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McALLEN, RGV – Cutting the early voting period will go long way towards eliminating corruption in the electoral process, say McAllen city commission candidates.

The thinking is that fewer early voting days would lessen the influence of politiqueras and the political machine-driven vote.

The McAllen Citizens League held a candidate forum for the District 1 special election on Thursday and one of the questions posed by a member of the group was: How realistic a concern is it that the corruption seen in other Valley cities will come to McAllen?

Debbie Crane Aliseda was the first candidate to answer the question. She said: “The easy solution is cut early voting down to two days like other counties around the state do. Having ten days, it’s costly. If one person is doing it (using politiqueras) we all have to do it. I was very naive. I sat at early voting for ten days last time I was running for school board and my jaw just dropped. I could not believe, every time I saw a van come in and I saw five people get out and they had a little (piece of) paper and they walked over. I had no idea. I was mad. I was so mad. I was so naive and probably some of you are naive too. The solution – cut down the days of early voting.”

Javier Villalobos was the next candidate to answer the question. He said: “I probably agree a little bit about cutting the days but it is very difficult and you have statutory rules to follow. But, I think they should. They (early voting days) should be minimized. Fortunately, in District 1, we do not have too many of the problems and I think I know what you all are talking about – politiqueras. What La Joya, Donna, Edcouch-Elsa, all the other areas have, fortunately in District 1(we do not). Somebody goes to your house and tells you, hey I am going to take you to vote, what are you going to tell them?” The audience laughed. “Exactly. We really don’t have that problem in District 1. It’s more the different areas of McAllen,” Villalobos said, pointing out that cutting the number of days people can vote would save money. “Make it a little stricter for the politiqueras. Put a little bit of teeth in some of the laws.”

Eduardo Hinojosa agreed. “We definitely should cut down the (early voting) days,” he said.

The fourth candidate running for McAllen city commissioner for District 1, former Mayor Richard Cortez could not attend the forum due to a bereavement in his family. The forum was held at the Salvation Army headquarters in McAllen Thursday lunchtime. All the questions were posed by members of the McAllen Citizens League. They wrote the questions on a piece of paper and the questions were read out by board member Willard Moon.

The candidates come from a variety of walks of life. Hinojosa has a bachelor’s degree in business management, is manager of a local high speed internet service provider and helps out with little league baseball. It is the first time he has run for elected office. Villalobos is an attorney and former chairman of Hidalgo County Republican Party. Crane Aliseda is a mother of five, a business owner and serves of the McAllen ISD school board.

The vacancy on the McAllen city commission was caused through the death of Crane Aliseda’s brother, Scott Crane. The District 1 commissioner died while competing in the McAllen Marathon. The election takes place on April 4 with early voting starting on March 18.

Candidates were given three minutes to make opening remarks and Crane Aliseda was the only candidate to touch on ethics. She said: “I think it is unethical for an elected official to have dinner with a vendor. I don’t have dinners with vendors. I think it is unethical for elected officials to take campaign contributions from somebody like an architect or an engineer. I will not vote on something and nor should anybody else if we have taken campaign contributions or we have some kind of insider relationship with that vendor. We should abstain. I think ethics is the most important thing that a city commissioner can have.”

One question submitted by McAllen Citizens League members focused on ethics. It was: Was it ethical to have the City of McAllen’s tax collector, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, as the lead sponsor for Wednesday’s State of City address. All three candidates at the forum said it was unethical.

“No, it was not ethical. When I saw that my jaw dropped. When I saw that on the video, my jaw dropped it was not ethical,” said Crane Aliseda.

“The city should stay away from doing those unethical decisions,” said Hinojosa.

“Does it create the appearance of impropriety? The answer is yes,” said Villalobos.

Another question posed at the candidate forum was what to do about the fact that McAllen does not have real influence in the composition of Hidalgo County Commissioners Court. Villalobos said that would not be the case if McAllen had a higher voter turnout. “We need to get out as a community and vote. Until McAllen gets up and starts voting we are going to get the short end of the stick,” Villalobos said.

Hinojosa said many voters were telling him they would not be voting. “It has been a big challenge for me. Young generation and old generation, some people just don’t have the desire to go out and vote. They have told me, they don’t care about the election,” Hinojosa said.

Another question posed at the candidate forum was what areas of city spending could be cut. Crane Aliseda said the money spent on the State of the City could be cut and that purchases of expensive equipment that will not be used that frequently could be shared with neighboring cities such as Pharr and Mission. She noted that Pharr has an incredible recycling set up where people can take car tires. “Have conversations with people, conversations saves lives,” Crane Aliseda said.

Another question posed at the candidate forum was whether there should be term limits. The candidates said if voters do not like an elected official they can vote them out.

Another question posed at the candidate forum was whether the McAllen Christmas Parade should continue given that it went considerably over budget. All three candidates said the event was a good thing that brought enjoyment to residents and visibility to McAllen. They said some of the costs were one-time payments that should not reoccur.

Another question posed at the candidate forum was whether the candidates support the creation of a hospital taxing district in Hidalgo County. Crane Aliseda and Hinojosa said they do. Villalobos said he could be persuaded to support the proposal if a 25 cent cap is enshrined.

Another question posed at the candidate forum was whether they “support the takeover of Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3 by legislative fiat.” The candidates said no.

Hinojosa acknowledged that he works for a company owned by Othal Brand, Jr., manager of the water district. “He (Brand) has proven to do very well with the water district. I would leave it absolutely in his hands. I believe the man is very smart. He knows what he is doing with the water district. It is definitely something that should be left alone, as is.”

Villalobos said: “You have to respect each other, the different sovereignties. Unless there is a really good, compelling reason to take it over, my position would be no.”

Crane Aliseda said: “You have to get along. You have to learn to get along with people. You have to learn to negotiate. You can’t take a perspective of, if you do not play with me I am going to take my ball, I will leave the playground. That is just not how things get done. It is not how I work. I am happy to meet with people. I understand that the drainage district is a very comprehensive and we all need to have our water pumped. We all need to get along and we all need to stop bypassing certain districts because of personality clashes. But that is an older generation. The new generation coming in, we get along, we do not have personality clashes that go back different generations.”

Another question posed at the candidate forum was whether the candidates support McAllen ISD’s big bond issue.

Villalobos said: “I am probably going to be against it.”

Crane Aliseda said: “Yes, I am for the bond. I did not agree with the rollout.” Crane Aliseda said she tried to get her colleagues on the school board to break the bond issue into three propositions, with the first bond being $113 million to fix the oldest schools, those 40 years and older. “I am very worried we are going to have nothing and we cannot have nothing. Our schools are in dire, dire, straits.” Crane Aliseda said some of the needed parts for McHi’s auditorium do not even exist anymore. “We are on E-Bay looking parts to fix our buildings. It is embarrassing and it is not right. We did not get here overnight. It was not this board that did it but it is this board that is going to fix it,” she said.

Hinojosa said: “I am against the bond. I would vote no on it. I believe it is way too much money. There are cheaper ways to go.”

Editor’s Note: The political influence Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, in Texas is highlighted in a recent story by CNN Money. The reporters are Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken. The story is titled: “The debt collector that runs Texas.” The opening paragraphs of the story read: “Over the course of a few months, a debt collector you’ve probably never heard of spends more money wooing politicians than most Americans earn in a year. Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson has countless politicians — from school board members to state lawmakers — on its side. It takes them to fancy dinners and spends millions on their campaigns. It even puts current elected officials on its payroll.”

The story said Texas Governor Greg Abbott is the politician to receive the most money from Linebarger – $266,000. Former Governor Rick Perry received $229,000 and former Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst received $211,000.

Hidalgo County is featured in the CNN Money story. The story states:

“In Hidalgo County, Texas, for example, Linebarger has given more than $20,000 to the county commissioners’ campaigns since 2012. In November, those same commissioners unanimously voted to hire Linebarger to collect unpaid taxes, despite the fact that a Linebarger rival offered to change delinquent taxpayers a lower fee. Linebarger said it would like to think the county hired it because it was better qualified for the job. Hidalgo County officials said they hired Linebarger in part because it agreed to help the county save hundreds of thousands of dollars on the cost of the tax software, which Linebarger also provides.”

Click here to read the CNN Money story.