McALLEN — Candidates for two hotly contested races made their case Thursday before the Rio Grande Valley Builders Association for their candidacy ahead of the March primary elections.
Four candidates, two running for Hidalgo County Sheriff and two running for District 41 State Representative, participated in a candidate forum hosted by the association.
Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra and one of his challengers, Frank Guerrero, participated in the event, addressing issues of overcrowding, response times and crime rates.
Overcrowding and their response time were two of the three main priorities for Guerra who listed providing mental health services to detainees as the third priority.
Guerrero said were he to be elected, his top three priorities would be accessibility and education to the community so they can understand what the sheriff’s office does.
His second priority would be morale and leadership in the sheriff’s office, while the third would be to have more women in leadership roles in the sheriff’s office.
To address overcrowding, Guerra said he’s working with the county government on solutions which he said he couldn’t divulge.
Guerrero noted he previously managed a federal facility and said that to address overcrowding, they needed to work with detention officers, bonding companies and judges to process the cases faster.
Regarding response times, Guerrero said they needed feedback from the community to identify where problems are happening and have more boots on the ground.
Guerra said that when became sheriff, the response time was lowered from 22 to 14 minutes. The uptick last year, he said, was due to more calls for service but said they would continue to work on that.
Another major problem, Guerrero said, is the crime rate and said he believed the numbers were being diluted.
“We don’t want to demonize the area, Guerrero said, “but we do want to face the reality and we do have a problem.”
Guerra, however, assured that the crime rate is in decline.
“This county is experiencing the lowest crime that it’s ever had,” he said, noting that the numbers were for crime in the unincorporated areas, not within the city limits.
“But I can tell you, the 830 people that work in the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office do a fantastic job in lowering this crime rate out in areas that we’re responsible for.”
The other set of candidates, running to be state representative for district 41, fielded questions during the forum about term limits, poverty, housing, whether they support a hospital district, and their stance on a border wall.
District 41 covers parts of McAllen, Mission, Edinburg, Palmhurst and Alton.
Incumbent state Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-Mission, was not able to attend due to a personal commitment but sent a representative from his office, Stacie Morales, who read a statement on his behalf.
“During the seven years I have served as your state representative, I have demonstrated that I am a proud fiscal conservative,” Morales recited from the statement in which Guerra went on to tout his record of supporting low taxes and a business friendly environment.
“While I have served, I have worked with Republicans and Democrats alike because I have always believed that progress for Texas is more important than political parties and that we, as Texans, should be able to get together and work towards a positive future.”
Guerra’s opponent in the Democratic primary, Richard Gonzales, and the lone candidate running as a Republican, Dr. John R. Guerra, took part and agreed on a few issues such as the need for term limits and on their opposition to a hospital district which was twice voted down by Hidalgo County residents.
Gonzales, an attorney, said the main issue of his platform is mental health.
“It’s an epidemic that is very dear to me, it’s a situation that I think has affected many families,” Gonzalez said. “I think that it’s time that somebody step up and give those families, and those individuals who are struggling with mental health issues, a voice to be heard and have some solutions to their illness and their problems.”
Guerra, an OB-GYN, said he was running of the office because he believed there needed to be a wider variety of professions represented among the state legislators.
For him, the most pressing issue in the district is the unemployment rate which he said could be addressed through technical training.
“We need to help all the students in the grades between 9 and 12 to become better technically trained so that we can have that job force to help you builders out there,” Guerra said.
In response to a question about how to address poverty, Guerra said that part of the issues with poverty was spillover because of immigration problems.
“It is causing a little bit of an anchor for the development and the future of the Rio Grande Valley,” he said. “So we really need to address some of the immigration problems and especially the building; we know who does the work there.”
Gonzales responded that he believed the key was to have an open dialogue with city and county leaders but also with business owners in the community.
“I would like to sit down and understand what can be done,” he said. “What can we do at the state level to bring down funding for infrastructure and development?”
Regarding assistance for veterans, especially those who are homeless and without health care, both agreed that more needed to be done on the federal level both expressed desire to help on the state side.
“I’m a physician, I’m ready to help them,” Guerra said.
“Unfortunately, I’m an OB-GYN but I can help the female veterans,” he said to laughter and applause. “But I still care about the male veterans…I feel that they’ve been left behind and we need to address that.”
Gonzales noted that the state has blocked federal funds for health care and said he believed they needed to re-visit the issue.
“We need to look and say, ‘What can we do in the state of Texas to open up that avenue to get those federal dollars into our communities so that way more people can afford health insurance?’”
In closing, Guerra emphasized the need to end government overreach, the need for more technical training, and the need to increase transparency from taxing entities.
Gonzales stressed that if he were elected, he would be accessible to the constituents equally.
“This position of state representative is not about one person, it’s about the community as a whole,” he said.