The Ector County Precinct 4 Commissioners race has been heating up as two Republican candidates battle it out on social media about criminal accusations while and the Democrat incumbent faces a challenger whose husband formerly held the office for 12 years.
The two Democrat and two Republican candidates will be on the March 6 ballot for Ector County Commissioner Precinct 4 before the winner of each primary will square off in November. Democrat candidates include incumbent Armando Rodriquez and Virginia Bryant, and Republican candidates Arlo Chavira and Russell Wright.
Chavira has been airing his challenger’s dirty laundry on social media, claiming Wright is a criminal while Wright has taken the stance of: prove it and I will drop out of the race. Chavira said he found information on the Texas Department of Public Safety website while conducting a criminal history search of Wright that shows Wright was arrested in Kaufman County in 1989 for possession of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.
“I’ve never been convicted of anything. Yeah, there was an arrest,” Wright said. “But an arrest doesn’t make you a criminal. You’re not convicted of a crime, you’re not a criminal.”
Wright said he was arrested 28 years ago, chalking it up to “being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Kaufman County court records show Wright was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia on Nov. 11, 1989, but shortly after a new case was filed. On Nov. 13, 1989 records show Wright was charged with possession of a controlled substance. That case was disposed Feb. 7, 1990 and shows Wright received a deferred adjudication for the charge. Case fee payments were completed in January 1992, the document shows.
“I wouldn’t even be able to run in this race if I was (convicted) because the state law says if you’re a convicted felon, you cannot run in this political race as a candidate,” Wright said. “Twenty-eight years ago is when it happened. It doesn’t prevent me from running for office.”
Wright added that he has nothing bad to say about his opponent because he is not running on Chavira’s bad faults.
“I’m running on what I can give and what I can do,” he said.
Chavira also has a video recording of himself scrolling through a GoFundMe page called Wright for Change Campaign showing what he believes is a violation of federal election laws.
He first found the GoFundMe page doing a Google search of his opponent and it originally showed up as a medical fundraiser for Russell Wright started in January 2017 with a goal to raise $10,000.
“You know, hey, no laws broken there,” Chavira said.
But the weekend after the deadline to file as a candidate, Chavira said he checked the GoFundMe account again, and while the photo remained the same and it was still listed as a medical fundraiser, the name of it was changed to “Wright for Change Campaign” and the description was changed to say that the account was to help with Wright’s campaign as Precinct 4 commissioner.
Chavira said he believes Wright broke federal election laws because GoFundMe is based in San Diego and would be crossing state lines. Chavira’s video shows $2,050 was raised during the entirety of Wright’s account being open since January 2017 and Chavira said none of that has shown up in contribution reports each candidate is required to turn in to the election office.
“He’s denying it. He’s saying the GoFundMe video created is copied and pasted, it’s not real,” Chavira said.
Wright initially said there is no GoFundMe account. Asked if there was ever a GoFundMe account he said, “not for the campaign.”
Wright said the account was set up to help pay for medical bills last year and the money was received long before there was any campaign for county commissioner. He then admitted that the account was edited, but that he did not know the changes had been posted.
“The editing of the old account was something that was not even supposed to be posted. And it was taken down probably within hours of the posting,” Wright said.
GoFundMe calls every account a “campaign” Wright added, saying, “can you see the confusion?” Wright said it could easily get confusing, especially if you have never set foot in a political arena before.
“The GoFundMe thing, which has really raised a big stink, is a whole lot of stink about nothing,” he said. “There’s no illegalities that I had done. If posting that for a matter of an hour, I haven’t found anywhere that says I have broken the law. I didn’t collect any money, nobody gave any money to that campaign. I’m not by law obligated to report any money that I did not get from that, that I know of, from anything I’ve read. I’m not a lawyer.”
Wright later said he is not worried about his reputation, quoting former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden that “reputation is what people think about you and character is who you are.”
“So I’m not really worried about my reputation because my character, people that know me know my character and that’s who I am.”
Wright said his focus is on improving the county and his precinct.
“I don’t think that there is a hard enough effort to improve every aspect of what we do in our local government,” he said. “I feel that fresh eyes in there and a fresh person in there can really give it a different look.”
He hopes to improve problems with illegal dumping, better roads, more law enforcement presence and a taking a hard look at the budget.
Chavira is no stranger to the political arena, having previously campaigned for numerous seats as a Democrat, but never holding a public office.
In 2004 he was the lone Democrat challenging Buddy West for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives for District 81. About a year later he announced he would file for to be the new county commissioner for Precinct 4 as long-time commissioner Bob Bryant stepped down.
Chavira was a former employee of Bryant’s at Surplus City and both Bob Bryant and his wife, Virginia, supported Chavira in his campaign, but Chavira was defeated and on January 1, 2006 current county commissioner Armando Rodriguez took office.
Now, Chavira is back, this time as a Republican candidate. If he wins the primary, he will either face Rodriguez or former employer and supporter Virginia Bryant.
Taking a break from campaigning, Chavira didn’t attempt to run for another office until 2015 for a position on the Ector County Independent School District’s Board of Trustees.
Chavira said while he ran for those offices when he was younger, he doesn’t count them because he said he didn’t know what he was doing.
“Except when I ran for school board. That one hurt because I did work a lot on it,” he said. “I felt that the party, Democrats, ganged up against me. Which is fine. But that one did hurt because I really did want to make a difference.”
Chavira said his focus as a county commissioner for Precinct 4 would be more narcotic officers to address drug issues in the county, identifying any wasteful spending that may be going on, attaining more businesses and economic development in the precinct and finding a solution to the aging courthouse issue.
Democratic candidates Rodriguez and Bryant haven’t been victims of one another’s mudslinging, but their campaigns have still evoked strong emotions unrelated to their opponent.
For Bryant, her husband and the former county commissioner for the precinct has served as inspiration for her to serve the county.
“After my husband passed away it has been difficult and I’m doing two things that bring me comfort. One is, I’m driving his pickup and the other is, I am channeling my emotional energy into this campaign,” Bryant said.
She is focusing her campaign on the taxpaye
rs and how tax money is being spent by the county. The budgeting process, she said, needs reassessment.
“Taxpayers are the single mom out on the west side with the twin daughters who owns her home and looks at that tax bill. It’s the Ector County deputy that has been there 15-20 years. It’s my neighbor who is living on fixed income and it’s that business person across the street there from me on South Grant Street. What we do in local government directly affects people,” Bryant said.
She also said she feels more proactive thinking needs to be taking place rather than just focusing on the here and now.
“We have to have vision. We have to get beyond the here and now. We have to, yes, we very definitely take care of the here and now but we also have to think ahead,” Bryant said.
As Rodriguez talked about what he has done in his precinct over the past 12 years as well as what he has planned, and displayed a different kind of emotion. His voice filled with passion as he talked about representing the people in his community.
“I’ve been doing these things for my community all the time and I will keep on doing them until God calls me up because I want the better things for my community, where I live at,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not saying that I’m going to do something now that I’m running for public office. I’m not just doing it because I’m running for office, I’m doing it because I love my community.”
Rodriguez said he has made strides in dealing with the problem of illegal dumping by getting help with funding for code enforcement officers. His first two years he was able to get one officer and commissioners helped pay for part of his salary. Now there are three code enforcement officers, he said.
Business owners and neighborhoods are also helping. Businesses have provided the county with cameras he said, so they can get a picture of people dumping trash. Residents are calling in and reporting dumping when they see it, Rodriguez said.
The commissioner said he also helped push for more rules and regulations for developers to abide by, requiring paved roads if the county is expected to accept responsibility, otherwise it would be considered a private road. Also, with more money allocated to the streets and highways department, Rodriguez said he is hoping to pave all of the unpaved roads in the county they are currently maintaining.
Rodriguez said he also advocated for change to help make it easier for residents in his precinct to vote on Election Day since many wouldn’t vote if they had to drive back to their precinct to vote during their work day.
“Now people can vote at any location no matter what precinct they live in,” he said.
Looking ahead, Rodriguez said he hopes to be proactive in creating a water district as West Odessa has done.
“With time I think the water might run out or possibly get contaminated,” he said. “I’ve talked to people about it and I can only give them directions, but I cannot do it myself. They have to do it and I can give them guidance and everything else.”
While it may not be a problem now, he said it likely will be one in the future, especially with people selling their water to oil companies.
“I will still keep on fighting for what’s better for my community and I will take some stances, heavy stances against it if it’s not good for our community.”
- What: Ector County Commissioner Precinct 4.
- How long: Four-year term.
- Salary: $54,249, Auto Allowance – $5,400, Fringe Benefits – $26,387.
- First day of early voting: Feb. 20.
- Last day of early voting: March 2 .
- Election Day: March 6 .