McALLEN — Candidates vying for the Hidalgo County Judge’s seat took time outlining their platforms during their first forum here Wednesday afternoon.

Editor’s Note: This story has been edited to clarify candidate Richard Cortez’s remarks.

McALLEN — Candidates vying for the Hidalgo County Judge’s seat took time outlining their platforms during their first forum here Wednesday afternoon.

The Rio Grande Valley Builders Association hosted the forum at the McAllen Country Club as part of its monthly meeting for its members, so the event was not open to the public.

Democratic candidates Richard Cortez and Eloy Pulido, along with Republican candidate Jane Cross, were invited to lay out their platforms before the group of more than 100 builders and developers.

Candidates were given two minutes to make opening remarks and then took turns answering a handful of questions that members submitted to the association prior to Wednesday’s event.

The questions ranged from the usual hot-button issues, including the construction of a new county courthouse and the creation of a new taxing entity, to ones more technical in nature, such as regulations for sidewalks and inclusionary zoning for affordable housing.

Pulido, a former Hidalgo County judge, used his opening remarks to compare the present administration to his own, which ran from 1999 to 2002.

“Twenty years ago, I ran for county judge,” he said. “Twenty years later, it seems the same issues we had back then are still with us (today).”

Throughout the forum, Pulido used his time to criticize current County Judge Ramon Garcia, who was sitting in the audience.

Cortez, a former McAllen mayor and commissioner, used his time to describe the duties of a county judge, which he said “sets the pace and the tone, and directs the commission to be efficient.”

“I have the financial background and the professional expertise … to bring value to the job,” he said. “And I’m ready to work for you.”

Cross urged those in attendance to elect a candidate who can bring creative solutions to the table.

“Why don’t we try something new?” she asked rhetorically. “Why don’t we look at something outside the box?”

All said they were against raising taxes.

Asked if he would support creation of a tax entity to fund the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley medical school, Cortez said no, that it would not solve the problem, and spoke generally about needing innovative solutions.

“We don’t live in a perfect world,” he said. “There is no perfect solution, but there is a better way of doing things.”

Pulido suggested charging an extra dollar for anyone booking a hotel or a motel room in Hidalgo County.

“Let those people that come to Hidalgo County from Mexico … from up north … be levied one additional dollar,” he said.

Cross, on the other hand, was abrupt with her response.

“First of all, I thought the state was supposed to fund the medical school,” she said before returning to her seat.

Then came the much-anticipated question about the new courthouse.

Cross said the county’s proposal “did not pass the smell test.” but conceded that it needs an upgrade. So she posed two suggestions.

If the courthouse is crowded and more courtrooms are needed, why not have judges work split shifts, she asked.

And if a new building was absolutely necessary, why not purchase the Bentsen Tower in McAllen, which she said is currently up for sale at a price of a “cool $50 million.”

“I even know the broker — maybe I’ll get a cut,” she joked. “I am sure that there are already backroom deals being made, and I’m glad I don’t know about them.”

Pulido also mentioned a failure to pass “a smell test” during his response about the courthouse, saying the price was too high. He estimated each square foot would cost the county $446.

Instead, he suggested building a “justice center by the expressway.”

Pulido would not vacate the old courthouse either, and would be willing to make repairs.

Cortez said he hadn’t performed an objective analysis to help answer whether the courthouse is necessary, but trusts the professionals who have done so.

“When you give me the job, then it’s going to be my job,” he said.

The former McAllen commissioner, however, emphasized the county needs to work with the city of Edinburg.

“That’s an important partner, so we need to listen to that partner and see what that partner wants to do,” he said. “My position is just like Mayor (Richard) Molina right now: I want to look at it.”

This is perhaps the only thing both Democratic candidates agreed on.

Pulido also said the county should not hold the county seat “hostage” over Edinburg city leaders as they mull a $30 million contribution to the courthouse project.

“The $30 million that Ramon (Garcia) wants to charge the city of Edinburg, I totally disagree with,” Pulido said.

Both he and Cortez will face off in March, while the Democratic primary winner will face Cross in November.

“You don’t have to worry about voting for me in March, but please think of me in November,” she said.

nlopez@themonitor.com