Confessions of a First-Time Candidate

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Voting line at the Central Library 2

Voting line at the Central Library on election day, Nov 6, 2012. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Allen Castro headshot“My name is Allen Castro and I’m running for County Clerk.”

I have said those words a thousand times in the past several months and it never gets old. I say it when I am at “meet and greets,” when I am knocking on doors, and when I am making presentations to various organizations.

Every time I say it, I am reminded of how fortunate we all are to have the opportunity to be voters – and candidates.

Gerard C. "Gerry" Rickhoff, Bexar County Clerk

Gerard C. “Gerry” Rickhoff, Bexar County Clerk

I am a first-time candidate and running for political office was never my ambition. I certainly never anticipated running for a countywide office against a 20-year incumbent with a household name, Gerard Rickhoff. But, when the tug of public service calls – and you realize that you have what it takes to do the job better than it has ever been done before – then your own personal integrity and conscience require that you put your name on the ballot and make your case with the people.

As an adjunct professor at UTSA, I can give you a three hour lecture on why I am running for County Clerk, but I will spare you. Instead, I invite you to go to my campaign website and even go to my opponent’s websites so that you can make an informed decision. (Democratic primary candidates include: Chris Forbrich, Suzanne de Leon and Cassandra Littlejohn.)

Once, I was knocking on someone’s door and the voter said “I’m so frustrated with government that I might not vote.” I responded, “I’m so frustrated with government that I decided to run for office. Let’s keep talking.”

Like any candidate, I believe that I have a background that has prepared me for this office and I have a platform that articulates why you should elect me. I can say all of this with a straight face because I believe it. In fairness, my primary opponents as well as the incumbent will also tell you that they are the most qualified and do so with a straight face.

Once I get past the introductions, I usually get asked any number of questions. What does the County Clerk do? Who is the County Clerk now? Are you running against Elva Abundis-Esparza (a District Clerk candidate)? Are you related to the Castro twins? Why does it matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican?

And therein lies the problem. The vast majority of individuals do not know what the County Clerk does or who the County Clerk is. Most people do not know what differentiates the County Clerk from the District Clerk. For the record, I am not running against Elva and I am not related to the Castro twins. Finally, I cannot figure out a good answer for why people should elect a liberal, independent, conservative, or Tea Party Clerk.

The County Clerk’s Office is a strictly administrative office whose duties were articulated in the Texas Constitution when it was first written in 1836. Word for word, the Texas Constitution (Article V, Section 20) states:

There shall be elected for each county, by the qualified voters, a County Clerk, who shall hold his office for four years, who shall be clerk of the County and Commissioners Courts and recorder of the County, whose duties, perquisites and fees of office shall be prescribed by the Legislature, and a vacancy in whose office shall be filled by the Commissioners Court, until the next general election; provided, that in counties having a population of less than 8,000 persons there may be an election of a single Clerk, who shall perform the duties of District and County Clerk.

The County Clerk’s Office does not make law; interpret the law; or determine what your taxes are. The County Clerk has absolutely no decision-making authority on fiscal policy or hot button social issues. It is placed at the end of a long ballot that locally includes races for Congress, Governor, the Legislature, and nearly 40 judicial races.

For years, there has been a debate about whether or not we should be electing judges in partisan elections. Just four weeks ago, the Express News Editorial Board advocated a merit-based approach to selecting judges.

I am perfectly willing to experiment with new models of choosing judges but I have an idea. Let’s experiment with new models of choosing Clerks. In fact, let’s use the position of Bexar County Clerk as the test case. My opponents can speak for themselves but if I am elected, I would be delighted to have the Legislature propose a constitutional amendment that would make the Bexar County Clerk an appointed, merit-based position versus an elected one.

So why is only one of the four candidates for County Clerk appearing today on the Rivard Report? This essay actually grew out of a conversation I had with Robert Rivard who asked me why I was running for elected office for the first time in my life. He asked me to give my answer in writing so he could share it with his readers. This is not about my opponents or even me. It’s about the office, why it matters, and why you should vote.

And for those of you who feel like that woman who told me “I’m so frustrated with government that I might not vote;” I would beg you to reconsider. It takes two of us to make this work: the candidate and the voter.

 

Allen Castro is a ten year veteran of County Government and an Adjunct Professor at the UTSA School of Public Administration.  You can follow him on his website at www.castroforclerk.com, by email at allen@castroforclerk.com or by phone at (210) 325-775.

 

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