Five candidates participated in The Border Organization’s accountability session last weekend, agreeing with the community activists on immigration, fighting crime and creating an underground water district.
“We inform and educate the people about the candidates, about their answers to our questions,” said Martha Gonzalez-Stitts, co-chair of the organization, at the start of the session Sunday afternoon.
“We are committed to getting out the vote, but we do not tell people how to vote.”
Individual leaders for the organization are committed to bringing out more than 2,700 people to the polls.
Sheriff Jose Francisco “Joe Frank” Martinez and challenger David Rowe were at Sunday’s session to answer questions as were state District Judge Enrique “Henry” Fernandez and challenger Jacque De La Mota.
Joey Garcia, who is challenging County Commissioner Precinct 3 Beau Nettleton, also was at the session; organizers said Nettleton had agreed to attend but he did not show up Sunday.
At an accountability session, candidates are asked specific questions and must answer either “yes” or “no” and are not allowed to say anything else at that point. After all the questions are asked and answered, each candidate is given one minute to address the group on his or her answers or on any topic the candidate wishes to address.
For the commissioner’s race, Garcia was asked if he would support addressing the problems on Milagro Road and whether he would work with state legislators in creating an underground water district for Val Verde County. He said “yes” to both questions.
During his one-minute address, Garcia focused on water.
“One of the biggest issues we have right now is our water issue,” Garcia said. “We have been trying to put a water district together for the last eight years. If I’m elected to county commissioner, I do intend to have a water district put in as soon as we can. We need all the entities to come together.”
Garcia said he has talked with local water expert Jerry Simpton about legislation to create the water district to be presented to the Texas Legislature in January.
In the sheriff’s race, Rowe and Martinez were asked whether they would support monthly meetings with residents of Las Cienegas on issues of safety and fighting crime, including burglaries. Both men answered, “yes.”
Martinez and Rowe also were asked whether they would make sure that sheriff’s deputies don’t question residents about their immigration status. Both men again answered “yes.”
During his address, Rowe emphasized the importance of law enforcement connecting with local residents.
“My major concern is to try to bring the people and law enforcement and their government back together,” Rowe said. “We want to open understanding between people so that there isn’t animosity or fear.
“You all are the eyes and the ears, and the heart and the pulse of this county, of this city. We need to know if you all see things we do not,” he added. “And if you do see things, you need to be free and feel free to come to us, to speak with us, to help us, to guide us.”
During his address, Martinez emphasized his stand against asking a resident’s legal status and also urged the public to get involved.
“It is not our job as deputies to enforce the immigration statutes. That is the federal government’s job,” Martinez said. “Our job is to make sure that our communities are secure. If you see a crime that’s being committed, feel free to call. Somebody will always be there to respond to you.
“It comes from each and every one of you sitting this room,” he added. “We cannot do it on our own. We need to take ownership of our community so our crime rate will decline.”
In regard to the judicial race, there was only one question. Fernandez and De La Mota were asked whether they would support a standing order of discovery to help reduce the backlog of inmates awaiting trial.
Fernandez said he would not, while De La Mota said he would.
During the one-minute address, Fernandez explained why he answered “no” when asked about a standing discovery order, which essentially would result in an automatic requirement to provide access to witnesses, records and other evidence.
“Every accused is allowed discovery,” the judge said. “(But) a judge has absolutely no authority to issue a standing order for the prosecutor to turn over the entire file to the defense. I cannot determine good cause (to allow discovery) until the defense actually makes a motion and tells me what they want and why they need it.”
To end the backlog requires other action, Fernandez told the organization’s members.
“I am working on revamping my pretrial hearing system wherein I will have discovery answered sooner,” he said.
For his part, De La Mota referred to the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is what gives the accused the right to face evidence against him.
“The defendant needs to see and feel the evidence against them to make an informed decision as to how to proceed with their case,” De La Mota said. “There are tools in place for an order to be fashioned and narrowly tailored to protect victims of violent crimes and if the district attorney does not wish to bring forth evidence, they can come forward with protective orders seeking to have that evidence reviewed only by defense counsel.”
Bring out votes
Before the questioning began, organization leaders took turns announcing the number of voters they were each committing to turn out for the elections now underway. The six leaders pledged to bring out more than 2,700 voters to the polls.
Bob Klapetzky, a local businessman who’s studying to be a lawyer, was a newcomer to the accountability session.
“I’m very pleased with the organization and what it’s trying to accomplish,” he said. “And I’m pleased with the people who took the time to show up, the organization’s members and the candidates.”