Democratic Bexar County Judge candidates rely on prior experience in forum

Four candidates vying to succeed Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff

All four Democratic candidates who are competing for the county’s top elected position participated in the forum.

Editor’s note: Watch the full Bexar County Democratic Party forum here.

In their first forum ahead of the primary election, all four Democratic Bexar County Judge candidates touted their prior experience in an effort to set them apart from their competition.

The forum, hosted Thursday by the Bexar County Democratic Party, featured all four candidates running for the parties nomination. They include:

  • Ivalis Meza Gonzalez, former mayoral chief of staff
  • Ina Minjarez, state representative in House District 124
  • Gerard Ponce, administrator and former mayoral candidate
  • Peter Sakai, former district court judge

Though Gerard Ponce has never served in an elected office before, he has spent his career as a court administrator, helping start up multiple programs in specialty courts. His “skills, talents, knowledge and numerous longterm relationships” would make him an effective county judge, he said.

Ivalis Meza Gonzalez told voters she has been involved politics since she was a young girl going to labor union events with her parents. After working for the Spurs and the San Antonio River Authority, Gonzalez spent the last four years as Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s Chief of Staff.

“I have a passion for public service and a mother’s drive to get things done,” she said.

State Rep. Ina Minjarez, the only state lawmaker running in the race, touted her experience in the state capitol over the past six years. The legislator said her time in Austin has given her “specialized training” that makes her the right person for the office.

“I believe with the skillset I have received and leadership roles I have played at the Capitol, I am ready to come home and lead Bexar County,” she said.

Peter Sakai spent 26 years as a district judge in Bexar County, overseeing the court system’s budget and presiding over cases involving drugs, domestic violence and family issues.

“I’ve made the toughest decisions,” Sakai said. “That’s what the next county judge needs to be prepared for, to confront and resolve the tough issues.”

The forum touched on a number of topics, including property taxes, economic development, domestic violence, criminal justice reform and voting rights. Though the candidates largely agreed on the issues facing Bexar County, they sometimes took differing approaches in addressing them.

On domestic violence — which recently sparked the creation of a countywide task force — Minjarez focused on the need to fund preventative measures rather than waiting “until it’s too late.”

Gonzalez and Sakai both emphasized the need for collaboration on the issue.

The candidates credited both Nirenberg and outgoing Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff for their leadership during the pandemic, and each pledged to build on that legacy.

“We were very lucky to have that collaboration during COVID,” Gonzalez said. “Seeing the mayor and county judge every day at 6:13 p.m. gave folks a peace of mind.”

The winner of the primary will go on to face either Nathan Buchanan, a licensed peace officer and small business owner, or Trish DeBerry, former Pct. 3 commissioner, who are vying for the Republican nomination.

Early voting for the primary begins on Feb. 14, with election day slated for March 1. The deadline to register to vote is Jan. 31.

To check your voter registration status in Bexar County, click here. To find out which precinct you live in, click here.

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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.