hidalgo County Court at Law No. 8
Enrique Omar Maldonado, of Edinburg, for judge of Hidalgo County Court at Law No. 8
Homero Garza, of Edinburg, for Judge Probate
Jaime “Jerry” Muñoz, of San Juan, for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2, Place 4
Eloy Treviño, Jr., of McAllen, for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2, Place 4
Jose Luis Salinas, of Edinburg, for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4, Place 2
Rosendo Beltran, Jr., of Edinburg, for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4, Place 2
Homer Jasso, of McAllen, for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4, Place 2
Kenna Sue Giffin, of McAllen, for Hidalgo County Democratic Party chair
Terry Canales, of Edinburg, for state Representative, District 40
Maria S. Regalado, of Pharr, for state Representative, District 36
Sergio Muñoz, Jr., of Mission, for state Representative, District 36
Roberto D. Guerra, of Mission, for state Representative, District 41
Armando Alfonso Martinez, of Weslaco, for state Representative, District 39
Fidencio M. Guerra, Jr., of McAllen, for judge of the 275th state District Court