McALLEN — Candidates for McAllen City Commission talked term limits last week, offering frank opinions and clear choices for voters.
The Hidalgo County Democratic Women hosted candidates for contested Commission races — District 1, District 3 and District 6 — Thursday night at the McAllen Public Library. More than any other question asked to Commission or Public Utility Board candidates that night, term limits exposed clear differences between them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, both incumbents running for re-election said they oppose term limits.
“We already have term limits in place,” said District 3 Commissioner Hilda Salinas, who’s running for a fourth term representing west-central McAllen. “You as the citizens of McAllen have the duty to elect those of us who will lead the city.
“And the minute we’re not doing a good job and the minute that you’re not happy with the things that we’re doing, the direction that your city is growing, you absolutely hit the different name on the ballot,” said Salinas, 51, the lead counselor at Veterans Memorial High School in Mission. “It’s very, very simple.”
Elected in 2001 after McAllen adopted single-member districts, Salinas ran unopposed for her second and third terms. This year, Salinas faces banker Omar Quintanilla, who supports term limits.
“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need term limits,” said Quintanilla, 37, a vice president at Frost Bank who handles commercial banking. “However, elected officials over time are susceptible to a couple of things. One is complacency. And number two is being influenced by the same groups. Term limits would allow for a healthy rotation within our city leaders.”
Citizens appointed to McAllen advisory boards already have term limits, Quintanilla said, and elected officials should follow similar rules.
The two-way race for District 1 provided a similar contrast.
Commissioner Scott Crane, who’s running for a third term representing northeast McAllen, said he doesn’t support term limits. Crane compared McAllen to a corporation with a board of directors overseeing the company’s management.
“The same thing exists within our community today,” said Crane, 48, the businessman who runs Carwash Carwash and a metal recycling business. “You can vote any one of us out if you don’t think we’re doing our job.”
Crane’s opponent disagreed.
“I believe that the answer, ‘Well, we already have term limits: If you don’t like them, vote them out’ — I believe that’s a non-answer, respectfully speaking,” said Ruben Daniel Elizondo, 25, a student at the University of Texas-Pan American. “Let me tell you why. At this moment Trey Pebley is unopposed. Jim Darling is unopposed. Four years ago, Scott Crane was unopposed. What’s to keep these people from getting out of office if there are no term limits and they keep on running unopposed?”
Term limits have been an integral part of Elizondo’s campaign platform from the beginning.
“As a matter of fact, some people think this is the silver bullet to all our political problems in the United States,” Elizondo said. “I don’t think it’s the silver bullet to all our political problems, but you know what, I think that we would have a better-functioning government if we didn’t have professional politicians.”
The candidates vying to represent District 6, which covers southeast McAllen, also disagreed on term limits.
Voters already have the option to remove the mayor and commissioners during elections, said Veronica Vela Whitacre, 54, the marketing director at Lee’s Pharmacy.
“It is your choice. You have the position. You have the choice to vote us in or to vote us out,” Vela Whitacre said. “So if I am not doing a good job or what you are looking for, then you don’t vote me back in.”
Her opponent, banker Sonia Falcon, took the opposite position.
“I think about my personal life,” said Falcon, 48, senior vice president for commercial lending at Lone Star National Bank. “I’ve been here 48 years and I’ve had three popes and three mayors. Right? It almost doesn’t make sense. Even the last pope knew when to step down, m’kay? So I believe in term limits because I believe that people should have the opportunity to serve our city.”
Term limits became a hot-button issue in February 2012 after former Mayor Jack Whetsel broached the subject during the annual Mayor’s Prayer Luncheon. Whetsel served two terms and didn’t run for re-election.
“My wife wouldn’t let me run (for) the third term. I probably wanted to, but I shouldn’t have,” Whetsel said. “I don’t think anybody should have any job over two terms — including the president, the vice president, all the commissioners, everybody — two terms should be the limit of their service. Then they wouldn’t get on the wrong track.”
Afterward, the McAllen Police Association, which seldom sees eye-to-eye with the Commission, unsuccessfully pushed for a referendum on term limits. Union officials have talked about taking another stab at the issue, perhaps for the November ballot.
Dave Hendricks covers McAllen for The Monitor. He can be reached at email@example.com and (956) 683-4452 or on Twitter, @dmhj.