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In Hidalgo County, challengers unseat veteran officeholders

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Posted: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 12:17 am

EDINBURG — At about 7:20 p.m. Tuesday, in the parking lot of the Edinburg middle school he attended more than a quarter-century ago, Ricardo Rodriguez hugged his 15-year-old son close and kissed him on top of his head.

“It’s over,” the Hidalgo County district attorney-elect said.

It was an atypical display of emotion from the 41-year-old former 92nd state District Court judge, who rarely lets his guard down in public but had complained in the past two days of the way the time he’d committed to a volatile district attorney’s campaign had strained his family life.

“That’s why I stick around there and that’s why that’s my traditional ground there where I stick around because I don’t like to show too much of those emotions,” he said later. “It was special because my son was there also there with me, and they’ve taken a drain in this campaign.”

Rodriguez defeated 8-term incumbent — and former political ally — Rene Guerra, 69, with nearly 64 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary for Hidalgo County district attorney. Rodriguez outspent the veteran in the campaign at a rate of more than 3-to-1, while building support for the idea that change was necessary in the DA’s office.

He’s said he will organize the office differently, start a public corruption division and reopen some high-profile cases — like the 1960 Irene Garza murder — that some have criticized Guerra’s handling of.

Rodriguez wasn’t the only well-financed challenger to take down a long-time incumbent.

Former Pharr Commissioner Eduardo “Eddie” Cantu, 40, barely avoided a runoff election by winning just less than 52 percent of the vote in the Precinct 2 county commissioner primary against 4-term incumbent Hector “Tito” Palacios, 76, and former Pharr Mayor Ricardo Medina.   

Cantu also outraised Palacios by more than 2-1 and criticized his opponent for becoming out of touch with voters.

Cantu and Rodriguez attended some campaign events together, and were tied together in some voters’ minds.

“I think we’re seeing a wave of change in the county and in city government across our region,” said McAllen City Commissioner Hilda Salinas, who endorsed both Cantu and Rodriguez. “But sometimes change is good.”

The DA’s race in particular drove turnout, with passionate voters on both sides.

“I never get involved in voting,” said Javier Carrasco, 45, from a polling site in Weslaco. "I really don’t believe in it, but I hate Rene Guerra,”

Despite the often contentious campaign, Rodriguez said he would reach  out to Guerra for guidance.

“Yes, of course,” Rodriguez said Monday when asked if he would seek Guerra’s advice were he to win. “He’s been there for 32 years. I feel that that’s why I’ve gone so far, because I always take advice. I always take advice and if I feel that it’s going to work and it’s good, you know, we use it.”

Maintaining Rodriguez wasn’t up to the job, Guerra did offer one piece of advice:

“He’s going to have to surround himself with intelligent individuals who want to do right, because I don’t think from what he’s demonstrated he has the capacity to do it by himself.”

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Jaime Tijerina to fill Rodriguez’s seat on the District Court bench after his resignation in August. Tijerina ran unopposed in Tuesday’s Republican primary, and will face Pharr Municipal Judge Luis Singleterry in November.

While turnout on Tuesday was kept to about 13,000 countywide by rain and cold temperatures, voters still came steadily, particularly in Edinburg and Weslaco, where Justice of the Peace races were on the ballot, said Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramon.

At the San Juan fire station, the mood was friendly, with local rabble-rouser Ramiro Treviño joking that no one had been shot there yet — unlike the 2012 primary election day.

Incumbent Precinct 2, Place 2 Justice of the Peace Homer Jasso will face a runoff election against Jose Luis “J.L.” Salinas after garnering 49 percent of the vote — just less than the required 50.01 percent.

Similarly, incumbent 275th state District Judge Juan Partida will face a runoff against Fidencio Guerra after Partida won 49.6 percent of the vote.

The Precinct 4, Place 2 Justice of the Peace race will also go to a runoff. Of the seven candidates who began the race, voters will later choose from between Jaime “Jerry” Muñoz and Eloy Treviño. The seat is currently held by Treviño’s mother, Rosa Treviño.

In other races, County Clerk Arturo Guajardo easily won reelection, as did state Rep. Sergio Muñoz of Mission and Jesse Morales, the justice of the peace for Precinct 1, Place 2.

Omar Maldonado won the first race for the judgeship of County Court at Law No. 8.  

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