EDINBURG, RGV – If he is elected Hidalgo County Judge, Eloy Pulido will leave the county courthouse where it is in downtown Edinburg, shrink it, and build a new justice center near the expressway.
Pulido, a former county judge, says he has “a lot of concerns” about the current Commissioners Court spending $150 million on a new courthouse.
“When they are looking to build $150 million courthouse on the only parking lot we have, right in front of the existing courthouse, it does not make sense. If we do need a justice center, the courthouse we have now can continue serving as an administrative office. If we need more space for courtrooms, and I think that is more the issue, we need to start looking at building a justice center. Build it by the expressway where people have easier access from all over the county, instead of building it downtown and having people spend 30 to 45 minutes looking for a parking spot. I think accessibility is very important to the people,” Pulido said.
Pulido was interviewed at a recent campaign event in the Delta that drew about 150 supporters.
Asked why he was running for a post he lost in 2002, Pulido said: “There are so many things that prompted me to take a look at running. One of them is the courthouse issue. I feel I have a moral obligation to run, to hopefully, again, serve the people.”
Asked to elaborate, Pulido said: “Let me put it this way, there comes a time in one’s lifetime when you look at something you have done in the past. You kind of reminisce, especially when it comes to elected office. I have been a school board member, I have been a county clerk. But, the best part of my political career was when I served as county judge. You can make a real difference in people’s lives, such as lowering taxes, improving living conditions, transportation, healthcare. There are so many issues that affect the people on a daily basis. When you can make a difference in those areas, that is the most rewarding part of being in public service.”
Hidalgo County will have a new – or old – county judge next year because longtime incumbent Ramon Garcia has announced he will not seek re-election. The deadline to file in the March primaries is today and so far the candidates to announce for county judge are Pulido, former McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez, both of whom are Democrats, and Republican Jane Cross.
Cortez, a current McAllen city commissioner, has also spoken about the county courthouse issue.
“There is no question that the courthouse is outdated and we need more space and room,” Cortez told the Rio Grande Guardian, in a recent interview. “I do not want to second guess Judge Ramon Garcia and the Commissioners Court and what they are doing. I had to build an international bridge. I had to build a convention center. I had to build a library. It is my turn to make sure that construction is built on time and on budget. I plan to take a very active role in that process.”
Asked why he is running for county judge, Cortez said: “I started my professional career a long time ago. I have had the pleasure of really serving many, many, entrepreneurs and many, many, different entities and industries. I lost my wife, as you know, and now I have the choice of whether to go home to an empty house or a meeting. I chose to go to a meeting and try to give some of my skills, my talent to a community that has been very good to me.”
Other than the county courthouse, Pulido and Cortez cited different issues as being super important to commissioners’ court.
Cortez said: “The county is going to grow at a very rapid pace. When the county continues to grow it is going to put a burden on the budget. You cannot solve budgetary problems by simply cutting expenses. You have to grow revenue. So, a lot of the things I want to do are to make sure the county has a strategy to grow its revenues because the demand for more funding, the demand for more infrastructure, the demand for more mobility, the demand for more personnel is going to increase time because of this rapid growth.”
Cortez ran through some of the top issues he expects to face.
“Right now, a big issue during my tenure as county judge is going to be the Census. It is very important that we count everyone. I think one of the ways that we can improve our flow of funding for infrastructure is to consolidate the three MPOs (metropolitan planning organizations). One of the things I think will be a great creator of jobs and opportunity would be to fully fund the medical school. My son in law is a physician and a product of the medical school in San Antonio and everything that I see around there, it is just tremendous what they have done.
“Obviously we are in an area that is always in danger of a hurricane. We are a delta and drainage is very, very, important. We do not want to go through what Houston is going through. So, the Raymondville Drain is a very important project that we need to finish. So, those are a few of the top issues.”
Pulido said he wants to steer the county in a different direction.
“The last time I served this county was 15 years ago. Since then I have noticed that this county is going in the wrong direction. My last year, when I was in office, in 2002, the county budget was $67.8 million. This year it is $208 million. That is a big difference but you really don’t notice any difference in service. No new capital improvements.”
Pulido said he also wants to revisit the county jail issue.
“I am proud to say that when I was the county judge, we had an overcrowded jail and we took the bull by the horns and we built a new jail. It went from a 600-bed jail to 1,200, with infrastructure for 2,000 beds. Sad to say, that jail has been overcrowded for the last five or six years. When the county spends roughly between $16,000 and $18,000 a day sending inmates out of the county, it is ludicrous to be spending that kind of money. It is about time we added to that facility. We left the infrastructure in place to add 200 bed pods to it. That is long overdue.”
Cortez was asked to comment on claims that he is vulnerable to defeat because Pulido is stronger in the rural, colonia, areas of Hidalgo County, where turnout can be high. According to some politicos, a private poll was conducted and found Pulido winning handily.
“That is very interesting that somebody would say and do that. Obviously, I am not a novice to politics. I have had pretty competitive races. I have had to win. In fact I have had to beat a 20-year icon mayor in Othal Brand. I beat Ric Godinez, who is now the chair of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party. I beat Debbie Crane, who is the sister of a federal judge and the wife of a trustee for the University of Texas System. Those are not easy opponents,” Cortez countered.
“I happen to have a lot of friends and family throughout the Valley. I have had visits in most of the communities in the Valley. I am really happy with the response I have been getting. No one is going to out work me. I am going to do everything necessary to go to my friends and supporters and get the necessary financing to have the proper campaign to reach out to everybody. It is going to be difficult for me in a short amount of time to see everybody but my goal is to meet everyone and to find out what their needs are because public service is about servicing the needs of the community. In order for you to do that, you have to find out what their needs are. The needs vary from community to community. What La Joya needs may be totally different to what Edcouch needs. That is one of the exciting things I am looking forward to, learning what the needs are. I am used to multitasking, I am used to servicing people, I am used to solving problems. A lot of what the county judge does is provide leadership. Sometimes the best answers and the best solutions will not come from me. They will come from somebody else. My job is to find a solution somewhere, wherever it is.”
Asked what he would do to help the rural areas, Pulido referenced trash collection.
“The county wanted to charge $100 for people to throw their trash. For some people, $100 a year is not much but for others it is a lot. That decision creates a condition in country roads where people would rather dump their trash out in the rural areas rather than go to the collection station and pay $100 a year. So, we did a disservice to ourselves. We need to start looking at that again. I do not care how you slice it, if you charge $100 a year in the rural areas, that is, in essence a tax increase.”
Pulido said he also wants to look at how transportation dollars get allocated.
“There is a big disparity. Some areas get the lion’s share of transportation money. You see beautiful developments in those areas, and you see a lot of people being able to travel freely. But, in other areas, after five o’clock, it is just a bottleneck. What used to take us ten minutes to get from Point A to Point B, it is now taking 20 or 30 minutes. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. We need to start looking at that in a holistic view. We need to look at the county as a whole and not by precincts.”
Asked for a wrap-up remark, Pulido said: “The most important duty is go out and vote, regardless of who you vote for. We need to take it seriously, and honor those who gave so much by going out and voting.”