Bexar County Judge candidates tell KSAT why they’re running

Meet the candidates running for Bexar County’s top office

(from left) Nathan Buchanan, Trish DeBerry, Ivalis Meza Gonzalez, Ina Minjarez and Peter Sakai. They are all running for Bexar County Judge. (KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – For the first time in 21 years, Bexar County will have a new person in its top elected position — County Judge.

After a lifetime of public service, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff will not seek re-election for the office he’s held since 2001, leaving the door open for ambitious local candidates.

With the filing deadline passed as of 6 p.m. on Monday, five candidates have officially kicked off their campaigns. Those candidates include:

  • Small business owner Nathan Buchanan (Republican)
  • Pct. 3 Commissioner Trish DeBerry (Republican)
  • Former mayoral Chief of Staff Ivalis Meza Gonzalez (Democrat)
  • State Rep. Ina Minjarez (Democrat)
  • Former mayoral candidate Gerard Ponce (Democrat)
  • Former District Court Judge Peter Sakai (Democrat)

KSAT sent questionnaires to each candidate about why they decided to enter the race. Each of them has responded.

Here are the unedited responses of each candidate, ordered alphabetically:

Nathan Buchanan (Republican)

Nathan Buchanan, candidate for Bexar County Judge. (KSAT)

Why are you running for Bexar County Judge?

There are actually several reasons why I decided to run for County Judge but I will do my best to try and keep this as short as possible.

  • For many years now, we have put up with our county and city leaders taking advantage of and abusing their power by implementing certain policies, mandates or ordinances that the majority of the residents don’t necessarily agree with. For instance, when the pandemic started, shutting down our local businesses proved to be a disastrous move and ended up costing people their jobs, homes and livelihoods. We were forced to shut down, which prevented many people from being able to make a living. I didn’t see our local elected officials miss a paycheck which is paid for with our tax dollars. As I drive down streets of this county, I see many vacant buildings that were once thriving businesses but unfortunately had to close their doors forever due to the mandatory shutdowns imposed by our local government. This was extremely detrimental to our community not to mention to my small business as well. Our community does not thrive because of our local government; it thrives because of our local residents, tourists, businesses and the hard working employees and owners that run them. Nowhere in our Constitution does it state that the local government has the right to tell us when we can and cannot make a living.
  • A good majority of our elected officials are unreachable! Not only have I experienced this myself in trying to have a face to face meeting or even a phone call with them, I have heard the same thing from way too many other people as well. We only see them out in public shaking hands and talking with people during election time and once they are voted in, they disappear. I will be a County Judge that is transparent and reachable and will actually be there for the public.
  • While our Deputy Sheriffs and Deputy Constables are some of the lowest paid in the State of Texas, our local elected officials continue to give themselves raises making sure they are nice and comfortable. When was the last time any of you were allowed to give yourself a raise at your job? Being a Texas peace officer myself, I am a staunch supporter of our law enforcement and will make sure that our deputies are given fair pay for risking their lives for our community. We need to increase the number of officers on our streets and definitely need to fix the problems that are currently plaguing the jail.
  • Rising appraisal value. The current County Judge recently displayed a graph that showed our property taxes lowering in Bexar County which gave an average savings of a few dollars to the residents of the County (which is a joke). While that may be true though, the appraisal value on properties has increased significantly which defeats there being a lower property tax rate. By doing so, mortgage payments increase and the rent increases on renters as well. In a time where people are losing their jobs and businesses, we should be making it easier for our residents to get by day to day, not harder.

I will be a County Judge that is actually there for the people and will hold their better interests at heart regardless of their party affiliation or beliefs.

What are the most pressing issues facing the county today?

There are many issues our county is currently facing such as:

  • Rising crime rates in certain areas across the county.
  • Sex trafficking
  • Rising appraisal value on properties.
  • Homelessness
  • High water and energy prices
  • Frivolous spending of our tax dollars for unnecessary projects
  • Current County Judge not leaning on the Governor to secure our border
  • Overreach of local government
  • Infrastructure
  • Job growth and our local economy

Not in that particular order either.

What are the biggest opportunities for Bexar County over the next four years?

The opportunities for Bexar County are endless! We are expected to have over one million new residents over the next fifteen to twenty years and we need to prepare for that ahead of time. Business owners and builders know that statistic, so we need to entice new companies to bring their businesses to our county so that we can expand and have plenty of room and jobs for our current and future residents. We need a County Judge who is not “in bed” with certain companies and will make sound decisions for the county based on merit and job performance. Not based on friendships, favors or personal agendas.

As your next County Judge, I will stand up for your rights and freedoms as Americans and will ensure that our constitutional rights are being upheld here in Bexar County. As I stated before, I will be available for the people and will listen to your problems and concerns. I can assure you that I will not forget how I got elected!

Bexar County Pct. 3 Commissioner Trish DeBerry (Republican)

Republican Trish DeBerry (KSAT)

Why are you running for Bexar County Judge?

During my time on the Court, I’ve tackled some of the biggest challenges we’ve seen in decades: reckless out of control spending at the Sheriff’s office, funding for domestic violence prevention, and lowering the County tax rate to its lowest point in 20+ years. As County Judge, I’ll work with the District Attorney, the judicial system, TDCJ, and my colleagues on the Court to get the jail situation under control so that we can either invest those funds in areas of critical need or return those funds to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts. I will fully fund our judicial system to remove any backlog of domestic violence cases, and I will continue to fight for lower taxes by focusing on revamping the tax appraisal system to ensure fair property valuations.

I have great working relationships with the other three members of the Court, and I am excited for the opportunity to continue working with them. There is a real opportunity here to make certain we continue to have strong, steady leadership and bipartisan cooperation, but to do that we need a capable County Judge who will set aside politics and ensure that the taxpayers always come first.

What are the most pressing issues facing the county today?

There are many issues that need to be tackled head on, with total transparency and financial accountability. The top three issues to focus on in my first year as County Judge would be:

1. Completely revamping the County Appraisal system. We were able to lower the taxation rate, but we must ensure property valuations are fair and reasonable and represent the accurate value of a citizen’s home. Citizens want property tax relief, and I will deliver.

2. Fiscal accountability at the Bexar County Jail. We are spending millions in overtime at the jail. Morale is suffering. The jail needs a complete review and upgrade of financial accountability and leadership.

3. Fully funding Domestic Violence prevention. Domestic violence is a scourge on our community. We must fully fund the judicial system to remove any backlogs and bring justice to all victims.

What are the biggest opportunities for Bexar County over the next four years?

Bexar County is the gateway to West Texas, South Texas, and the Rio Grande Valley. We are perfectly positioned to be the center of trade and commerce, and the catalyst for business development and job creation for what amounts to half of Texas.

The biggest opportunity we have is to come out of this pandemic as an economic powerhouse.

We must turn Bexar County into the Jobs Destination for Texas. Our path out of this pandemic and into economic success lies in the County leading the way and focusing on job creation, lower business taxes, and decreased regulation to create jobs with higher wages and increased benefits.

Ivalis Meza Gonzalez (Democrat)

Ivalis Meza Gonzalez (KSAT)

Why are you running for Bexar County Judge?

My parents instilled the values of what it means to serve others in me because I grew up in a family devoted to public service.

I was born and raised in Bexar County. I have raised my family here and spent my entire professional career and public service within the county.

Most recently I served as Chief of Staff to Mayor Ron Nirenberg, but have also worked at the San Antonio River Authority and have served on a variety of local boards — like the Martinez Street Women’s Center, Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women, and Healthy Futures of Texas.

I want to bring a new generation of leadership to the county and continue the collaboration and legacy of the government being transparent and working for the people.

What are the most pressing issues facing the county today?

Throughout the past two years we have seen the strength of our community and the compassion of our neighbors. But the pandemic also exposed some hard truths — from our state’s failure to invest in public health infrastructure, to an education divide that remote learning only exacerbated, to an electric grid failure that endangered all of our lives.

We must:

  • Strengthen our public health system, further develop our emergency response networks, and promote healthy economic opportunities so that we emerge from this pandemic with a new vision and new hope.
  • Work with the judicial branch of the county to make certain that they are provided the resources needed to move their caseloads forward, allowing us to expand and enhance our specialty courts - domestic violence, mental health, children’s court.
  • Collaborate with the Bexar County Sheriff’s office to assist in building a stronger agency with a focus on recruitment and retention.
  • Continue to promote and boost our workforce development in Bexar County, like through the county’s manufacturing partnership with Texas FAME that helps provide skilled training.
  • Enhance early childhood and adult education through the county’s Bibliotech

What are the biggest opportunities for Bexar County over the next four years?

Support a justice system that’s dedicated to erasing domestic violence, treating mental health and substance abuse, bringing families together and supporting our children.

Work collaboratively at every level of government to ensure that we’re delivering the most for every county resident - whether you live in San Antonio or our surrounding municipalities and towns.

Create a housing market that is affordable for any family who wishes to call Bexar County home and build sustainable, resilient neighborhoods.

Make healthcare accessible to all by continuing to expand University Health System — which has provided world-class care amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Enhance our manufacturing and technology workforce pipelines to deliver good jobs to our county and further solidify our region’s place in the economies of our state, nation, and world.

State Rep. Ina Minjarez (Democrat)

Ina Minjarez, Bexar County Judge candidate (KSAT)

Why are you running for Bexar County Judge?

I am running for County Judge because I have the experience and qualifications to address our most important priorities – economic growth, traffic and infrastructure, and community health and safety.

We are one of the fastest growing areas of the country – nearly 100 new people move to Bexar County every single day. This provides economic growth opportunities and expands our employee talent pool but it also presents challenges like increased traffic, rising housing costs, and strains on infrastructure, schools, and government services as we grow.

I have worked to address all these issues as a State Representative for the past six years, and I helped secure over $1 billion in state funding, this year alone, to address those and other crucial priorities. And I also co-sponsored a bill to provide over $60 million in property tax relief for Bexar County homeowners, if voters approve the measure next May.

Judge Nelson Wolff has served us well for the last 20 years. The momentum he helped foster and the solid foundation he laid leave Bexar County well prepared for the challenges and opportunities we face. I have a proven record of delivering for Bexar County and that’s exactly the kind of leadership our community needs at this important juncture in our history.

I am running to continue providing effective leadership with real results. It’s what I’ve done as State Representative and what I’ll continue to do as County Judge.

What are the most pressing issues facing the county today?

The most pressing issues facing the county are economic growth, traffic and infrastructure, and community health and safety. We need to prepare and address the explosive growth experienced by Bexar County over the past two decades, all while proactively addressing five key areas to position Bexar County as the driver of Texas’ economic growth:

  • Promoting Affordable Living and Reducing Property Taxes:
    • Audit county expenditures to cut wasteful spending, eliminate duplicative programming, and safeguard taxpayer dollars.
    • Streamline county departments and services to maximize services and minimize costs to Bexar County taxpayers.
  • Facilitating Access to Economic Opportunities:
    • We need meaningful property tax relief for families who call Bexar County home.
    • Generational poverty…lifting people out of poverty. We do that, we thrive economically.
  • Paving Access to Affordable, Quality Health Care:
    • Invest in innovative programs at University Health to reduce reliance on expensive emergency rooms and bring down the cost of health care in Bexar County.
    • Focus on community and mental health initiatives that enable all those who live in Bexar County to contribute to our community to the best of their abilities.
    • Institute preventive healthcare programs that increase wellness, walkability, and well-being to maximize the overall health of those who live in Bexar County before they enter our healthcare system.
  • Improving Public Safety and Access to Justice:
    • Increase Neighborhood Safety.
    • Implement Programs to reduce domestic violence and deter abusers.
    • Innovate and invest in our local foster care system to prevent unnecessary removals and promote family reunification, if possible. •
  • Paving Sustainable Economic Development and Infrastructure:
    • Promote transportation and infrastructure solutions to minimize traffic, easing the way for our county’s growing population, and maximize our flood control and drainage systems.
    • Ensure long-lasting, sustainable growth in suburban areas that aligns with Bexar County’s economic needs and fosters quality of life for those who currently call Bexar County home and those who will move ultimately move here.
    • Build upon Bexar County’s extraordinary broadband network to fuel business creation and job growth for everyone from rural Bexar County to downtown San Antonio.

What are the biggest opportunities for Bexar County over the next four years?

  • Attracting well-paying jobs and fostering educational and vocational opportunities across the board, from trade school to our higher education institutions, to retain Bexar County’s youth and equip them with the skills so they will contribute to our current and future economic prosperity.
  • Fanning the flames of Bexar County’s growing tech industry by leveraging our affordable living, unique culture and position Bexar County as a new destination for the nation’s tech talent.
  • Centering University Hospital as a model for healthcare quality, access, and affordability throughout the county, state, and country.

Gerard Ponce (Democrat)

Gerard Ponce, a candidate for Bexar County Judge (KSAT)

Why are you running for Bexar County Judge?

First of all, we need to reign in Homeowner Property Taxes, they’re one of the highest in America! I’ll work closely with the communities to fairly assess the value of the properties in conjunction with the Tax Appraiser. I’ve attended governmental hearings where the Tax Appraiser said he was tired of lying to homeowners about their property’s value. We can’t continue this way, constantly increasing homeowners’ taxes through deceit.

Secondly, we need to get Bexar County back to work!  Currently I’m working with State Representative & Faith Community Leaders to develop an Educational Employment Program providing Job Skills Training & Employment Opportunities for young people ages 17-24. This program will be put in place for use throughout all of Bexar County & San Antonio.

What are the most pressing issues facing the county today?

We’re facing a time of Bigotry & Hate within Bexar County! To recently experience Hate Crimes, Antisemitism & Ethnic Negativity in Bexar County neighborhoods is appalling! I’ll work with Faith Based, Sheriff’s Department & SAPD Leaders to help curtail this activity. Just because its happening Nationally doesn’t mean its accepted here!

Family Violence has continued to be on the rise, we as a community need to come together to help prevent further trauma. Children shouldn’t have to experience violence & live with emotional scars. I’d like work with the Courts System & the District Attorney’s Office to help alleviate some of these issues.

What are the biggest opportunities for Bexar County over the next four years?

Bexar County has terrible traffic congestion issues!  As our County grows in population, the issues become more widespread. We must address the infrastructure by examining the route causes* (pun intended) on Loop 1604, 281 & IH-35 were traffic between Bexar County & Austin escalates!

Another important issue is Bexar County’s Air Quality & Ozone Layer. As County Judge I will suggest reducing gas emissions through traffic flow management thus minimizing vehicles on roadways during key times. To improve electric grid efficiency (ie: Black Outs) I’ll recommend implementing staggered work hours as well as 3, 4 & 5 day work weeks to level the impact on our Power Grid. This plan will utilize work periods during 7am - 7pm days thus assisting in time management for families requiring Child, Senior, Health Care & Ozone Day absences. This timetable will enable County employees to utilize personal hours rather than work hours for medical or family appointments. This arrangement will tackle Air Quality & Energy Use while reducing County employee expenses by eliminating their daily need for parking, gasoline, meals, child & eldercare, etc.

Bexar County is growing in business categories including the influx of Tech Industry. I will examine all business growth opportunities & plan for Infrastructure Improvements accordingly.

Peter Sakai (Democrat)

Peter Sakai, Candidate for Bexar County Judge (Mark Humphries 2021)

Why are you running for Bexar County Judge?

I am a public servant and committed to public service.

For the past 26 years, I have worked to serve the public in different capacities. For the past 15 years, I served as the Local Administrative Judge for the District Courts and Administrative Judge of Children’s Courts. In my role as a District Court Judge, I have worked with all stakeholders to protect children, empowered families, and improved the child safety system in Bexar County.

As Bexar County Judge, my focus will be on enhancing the public services for each resident in Bexar County. The next County Judge will face many challenges including developing robust and resilient systems to address the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic violence, greater access to technology and the internet, economic development, public infrastructure, comprehensive education, health care services, workforce development, and job placement.

As the Local Administrative Judge for the District Courts, I was responsible to all of the district judges, their staff, and all constituencies to positively address all matters including budget, local rules, and other initiatives before them.

I bring an unmatched depth of county-wide experience, not only as a judge but as somebody who has and will continue to work with Bexar County residents, experts, and stakeholders to meet the challenges facing Bexar County now, and into the future.

What are the most pressing issues facing the county today?

Economic Development

I will work tirelessly to make Bexar County the county of “Choice” for new business startups, business expansion, and corporate headquarter relocations.

I am committed to growing all business sectors of our economy with a focus on technology and cyber-security sectors, biomedical, manufacturing, and continued support of all of our military installations and missions.

I will actively engage with all stakeholders to promote and strengthen our job training and workforce development programs.

I will look for opportunities to engage in Public-Private Partnerships to ensure every worker has the skillsets necessary to keep our economy running strong.

Together, we can ensure a bright future for Bexar County full of opportunity. Let us make it happen with everyone at the table.

Education & Workforce Training

We must recognize that education is the fundamental core of our community – it is the key to upward mobility and financial security for all our citizens. An educated workforce positively impacts our entire economy. Even though the County is not directly responsible for the educational systems from Pre-K to college, it is an integral part of helping to make the system strong and viable for all students. COVID-19 taught us how vulnerable our educational systems/services are simply because a student’s ability to access high-speed internet. I am committed to lead a collaborative effort to bring all educational institutions, the workforce training programs such as those provided by the Alamo College District to create a pipeline to college or workforce. We successfully accomplished this initiative for our foster children in our College Bound Docket in Children’s Courts. With the immediate changes in technology, logistics and manufacturing, it will be essential to provide training for our labor force to acquire new skills and knowledge to fuel the cutting-edge jobs in the foreseeable future.

Together, we can celebrate educational excellence by improving communication, collaboration, and coordination.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure is the organizational structures that include more than buildings, roads, and parks. It is the social and economic network of Bexar County. As County Judge, I recognize the importance of developing and supporting new strategies to address the challenges the infrastructure network will present in the years to come.

Our transportation infrastructure must grow to meet the needs of our citizens and the business community. I will work to develop and support new strategies to relieve roadway congestion and multi-modal transportation services, including Public-Private Partnerships.

Bexar County needs to maximize every finance method and construction tool to leverage its assets and resources for the common good of the county’s collective taxpayers. Constructing smart roadways and multi-modal projects will help sustain a robust economy, efficiently get workers to their jobs, increase delivery of products, and supplies to businesses, and more importantly, help mitigate the burdensome state and federal regulations associated with non-attainment air quality standards.

Our housing infrastructure also needs attention. We must do all we can to positively address our housing supply. I will work to maximize partnerships and Interlocal Agreements, identify housing gaps for at-risk individuals and families, support affordable and quality housing, include private-sector developers, and explore Public-Private Partnerships for solutions. Together, we can build a world-class county.

What are the biggest opportunities for Bexar County over the next four years?

Through strong and effective leadership with our citizens’ big compassionate heart for our Bexar County children and families, together we will maximize the following opportunities…

  • Building a stronger and vibrant economy through collaboration with the private, public, and governmental sectors.
  • Maximize the efficient and effective use of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to address the economic and infrastructure challenges in Bexar County.
  • Embrace new world technology, and cybersecurity especially with our strong military presence and educational institutions that focus on economic growth and sustainability.
  • Break down silos and augment intergovernmental partnerships to leverage funds to improve constituent services, incentivize growth, and maximize taxpayers’ dollars.
  • Keep our community focused on the needs of our children and families, especially those most at risk especially our abused and neglected children. Recognize that our community has the biggest heart and compassion in the country for children and families.

About the Author:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.