Democratic Party chair candidates in dispute over filing date

EDINBURG — A state district judge dismissed a case Wednesday against a candidate vying for a position in the March primary election, but it might not be over.

Last week, Norma Ramirez filed a petition asking state District Judge Israel Ramon to deem her opponent, Danny Diaz, ineligible to run for Hidalgo County Democratic Party chair.

Diaz, she alleged, violated state law by filing his application for candidacy too early.

According to Section 172.023 of the Texas Election Code, an application “may not be filed earlier than the 30th day before the date of the regular filing deadline.”

Diaz filed his application with the current county party chair, Ric Godinez, on Sept. 12 — almost two months before the start of the filing period, which ran from Nov. 11 to Dec. 11.

Diaz does not dispute he filed early. Instead, he argued his application went through the proper channels and was not rejected, nor was he notified about the time discrepancy.

“My application was signed off by three different people: the county chairman, the state (Democratic) party and the Texas Secretary of State,” he said. “During the 90-day period, I was never given notice that my application was made too early.”

But for Ramirez, rules are rules.

“I have the highest respect for the laws of Texas … and the election process is something we need to treasure,” she said. “I’m eligible to run because I did file properly, and I took the time to research the rules.”

Ramon, of the 430th state District Court, held a hearing for the case Wednesday. But before either party could present their evidence, the judge dismissed the case because his court does not have jurisdiction over the matter.

“ … The appellate courts have exclusive jurisdiction,” Ramon wrote in his order of dismissal and directed Ramirez to a higher court.

Ramirez vowed Thursday to follow through in an appellate court.

FAILED MEDIATION

Before the court hearing Wednesday, Godinez called a meeting between both candidates and a supporter for each one of them.

Ramirez invited Patrick Eronini, while Diaz invited Amanda Salas.

The goal of the meeting was to come to an amicable agreement in order to avoid embarrassing the party and spending time and money in legal proceedings.

But the negotiations took a turn when Diaz was allegedly offered an executive director position in exchange for stepping down from the race.

The party doesn’t currently have an executive director, but has had the position previously, Godinez said. However, the position hasn’t always been a paid.

But how exactly the offer came to the table varies on who you ask.

Diaz alleges Ramirez and Eronini threatened a lawsuit and then tried to offer him the position.

“It went from ‘we’re suing you and you’re an unlawful individual,’ and then suddenly it’s ‘you’re great; you’re a good leader,’” Diaz said. “So it was very off to go from a very aggressive tone to suddenly changing. I think they were trying to get me to buy into something.”

Ramirez, however, said the offer was made at Godinez’s suggestion.

“It was just trying to save him embarrassment,” she said. “It was done at a wholesome level and to try to figure out what was best for our party.”

Godinez, said that while he suggested both parties come to a resolution, he never offered a position.

“That’s absolutely false,” he said about the allegation that he prompted the offer.

Instead, Godinez said he suggested they tell each other what they wanted in order to reach an agreement.

“Out of all that, Norma’s offer to Danny: ‘Look, if you step down I will appoint you executive director, and we’ll run the party together and work together to do the things that we need to do as a party,” Godinez said.

Godinez also indicated Ramirez’ camp knew about the filing issue and had done nothing.

“They knew about this for a long time and just sat on it,” Godinez said. “Had it been brought to my attention earlier, I could have fixed it.”

nlopez@themonitor.com