Pictured: County commissioner candidates who participated in the Tuesday forum were (l-r) Pct. 1 candidate Melva Ramirez, Pct. 1 incumbent Zenaida Sanchez, Pct. 3 candidate J.C. Perez III and Pct. 3 incumbent Wally Alanis. Photo by OFELIA GARCIA HUNTER

16 of the 21 local candidates vying for positions participated

Ofelia Garcia Hunter, Alice Echo-News Journal

A political debate can sometimes bring the good, the bad and the ugly to the surface; and at the Jim Wells County Debate hosted by senior high school Benjamin Arceo, all three came to light.

Overall, Arceo said, the turnout was more than he anticipated.

"I think it went better than expected, I had worries as it came nearer and nearer," he said.

About 130 people filled the activity center Tuesday evening at the William Adams Middle School. Of the 21 candidates invited to the forum, 16 participated.

During the debate for the district judge race between incumbent Richard Terrell and David Towler, issues of playing politics on the bench and overspending on paying individuals for canvassing were some of the issues at hand.

"I took politics out of that office," Terrell said.

Terrell also pointed out that his office established the drug court program to assist individuals in staying out of the prison system and work out their drug problems.

Towler said he wasn't making any promises, but only could say that politics would not be part of his office.

"I can provide something that my opponent can't," Towler said. "I'm not part of the political establishment."

The forum allowed each candidate to have one and a half minutes for an opening statement.

The panel, consisting of Alice High School teachers Marin Perez and Ron Burke, helped with the reading of the questions, but the questions were pre-written by Arceo. A couple of other students assisted with keeping time. After the panel asked questions, the floor was open to the audience for more questioning.

The district attorney's debate between incumbent Joe Frank Garza and Armando Barrera focused on the use or misuse of drug forfeiture expenditures and the rate of dismissed indictments.

Barrera said his staff went through each of the cases and found that 51 percent of the indictments were dismissed.

"If I'm elected, I promise you to make our community safer," Barrera said. "Crime is out of control, they arrest them and they get out and do more burglaries."

Garza disagreed with the numbers, saying Barrera's staff did a poor job of collecting figures and studied the numbers in the wrong venue.

Barrera also said Garza has spent about $2 million of drug forfeiture money on his staff for salary, bonuses and trips.

But Garza said that each year his office gets audited and he is not breaking any laws.

"Don't say that you are not interested in the forfeiture money because about $50,000 to $60,000 of that went to you and your brother," Garza said. "I know because I hired you."

The Jim Wells County Sheriff's contest centered around the county jail's annual inspection and whether the candidates were in favor of change or experience.

"For 27 straight years we have passed all state standards," incumbent Sheriff Oscar Lopez said.

Enrique Saenz, a sheriff candidate, contradicted Lopez's response.

"Without being misled, it has failed with deficiencies and later passed. I believe there is room for improvement," Saenz said.

Narciso Gonzalez said that every jail eventually passes inspection.

"When you pass inspection, it doesn't mean you passed the inspection the first time," Gonzalez said.

Lopez said experience was more important to the race, Saenz said a change and improvement is instrumental to the office and Gonzalez said the combination of both experience and change was vital to the sheriff's post.

Going head-to-head for Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace were Guadalupe Martinez, a school board member, and Alice Mayor Juan Rodriguez Jr.

Martinez said he wants to continue serving the community.

"With over 25 years of service, I want to continue to serve the community," Martinez said. "All the service that I've done is to make Alice a better place."

Rodriguez said being accessible to the public would be his priority.

"Having the flexibility," Rodriguez said. "You can count on me being accessible and being available."

Both Martinez and Rodriguez said truancy was on top of their list and they would work with other agencies to decrease the numbers.

Because of time constraints, Arceo had to limit questions to only the panel for the rest of the debate and the commissioner's races for Precinct 1 and Precinct 3 were debated together.

Newcomer Melva Vasquez Ramirez, who is running for Precinct 1 commissioner, said her success as a business owner gives her the experience to run the commissioner's office.

"Give me a chance," Ramirez said.

Incumbent Zenaida Sanchez said her more than a decade of experience speaks for itself.

"You have someone here that has dealt with it for 12 years," Sanchez said.

Their opponents, Gilbert Saenz III and Javier Garcia, were not present at the debate.

J.C. Perez III, a candidate for Precinct 3 commissioner, said he has managed million-dollar budgets and knows how to go after grant funding.

"I work with federal programs and depending where the need may be, that's how you set your budget," Perez said.

Perez said he wanted to put a rumor to rest and said that if he were elected he would not move the Orange Grove office to Alice.

Incumbent Commissioner Oswald Alanis for Precinct 3 said his office has worked diligently to keep his constituents happy.

"We have to satisfy the needs of everyone," Alanis said. "We work for you, not only in our precinct, but Jim Wells County as a whole."

In the Tax Assessor-Collector race, Mary Lozano and Octavio Figueroa are wanting to fill the position.

Lozano said with her financial and work skills, she is the better candidate for the job.

"Hard work doesn't scare me, I've worked three jobs at once to put my children through college," Lozano said. "No me dejan sola."

Figueroa said his past experience as mayor gives him the upper hand and encouraged everyone to vote for him.

"Don't forget to vote, but not just vote, but vote for Octavio Figueroa," he concluded.

Of the four vying for the Precinct 6 Constable race, Jaime Garza was the lone candidate who showed up. He said his opponents no-show is indicative of the lack of interest in the race.

He received a standing ovation.

"It's very sad not to see my opponents here," he said. "This job is not about me winning, it's about me helping you. It's about helping your kids."