Friday, August 1, 2014

Should State Rep. Villarreal resign? | Last Word

My friends at the San Antonio Express-News this week editorialized that State Rep. Mike Villarreal should resign before Aug. 21 in order to run for mayor.

Why?  So that taxpayers could avoid spending $80,000 to $100,000 on a special election to replace him.

If Villarreal resigned before that date, Democratic precinct chairmen from his legislative district would choose a candidate for the November ballot.

Since no republican ran in the primary for this seat, whomever the precinct chairmen chose would serve in the next Legislature.

If Villarreal didn’t resign by Aug. 21, Gov. Rick Perry would schedule a special election, most likely in December.

It's possible Villarreal will have announced his decision in the brief period between the taping of this commentary and its airing.

As a citizen who happens to live in Villarreal’s district, I found the argument unpersuasive.

I don’t know the precinct chairmen who would be making the decision on behalf of me and other voters, but I do know that the Democratic Party in Bexar County (like the Republican Party) is such an anemic organization that nobody ran for chairman in many of the precincts in last November’s elections.

County Democratic Chairman Manuel Medina had to beat the streets to find people to appoint to the empty slots.

It’s not clear how many of these appointees feel loyalty to Medina.

Given the lack of attraction of the job, some may blame him for bringing them on board.

Still, it strikes me as strange to put the decision into the hands of such a small group.

Sure, it may save $100K, but an ineffective representative who owes his or her selection to a group of party insiders can easily cost San Antonio far more than that.

Of four people mentioned as seeking to succeed Villarreal, only one has experience as an elected official and is well-known to the voting public: City Councilman Diego Bernal.

Bernal was elected in 2011 and has shown himself to be a very effective lawmaker.

He has spearheaded measures ranging from regulating payday lenders to adding gays and other sexual minorities to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance.

He is so popular in his council district – which heavily overlaps Villarreal’s legislative district – that he was the only council member last year not to face an opponent.

And when conservative forces sought to recall him for the non-discrimination ordinance, they couldn’t get enough signatures to force an election.

You would think he would be the obvious choice for precinct chairs, but some observers think agendas other than choosing the most qualified candidate may be in play.

And given that controversial party Chairman Medina has picked so many of the chairmen, you could expect Bernal to prefer a special election to a backroom party play.

So why would Bernal even consider putting his fate in the hands of a few party activists rather than the voters?

It turns out a general election might not be without perils.

Both the police and firefighter unions have made it clear they feel the need to flex political muscle if they want to hold onto their very generous and very expensive retirement health benefits.

The firefighters helped gather signatures for an election to kill the streetcar project in order to show their strength.

The police union announced that it is raising member assessments in order to build a bigger political war chest.

Both unions are reportedly not pleased that Bernal has supported City Manager Sheryl Sculley in her efforts to reduce health benefits.

In the wake of city and county capitulation on the streetcar, the unions might well aim their guns at Bernal in a low-turnout special election.

It could be a very ugly campaign with a great deal at stake.

If the unions were able to defeat a councilman as popular as Bernal, no council member seeking re-election would ever cross them lightly.

You couldn’t blame Bernal if he’d rather avoid that battle – especially if he could say he was just saving taxpayers’ money.

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