Participation in Starr County candidate debate to be determined

RIO GRANDE CITY — Candidates for the March primary election will be participating in a debate Wednesday, though how many will be participating remains unclear.

The event, hosted by a local paper called El Tejano, will be held at Knights of Columbus Hall in Rio Grande City.

The candidates running for state representative of District 31, 229th state district judge, and Starr County judge were invited to attend.

But of the six candidates running, only three, one from each race, appear committed to attend.

The women in the field — Ana Lisa Garza, Martie Garcia Vela, and Leticia “Letty” Garza Galvan who are running for state rep., state district judge, and county judge respectively — agreed to attend, according to Dina Garcia-Peña, owner and reporter for El Tejano.

Garcia- Peña said Monday she was initially led to believe to believe the opponents, which include current state Rep. Ryan Guillen, current County Judge Eloy Vera, and local attorney Baldemar “Balde” Garza, would also attend the event.

In an email exchange with those three candidates dated Jan. 26, they said they would be willing to participate if certain conditions were satisfied.

Among their conditions were that the event be held in an educational setting, that a seven member committee be formed to formulate the questions, and the implementation of audience guidelines and a security plan. All conditions, they said, should be agreed upon by all candidates.

In response, Garcia- Peña said their concerns would be addressed but said the location of the event was non-negotiable as it was already booked and advertised.

Following the exchange, she and representatives for each candidate got together to formulate questions for the debate.

Last week, however, news surfaced of another debate being held at South Texas College on the same day at the exact same time.

The STC event was advertised on a different local paper as a debate featuring Guillen, Vera and Garza. That event has since been postponed.

Vera and Garza said Monday they had not made up their minds on whether they would participate in the El Tejano event.

Among his other concerns, Vera said he took issue with being asked to participate in the debate after it was already publicized on social media with a set time and location.

“If (candidates) agree to have the debate, then everything has to be agreed to,” Vera said. “All this has to be agreed by both camps.”

Vera also explained that they were apprehensive about the location because it was a dance hall where alcohol is sold.

“We just felt it was not conducive for a debate,” he said. Garcia-Peña, the host, later stated alcohol would not be sold at the event.

Garza Galvan, the candidate running against Vera for county judge, argued that the KC Hall hosts various types of events and can hold more people than the venue for the STC event. The current Roma ISD board member also said she was the only one of the female candidates asked to participate in the STC forum via an email she received at 3 p.m. on Friday.

She was excited for the opportunity to participate in a debate, Garza Galvan said, which would differ from their meet-and-greets and block-walking events they’ve had this election season.

Although she did have concerns over security, she said she felt that issue was being addressed.

“I think it would be very disappointing if these candidates did not show up,” Garza Galvan said. “This event is for (the voters); the community wants to hear from us.”

If the three male candidates do not participate, Garcia- Peña said she has a back-up plan in place: each candidate will be given 20 minutes to speak and explain their platform.

The event will be held Wednesday, Feb. 7 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The KC Hall is located on 201 E. 4th St. in Rio Grande City.