McALLEN, RGV – Hidalgo County Democratic Party activists were thinking there could be a surprise late entrant in the race for Congressional District 15 but they were not expecting this.
McAllen CPA Rance G. ‘Randy’ Sweeten filed as a Democrat in the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa. Sweeten was appointed chair of the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority by then Republican Governor Rick Perry in September 2014.
At a Hidalgo County Democratic Party’s “Ballot Bash” event held at the Doubletree Hotel in McAllen on Monday evening, Sweeten acknowledged that many local Democrats would not know much about him.
“I am from here. A lot of you don’t know me. Most of you. I grew up in Mission, Texas. Got to play and get my butt kicked by Donna every year in high school. But, we tried,” Sweeten said.
Sweeten is a member and past president of the Rio Grande Valley Estate Planning Council, past board chairman of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and the Valley Land Fund. He was one of five of the seven Democrats who filed to run for CD 15 to attend the “Ballot Bash” event. Each was given 90 seconds to speak to a packed ballroom.
“It is a phenomenal opportunity in South Texas with the growth that we’ve had, to get to stand before you guys and get to run in this race,” Sweeten said. “(It gives) this group of candidates that we have got over here an opportunity to serve folks in the United States Congress.”
Sweeten was fulsome in his praise for the man he hopes to succeed.
“Rubén Hinojosa along with some of our other great folks from South Texas created South Texas College. The man was a genius when it came to education for South Texas. You may not agree with all of the monies that we didn’t get but he did a phenomenal job. We just want to do that same thing. Keep that in mind,” Sweeten said.
Sweeten added: “I am a local CPA. I’ve been fighting the United States government for, I am going to say, 40-plus years. The worst letter you ever want to get is from the Internal Revenue Service. That is what I do for a living, it is what I’ve always done. So I want to go to Congress and I want to keep it up.”
The two Democrats on the CD 15 primary ballot who did not show up for the “Ballot Bash” event were former Libertarian Party candidate Johnny ‘JP’ Partain of McAllen and U.S. Army reservist Rubén Ramirez Hinojosa of Houston. Both have run for CD 15 before. Some party activists said they were concerned that voters might be confused, thinking Congressman Hinojosa is running again when they see the name Rubén Ramirez Hinojosa on the ballot.
In addition to Sweeten, the other Democrats running for CD 15 to speak at the “Ballot Bash” event were former Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair Dolly Elizondo of Mission, Edinburg school board member Juan ‘Sonny’ Palacios, Jr., former Hidalgo County Commissioner and Mercedes Mayor Joel Quintanilla, and McAllen attorney Vicente Gonzalez.
In her remarks, Elizondo said her mother, who was in the audience, was her biggest supporter. “She taught us to speak up, be fearless and to get the job done.” Elizondo said that is exactly what she will do in Congress. “If there is anything you remember from me being up here tonight it is these three words, Dale con Dolly.”
Dale con Dolly is Spanish for Do It for Dolly.
In his remarks, Palacios said his heart was beating so fast it could jump out of his chest. He pointed out that he has been an Edinburg CISD trustee for the past six years. “I was always given one task by my uncles and my Dad, make sure the poor kids have the same advantages as the rich kids and if they don’t, level the playing field. That is all I want to do, that is all I am trying to do. That is all I am going to do,” Palacios said. “We do not need to be left behind, we do not need to be forgotten, we are not a sleepy town anymore.”
In his remarks, Quintanilla touted his experience – six years as a Mercedes city commissioner, nine years as mayor of Mercedes and two years as a county commissioner in Hidalgo.
“I definitely have the experience. I represented over 200,000 constituents in Precinct 1. We have over 400 colonias in Precinct 1,” Quintanilla said. “We have the drive. We are ready. We are going to not only take this race on but we are going to make sure this state of ours starts turning Blue.”
Quintanilla said voters can count on him to go to Capitol Hill and give his best. “I do not know all the answers but I will tell you that I have a world of experience. I have the drive and I am ready to take this seat on.”
In his remarks, Gonzalez said: “I am not a lifelong politician but I have been a lifelong problem-solver here in South Texas as a businessman and as a lawyer. I am looking forward to seeing and meeting the folks that I haven’t met and to get to earn your support and to get to earn your trust. I plan to do the best I can and work the hardest and earn what South Texas and District 15 really needs.”
Political analysts consider Congressional District 15 a safe Democratic seat in a presidential year, when turnout is highest, and something of a marginal or swing district in a non-presidential year, when many Democrats tend not to vote. There are two Republicans in the race, former Rio Grande City Mayor Rubén Villarreal and Edinburg CISD trustee Xavier Salinas.