The primary election is set for March 3, and early voting will be conducted Feb. 18-28 at the Willie De Leon Civic Center. Early voting opens Tuesday, Feb. 18 due to Monday being President’s Day, a federal holiday. Voting will be held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 18-21 and Feb. 24-26. Saturday, Feb. 22, voting will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The last two days of early voting, Feb. 27-28, hours are extended, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
by Julye Keeble, staff writer
More than 150 people turned up Thursday night for a political forum hosted by the Uvalde Area Chamber of Commerce featuring Uvalde County candidates for offices to be determined in the upcoming March primary elections.
The forum was held Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at the Uvalde Grand Opera House.
Victoria Dühring, executive director of the chamber, welcomed attendees to the forum.
The format allowed candidates two minutes to introduce themselves, and then another two minutes to answer questions posed by moderator J Allen Carnes. Carnes is a former mayor of Uvalde and a new member of the chamber board of directors.
First on the stage were three candidates running for the Precinct 1 seat on the Uvalde County Commissioners’ Court, Republican candidates Bill Dozier and Diana Olvedo-Karau, and Democratic candidate John Yeackle. The incumbent for Precinct 1, Randy Scheide, did not file for reelection.
Dozier, a real estate agent, said his business will allow him to be a full-time commissioner and devote his time to working for the people of Uvalde County.
“I started high school here in 1960, I’ve been in business here for over 50 years. I am a Vietnam-era veteran,” Dozier said. His goal is to make Uvalde County better than it is today.
Carnes asked all three candidates, “What is your favorite aspect or part of your precinct, and why?”
Dozier said he loves his home and does small farming, and he supports all the famers in the rural community. He believes Uvalde County is the best county in Texas, and wants to work to keep it that way.
Uvalde school district employee Olvedo-Karau said, though she lived in the Midwest for 25 years, Uvalde is where her roots, and her heart, live, which is why she returned to Uvalde with her husband, Kyle Karau.
“My primary campaign platforms are to help reduce property taxes, to improve the roads because we depend on them for travel and commerce, and also to create economic development,” Olvedo-Karau said.
She plans to use asset-based economic development to help grow Uvalde, and she enjoys attending civic events and being engaged in the community.
She said she loves that Precinct 1 is part of Uvalde County, and that the county has much potential for great things, and she wants to be a part of it.
Yeackle, a business owner, also served two terms on the Uvalde City Council from 2004-2010, where he helped pass term limits and even volunteered to have his own term cut short, to provide an example of government regulations he believes in.
A self-described “lightning rod” he moved here in 1996, and his wife is from Uvalde.
“I’ve been known to have some strong opinions, I don’t know that labels are really relevant for me. I’m a gun-owning former law enforcement individual who is pro-life,” Yeackle said.
He feels comfortable in Precinct 1 where he lives and runs his business, and he believes paying taxes on both gives him perspective. He said while serving on city council taxes were lowered five times.
Jerry W. Bates, incumbent Precinct 3 Uvalde County Commissioner, said he grew up in Sabinal, living on a small farm outside Sabinal. He earned an associate degree from Southwest Texas Junior College and a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Texas A&I University. He taught school in Knippa for several years.
He and his wife, Betty Jo Bates, have been married for 50 years, and they have three children and six grandchildren. He does charitable walks for multiple sclerosis.
“Precinct 3 is truly God’s Country. It has the mighty Frio River and the Sabinal River both flowing through it, it brings in lots of revenue for our county with Garner Park and all the tourism plus all the hunting, all the game we have,” Bates said. He said he wants to continue the work he has begun on the county commissioners court.
His opponent, Republican Morris B. Killough of Utopia, did not attend the forum.
Johnny J. Field is the incumbent Democrat for the office of Precinct 1 Uvalde County Constable.
Field said he is very active in the community serving on committees for the Methodist church and the Uvalde school board. He is a Master Peace Officer, and has earned three associate degrees, two of which are in criminal justice.
He has served as a captain at the Uvalde Police Department where he was also a SWAT commander and hostage negotiator, and chief of police at SWTJC.
“The most humbling and prestigious title I have held so far is that of Uvalde County Constable Precinct 1,” Field said.
“Tell us one of your fondest memories about you precinct,” Carnes asked of constable candidates.
Field said being elected as constable was a favorite memory, but that people do not realize constables are not provided with any equipment.
“I went out and financed a Tahoe where I marked it as constable, purchased the badge and got a uniform ready. When January 1st came around I went out to patrol the city and the county. It was a very exhilarating and humbling experience,” Field said.
The Republican challenger for the office of Precinct 1 constable, Eddie Obregon, did not attend the forum.
Three Republicans are seeking the position of Uvalde County constable for Precinct 3. They include incumbent Jim Mangum and U.S. government contractor Christopher Chaney did not attend the forum.
Medina County attorney investigator Robert Cook said he lives and works in the Concan area and has been there for 22 years. He has 25 years of experience in law enforcement and has a Master Peace Officer license.
He previously worked for the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy in the Concan area.
He works on felony and misdemeanor cases as an investigator and feels he is experienced and steady.
His favorite memory of the area is the people, stating working with people is his favorite part of the job.
“It’s a seasonal situation as far as tourism. Law enforcement needs to be friendly and also fair with the tourists that come into that area, and the people there in Concan which I’ve always had a relationship with and had more fun with than anything. I love the area. … We’re gonna stay there until we turn our toes up,” Cook said.
Two Republican candidates are seeking the position of Uvalde County constable for Precinct 6. Democratic incumbent Robert Moss did not attend the forum.
Law enforcement officer Emmanuel Zamora said he is experienced, having worked for the sheriff’s office and the Uvalde Police Department, and he now teaches at the SWTJC law enforcement academy, where he was once a student.
“All those positions I’ve held make me the person that I am today, all that gained knowledge. One of my biggest mentors is Bob Price, I would always look up to him, and say I want to be like him some day. I’m proud to be endorsed by him,” Zamora said.
He said a fond memory of Precinct 6 was moving to Uvalde Estates, where he has lived for more than 30 years.
“You get a little bit of the country life, but you’re really close to the city so it is very enjoyable. It was enjoyable to ignite a fire and pop fireworks without really getting in trouble, you’re just outside the city limits. I love it,” Zamora said, adding that he misses patrolling, which is why he’s running for the office.
Republican Party incumbent Uvalde County tax assessor/collector Rita Cordova Verstuyft is not facing an opponent in the March primary election. There are two Democratic candidates for the office, retiree Margarita “Maggie” Del Toro, who did not attend the forum, and school district employee Sylvia Flores Uriegas.
Uriegas thanked everyone for coming, and said her father, the late Santos Flores III, had encouraged her to run, noting her father was very involved with political issues.
“I love to teach my students the importance of education and the importance to have a voice. Of course students are our future. To me it’s very important to keep engaged with the community,” Uriegas said.
She noted she had experience with non-profit organizations, where she learned to be organized and transparent.
Carnes asked the two tax assessor candidates, “What’s one thing you consider to be one Uvalde’s greatest assets?”
Uriegas said Uvalde’s greatest asset is the people. “I am very, very, proud to be a Uvaldean and ready to serve you. My goal and my frame of mind is to be a team player. With my skills that I have I think that I can teach leadership to you and great customer service,” she said.
“I am your current tax assessor/collector. My husband and I have been married for 35 years, we reside in Knippa and we are fifth-generation farmers. … I bring 30 years of experience in county government and customer service,” Verstuyft said, adding that she welcomes citizens into the office and recognizes that customers come first. She and her husband have two sons, and four grandchildren.
She said giving back to the community is important, so she is a member of civic clubs including the Uvalde Agri-Women, the Knippa boosters, the American Legion Auxiliary, and the vice-president of the Uvalde Lions Club.
Verstuyft said the people of Uvalde are the best asset, referencing the fire in Batesville where people worked together to create a shelter and first responders went to assist the community.
“We are an awesome community. Living in a small town is wonderful. We know each other’s names. We go to the same churches, We pray for each other. … I am blessed to be here,” Verstuyft said.
Three Republicans are seeking the office of Uvalde County sheriff, locksmith Otto Arnim, current deputy sheriff Ruben Nolasco, and pipeline foreman Fabian Villasana. There are two Democratic candidates for the office, law enforcement officers Armando Garcia, who did not attend the forum, and Miguel “Mike” Hernandez.
Hernandez said transparency is vital. He plans to implement mandatory drug testing for deputies and himself if elected, and wants more coverage on school campuses throughout the county.
He has been married for 24 years, and Thursday night was his wedding anniversary.
He has 32 years of experience in law enforcement, and holds a Master Peace Office license. He has worked for the sheriff’s office as a jailer and deputy, and for UPD as a detective and interim chief.
“When I was with the police department I was responsible for a $3.5 million budget and oversaw about 50 people,” Hernandez said, adding he wants to build the department to where it’s beneficial to everyone in the county.
“You’re going to be out and about in the community a lot. What is your favorite time of year in Uvalde and why?” Carnes asked.
“I want to say the holidays, but I think summertime. I can’t just say it’s one particular time of year I enjoy the most,” Hernandez said, stating spending time with family was a priority for him.
Nolasco thanked the audience for attending.
“Twenty-nine years ago I answered my call and decided to become a law enforcement officer. I’ve made law enforcement my profession. I have not ventured off, rather I’ve worked hard and diligently to make this community a safe place to live,” Nolasco said. He said he started as a dispatcher answering the very first 911 call and implementing the alert tone officers hear with wanted subjects and he understands the diverse needs of law enforcement.
He has been part of the UCSO for the last 15 years, and has done undercover work and intercepted money and narcotics.
He enjoys being involved with the community and formerly worked with the EMS. He holds a master certification in law enforcement.
Nolasco said though every season was essential in Uvalde, summer is good for the community. “It gives us as officers an opportunity to work with other agencies with other officers, DPS, Parks and Wildlife, Border Patrol and so forth. I do like to stay busy,” Nolasco said.
Arnim said though he isn’t a Uvalde native, he got here as quickly as he could. He retired as a trooper with the Texas Department of Public Safety, and has over 35 years of law enforcement experience.
He received advanced training from DPS, working in narcotics, doing background and internal investigations. He worked in threat assessment with other agencies to determine smuggling and terrorism threats. He developed a program now used on inter-coastal waters and the Rio Grande.
He wants to implement better training for deputies if elected, including EMT training and work to ameliorate school bullying.
“My favorite time of year related to the sheriff’s department would be the summertime. This is a time when Uvalde gets to stand out more than any other county in the state of Texas. We’ve got the most beautiful rivers people want to come here, and we need to showcase this,” Arnim said.
Arnim said hundreds of thousands of people coming in from other areas sometimes handle things differently than locals, and he believes the sheriff’s department needs to increase patrols, including up in Concan.
“It’s not the same thing as it used to be, the rivers, the people that are on the rivers, dope smoking, drinking, glass bottles and things like that. We need to take an active role in that, this is protecting our livelihood because tourism is so important in Uvalde County,” Arnim said.
Villasana is of Sabinal, and he grew up in Uvalde on a small ranch below town. He said he started his law enforcement career in 1979.
“I was appointed by a Texas Ranger named Joaquin Jackson, most of you people know who he was. He was the meanest man I’ve ever met, he took me under his arm and taught me everything that I know about law enforcement,” Villasana said, adding he worked as deputy sheriff in Zavala County. He also worked as dispatcher at the jail and as a detention officer for the late Sheriff Kenneth Kelley.
He said Texas Rangers used to cover 19 counties, but now there is a ranger in every county, which he feels is a good thing.
“December is my favorite time of year, it’s family time. … It brings family together. I got involved in a toy drive, it gave me great pleasure to donate things to the kids who can’t afford to buy stuff. I didn’t want anything in return because they were too young to vote,” Villasana said.
Uvalde County elections administrator Melissa Jones Bradham was present to answer questions, help potential voters get registered for the November general election and apply for ballots by mail.
The primary election is set for March 3, and early voting will be conducted Feb. 18-28 at the Willie De Leon Civic Center.
Early voting opens Tuesday, Feb. 18 due to Monday being President’s Day, a federal holiday.
Voting will be held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 18-21 and Feb. 24-26. Saturday, Feb. 22, voting will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The last two days of early voting, Feb. 27-28, hours are extended, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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