SAN ANTONIO – As Election Day nears, the candidates running in what is likely to be one of the most competitive races in Bexar County squared off in a forum hosted by KSAT 12 anchor Steve Spriester on Tuesday.
Democrat Christine Hortick and Republican Trish DeBerry are vying to replace outgoing Precinct 3 Commissioner Kevin Wolff, the lone Republican on the court. The North Side precinct stretches west to east from Bandera Road to Wetmore Road and from the northern perimeter of Loop 410 to the Bexar County line (see map below or find out which precinct you live in here).
Hortick, a former congressional aide to the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, is running for office for her first time. She touted her experience working in Congress and working as an attorney for 20 years.
DeBerry, the founder of marketing agency The DeBerry Group, previously ran for mayor in 2009 against Julian Castro. Deberry told voters she is “a fiscal conservative at heart” with more than two decades of small business experience.
The commissioner seat has belonged to a Republican for the last 50 years, but with massive voter turnout expected, Hortick is hoping to end that streak.
Both candidates outlined their priorities and their ideas to get the economy up and running again amid the coronavirus pandemic.
When asked what they would focus on most urgently, both candidates focused on the economy.
“First and foremost, the priority has to be jumpstarting this economy and putting people back to work,” DeBerry said.
DeBerry said she would look into job training and mentorship opportunities. She also expressed interest in creating a “small business lifeline task force” that would help struggling businesses.
Hortick also said economic recovery would be the most important issue for her.
“Small business are crucial to our community and we need to do everything we can to support them,” Hortick said.
The former congressional aide said she would also focus on infrastructure projects that would help the community’s growth.
Property tax relief
When it comes to property taxes, DeBerry said “it’s not enough for the county to brag about the fact that they kept the tax rate flat" because appraisals are still increasing.
“That is an effective tax increase,” DeBerry said. “The citizens of Pct. 3 understand that better than anybody. Precinct 3 pays more than 40% of the property taxes in Bexar County.”
DeBerry called for appraisal reform and working with the state legislature to reach that goal.
Hortick said part of her approach would be to educate homeowners on why their property taxes are high.
“Yes, the commissioners do control some of the local tax rates, but they don’t have anything to do with the appraisal values of our homes,” she said.
Hortick said she would propose expanding property tax exemptions for seniors.
After initially proposing cutting 38 constable positions, the Bexar County Comissioners Court agreed to only cut 19 positions. The candidates took different stances on the issue.
Hortick said she would have voted for the proposal because data showed the constables had a reduction in workload during the pre-pandemic time period.
“That’s tied purely to the amount of work,” she said. “It has nothing to do with defunding the constable’s office or any other type of law enforcement.”
DeBerry would have voted against that proposal, she said.
“When I’m at the door with people, they are cognizant of response times, especially if they live in far reaches of the county,” DeBerry said.
‘What sets you apart from your opponent?’
The most heated portion of the forum came when the candidates were asked what sets them apart from each other.
Hortick said that if she wins, she would shut down her law practice to focus solely on the commissioner job.
“I think Pct. 3 residents deserve a full-time commissioner and wont' be distracted by a secondary business or project,” Hortick said.
DeBerry fired back, saying Hortick is used to focusing on herself as a sole proprietor.
“The problem that I have with my opponent giving up all work is that she’s going to become very quickly out of touch with reality,” DeBerry said. “That is the path to being a professional politician. And we don’t need professional politicians in office."
Only two women have ever held a seat on Bexar County Commissioner’s Court, according to the Express-News.