Why does your vote matter so much? Let me give you one reason.
If there is a single race on the Bexar County ballot this election that symbolizes the importance of voting, it is the race for county judge. The county judge is not a judge presiding in a courtroom. The county judge is the county’s chief executive officer and leader, someone who partners with San Antonio’s mayor and the leadership of 24 different municipalities in the county.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff has held the job since 2001 and he is seeking another term in office. His challenger is former District 10 City Councilmember Carlton Soules. There could not be a more stark choice. Are you one of the non-voters who believes your vote doesn’t matter? It matters.
The two candidates have debated more times than I can count, but if you are going to focus in on the race, I’d suggest just two face-to-face meetings are worth your time. One is their appearance on “Texas Week with Rick Casey” on KLRN-TV, San Antonio’s public television station. The other is their appearance on David Martin Davies’ “The Source” on KSTX-FM, Texas Public Radio.
Soules describes himself as a fiscal conservative, a small businessman. I think it’s fair to say he more closely resembles a Tea Party candidate, someone who finds something wrong with most government initiatives, but offers little in the way of his own vision. He was elected twice to City Council and accomplished little beyond serving as a constant, yet ineffective, opposing vote to then-Mayor Julián Castro.
Soules represented District 10, a suburban district, but he resisted the notion that a vibrant downtown would benefit the entire city. Such “us vs. them” politics defined his Council tenure. It is evident today in his campaign for county judge. Think small, San Antonio. And for God’s sake, stop thinking Downtown.
That kind of small thinking is like a virus, and while most in the city thankfully seem immune, it has infected a significant number of people who mistakenly believe in the suburbs vs. downtown proposition. In truth, each needs the other, and elected officials who perpetuate division accomplish little.
I can’t think of a single significant thing Soules accomplished as a city council member, and that makes me believe he would be a caretaker county judge at best. He was an effective candidate for city office, but once elected, he didn’t govern so much as he attempted to impede governance.
Wolff is a leader. He hasn’t had to campaign seriously for re-election for years, but he’s certainly campaigning now. If he and his advisers believe he is in a serious election, then voters who care about the quality of life and work in San Antonio, who want a more progressive, higher-achieving city, should care, too. You should vote.
I’ve had many moments and experiences with Wolff over the years – the privilege of being a journalist for so long in one city. That certainly includes time we’ve disagreed on issues, but always with mutual respect. I remember one particular moment worth sharing now to give my argument context. It’s a story about vision and leadership.
I was standing with Wolff along the weed-strewn, lifeless San Antonio River south of downtown, at least a decade ago, talking about our mutual frustration with the federal government’s failure to help fund restoration of the river south of downtown. Another year had gone by and he U.S. Congress had failed to include San Antonio and its river project in the federal budget. Most around the city just shrugged and accepted such indifference as our continuing fate in life.
Wolff told me he had decided that locals would have to find the money and find a way to get it down without Washington’s help. And that is exactly what happened in the ensuing decade with the $271 million Mission Reach segment of the San Antonio River Improvements Project. Many others share in the credit and funding, but Wolff and Bexar County led the way. We now enjoy one of the country’s great urban linear parks and we did it largely on our own. That took guts and vision.
What would Soules have done as judge in the same situation? He probably would have stuck to his small government message, or dismissed the project as only serving the Southside, one side of town, far from his home constituency.
Seven weeks ago, San Antonio witnessed the opening of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, a $203 million transformation of the former Municipal Auditorium, giving the city for the first time ever a world-class performing arts hall and re-energizing the center city as a live entertainment venue. I’ve noticed that when I leave my Weston Centre office between 7-8 p.m. on some nights that downtown is percolating with people on their way to live shows. There are nights when three different events are underway at the Tobin Center, and coupled with the live events at the Majestic and Empire Theatres and now the Aztec Theater, it’s a very different downtown.
Again, leaders like Wolff and then-Mayor Phil Hardberger didn’t hesitate to risk failure in reaching high to transform the city. I don’t believe Soules would have partnered with Hardberger on the Tobin Center.
Finally, I believe character has come into play in this election. We live in a world where you can be prosecuted for stealing another individual’s identity and misrepresenting yourself as someone else. Yet lawmakers, always the last to react to technology shifts, do not protect businesses or individuals from those who steal their names and misrepresent themselves on-line by grabbing an Internet address to intentionally mislead or denigrate someone.
Soules has done exactly that with Wolff, buying the rights to www.nelsonwolff.com to paint a distorted and unflattering portrait of Wolff. At best, it’s sophomoric, an unfunny reflection of Soules’ lack of gravitas and statesmanship. At worst, it’s sleazy and devious, the measure of a candidate we don’t want representing Bexar County, not downtown, not in the suburbs, not in San Antonio in 2014 and beyond.
*Featured/top image: Screen shot from Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and candidate Carlton Soules on “Texas Week with Rick Casey” on KLRN-TV.