DA, county judge candidates offer sharp criticism of each other at forum

McALLEN — The candidates for two of the most contentious races this election season met again this week at the McAllen Citizens League forum Thursday.

The event, which came on the heels of a Tuesday forum organized by Futuro RGV, proved to be an opportunity for those running for the offices of Hidalgo County judge and district attorney to criticize each other’s platforms and previous experience, often at the expense of outlining their own policies.

The forum was held in the same room where, four years ago, controversy about the Irene Garza cold case stole the spotlight when Dale Tacheny made an unannounced appearance. Tacheny, a former monk who said ex-priest John Feit confessed to being Garza’s murderer, confronted then-district attorney Rene Guerra about his refusal to prosecute the case.

Although the same candidates are running this year for district attorney, incumbent Ricardo Rodriguez only briefly touched upon the case in his introductory statement, noting that crime victims “should not be told that there can only be a conviction when pigs fly.”

Guerra, who served as Hidalgo County DA for 32 years before he was unseated by Rodriguez in 2014, reportedly told Garza’s family that Feit would be indicted “when pigs fly.” The case quickly became a campaign issue, and last December, a Hidalgo County jury convicted Feit, sentencing him to life in prison.

Guerra did not take the bait Thursday, and rather than defending his handling on the case, called Rodriguez’s claim of serving 20,000 crime victims over the past three years “impossible.”

“They say that figures don’t lie, but liars do figure,” Guerra quipped, questioning the efficacy of the crime victims’ assistance division that Rodriguez created shortly after taking office.

The name-calling didn’t stop there, with Rodriguez referring to his opponent “idle,” “complacent” and “arrogant.”

Rodriguez repeatedly described his management of the district attorney’s office as “effective and efficient,” saying that he has spent his first term “dispensing with justice, impartially [and] fairly.”

Yet Guerra argued that he was able to serve crime victims with fewer staff members, charging Rodriguez with unnecessarily expanding the office’s payroll.

He also took an opportunity to subtly claim that Rodriguez lacks trial experience in his capacity as district attorney — a point made more directly during a forum two days prior.

The inclusion of Republican candidate Jane Cross in the county judge’s portion of the forum added a bit of spunk and humor often absent from political events.

She promised attendees that if elected her tenure won’t be boring, and her answers during the forum were nothing less than that.

As the only candidate who hasn’t held public office, Cross told the crowd: “I don’t have previous experience except I have been in business for what seems like an eternity … I’ve had three husbands; that pretty much takes precedence on knowing what to do. I’ve managed to stay out of jail with the three husbands and managed not to go broke with the three husbands.”

Although Cross’s responses to KURV talk show host Davis Rankin were by far the most entertaining, they lacked specifics compared to those given by Democratic candidates Richard Cortez and Eloy Pulido.

At one point she facetiously thanked Cortez and Pulido for responding to a question before her so she could “steal some of their knowledge.” She was honest when she didn’t have an answer to a question, stating, “I’m sure there are smarter people than me who can figure it out … we can research anything.”

Pulido and Cortez clearly differed over their approaches to decision-making.

Cortez, a former McAllen mayor and city commissioner, was at times hesitant to provide a direct answer.

When asked about his position on current County Judge Ramon Garcia’s proposal to build a new courthouse across the street from the existing one, he said he would “apply proper analysis to give you (the voters) the best result for your money” before reaching a decision.

Pulido, on the other hand, who served as county judge from 1999 to 2003, said, “You can analyze something as much as you want, but a lot of times common sense tells you everything. Common sense tells you that you cannot build a new courthouse in front of the old courthouse and on the only parking lot that we have for jury duty.”

Pulido criticized his opponent’s exploratory committee, saying that he didn’t need a committee to tell him to run, and also cast Cortez as a “status quo” candidate who would continue Garcia’s style of leadership.

Cortez, however, emphasized his track record of “working with others to accomplish great things for the community,” noting that “90 percent of the mayors in the county” had stated their support for his campaign.

“…Your vision has no value until you come to a community vision, a joint vision of others and that means working together,” Cortez said.

Cross maintained that she could get along with people, adding, “I am so tired of everybody getting the back-door deals … I want to cross out corruption. I don’t owe anybody anything.”