Republicans and Democrats are charting two different paths in the race to replace Republican Trish DeBerry in Bexar County Commissioners Court in November.
While Democrats quietly picked their nominee in February, Republicans are still deciding how to choose their nominee, leaving potential nominees in the dark about how and when that will happen.
“It’s a fluid situation,” said Jeff McManus, the new Bexar County Republican Party chairman. “There are no state or county rules as to how this should be done.”
DeBerry’s last-minute decision to run for Bexar County judge has already created a lot of confusion about Precinct 3’s seat in the Court of Commissioners.
Election officials initially believed the parties would pick candidates in the March primary to fill the remainder of DeBerry’s four-year term, prompting Republican hopeful Patty Gibbons to file with the county. The office of the Texas Secretary of State then ruled that the precinct presidents of the parties in Precinct 3 should choose their candidates to run in the November ballot.
In the meantime, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, a Democrat, has been seeking candidates from both parties to serve as acting commissioner. He chose Republican Marialyn Barnard, who previously served on the 4th Court of Appeals.
“I already have the base of knowing a lot of people in the Republican Party and a lot of precinct chairmen,” said Barnard, who recruited precinct chairmen to fill precinct 3 vacancies ahead of the March primary. “I just reached out, let everyone know I want to be considered” for the party nomination.
Barnard’s campaign said it raised more than $70,000 for November’s potential race.
As a civil servant presiding over the Republican selection process, McManus is new to his job himself.
He unseated John Austin in the May 24 primary runoff after campaigning on a plan to recruit “true Republicans” as candidates in Bexar County. He takes over as county party leader this month and now leads a five-person committee he says will narrow the field of interested candidates before the constituency presidents vote.
Other members of this committee include Lora Lane, Ellen Ott, Steven Jordan and Brenda Slatton.
McManus said they will assess applicants based on responses to a questionnaire that covers details ranging from personal information (date of birth and driver’s license number) to ideological positions (whether people should be allowed to defend one’s property with deadly force).
McManus said Thursday that Barnard was the only candidate to submit the form.
Republican Precinct Presidents-elect from Precinct 3 will meet in Aggie Park on July 7 to decide on their nominee. Not all of these positions are currently filled, but candidates seeking to fill vacancies will only be sworn in after the Precinct 3 Commissioner candidate has been decided.
“I think two minutes for each [commissioner] candidate to talk about his qualifications, and then there is a solicitation of first-round votes,” McManus said of the July 7 rally. Some candidates would be eliminated based on this vote, and the remaining candidates would again have the opportunity to speak before a final vote, he added.
Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen said only Ward 3 presidents can vote on the nominations, but other elements of the process are up to the parties to decide. She said the deadline for parties to nominate a candidate is August 22..
Democrats picked Susan Korbel, a Castle Hills precinct president who owns her own market research firm, in February.
“I was the only one who applied, and then I was elected in a meeting we had on Zoom by acclamation,” said Korbel, who previously served as a trustee of Alamo Colleges.
Republicans, meanwhile, have a host of candidates.
Gathered in MacArthur Park on Tuesday evening, Gibbons, Barnard, councilor Clayton Perry (D10), former councilor Carlton Soules, former precinct speaker Billy Peche, Tory activist Patrick Von Dohlen and political director of Valero Grant Moody mingled with the precinct presidents who will choose the nominee.
“They work the piece. They need to know who is eligible to vote, give them their pitch, and tell them why they deserve to win their vote,” said 3015 constituency president Marian Stanko. Stanko said at least 30 candidates had it. already contacted about the position. .
Soules, who campaigned unsuccessfully against Wolff for county judgeship in 2014 and for a state representative seat in 2018, said he focused on one-on-one meetings with precinct presidents. .
“The audience is around 120 people,” Soules said. “Most of it is going to be person-to-person and phone calls and meetings and just sitting down with them and explaining to them what we want to accomplish.”
“If this was a normal election and someone was vying for the constituency nomination, do you think most people would be able to raise the $250,000 needed to run?” said Peche, who works at Amazon. “That’s why I enjoy it,” he said of the opening of Precinct 3.
But even experienced candidates admit that the process for this race is far from clear.
Perry’s spokeswoman, Landry Stafford, said in a statement Thursday that the councilman was unaware of McManus’ verification form. San Antonio’s charter states that if a council member “shall apply to become a candidate for appointment or election to public office,” then he must “immediately vacate his place on the council.”
“He has no intention of resigning and would not have to resign unless nominated by the constituency presidents,” Stafford said.
While many precinct presidents at Tuesday’s event declined to say which candidate they planned to support, Rick Briscoe, who is precinct president in 3078, said he supported Moody.
“He’s a Marine fighter pilot. He has a business background and he has been active in Republican politics,” said Briscoe, who is also the legislative director of Open Carry Texas, a gun rights advocacy group. “We are fortunate to have several qualified candidates who have expressed interest in the position.
Former Hollywood Park Mayor David Ortega, who now lives in Stone Oak, is posing as a candidate who can work with Democrats in the Court of Commissioners.
“If we really care about the county, we have to get along, we have to work with each other,” said Ortega, who did not attend Tuesday’s event.