Scott Ball / Rivard Report
State Rep. Justin Rodriguez was sworn in as Precinct 2's Bexar County Commissioner Friday morning after County Judge Nelson Wolff officially announced his appointment.
Rodriguez replaces Paul Elizondo, who died suddenly on Dec. 27. Elizondo had held the seat for more than 35 years and was re-elected in November 2018 to serve his 10th term.
Rodriguez has won 11 different elections within the district, Wolff said, demonstrating that he has earned the "confidence of the citizens and voters."
As commissioner, Rodriguez said, he will strive to live up to Elizondo's legacy and support initiatives important to the late commissioner, such as the San Pedro Creek improvement project, Alameda Theater revitalization, and veterans assistance. He also plans to focus on mental health, restorative justice, and "opportunities to modernize our election system."
Rodriguez takes over just days after Elizondo's newest term was to begin. The former state representative and San Antonio city councilman said he plans to run for the seat in the next general election in November 2020.
"This is not an opportunity I take lightly," said Rodriguez. "It's impossible to fill the shoes of a giant like Paul Elizondo. That's just not going to be happening. I'm going to do my best to live up to his legacy."
His acceptance of the seat triggers his resignation from the Texas House of Representatives.
"This last week or so has turned my world upside down," he said, but his experience at the state level revealed that "when things are getting done in government they're getting done at the local level."
Wolff, who attended Elizondo's funeral on Thursday, told the Rivard Report earlier this week that he wanted to wait until after the services before naming a successor, but he had conversations with Elizondo about possible successors. Rodriguez was one of the names discussed, Wolff said.
"The official offer in substance didn’t happen until yesterday," said TJ Mayes, Wolff's chief of staff. "They were kind of communicating through intermediaries. ... There wasn’t a shortlist. It was always [Rodriguez]."
Elizondo's family issued a statement on Saturday, Jan. 5 in support of Rodriguez's appointment.
"Paul loved and served the people of the west side throughout his entire life," they wrote. "Justin is very well qualified to continue that long legacy of service."
Wolff, who was a longtime friend of the 83-year-old Elizondo, said he wanted someone with experience in Austin at the state legislature and at City Hall as well as someone with fiscal expertise who also understands the role of education in economic and talent development.
He lamented the "spotty" relationship between Bexar County and the City of San Antonio and said Rodriguez, as a former City Council member, could make inroads there.
Rodriguez, 44, resides in Precinct 2 with his wife and three children. He was elected to House District 125 in 2012 after Joaquín Castro left the seat for Congress. He has a decade of experience as an investment banker and served on the Texas House's Appropriations Committee. He represented District 7 on City Council for two terms after three years on the San Antonio Independent School District Board. Before that, he worked in the Bexar County District Attorney's office as a juvenile prosecutor.
Rodriguez will be joining the court with support from fellow commissioners, Wolff said.
Commissioners Chico Rodriguez (Pct. 1) and Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3), the judge's son and lone Republican on the dais, attended the announcement of Rodriguez's appointment.
"I've known Justin for a while. He and I got to serve on Council together. We worked well together there," Commissioner Wolff said. "[Politics are] also much less partisan at the local level. ... There are a lot of good folks out there, but when you take the totality of his résumé, so to speak, it's hard to argue with the man's qualifications."
Precinct 2 stretches northwest from just west and north of downtown to the county line, including the municipality of Leon Valley and continuing toward Helotes. According to the 2010 census profile, about 437,000 people live in the precinct, 73 percent of whom are Hispanic. The district includes high- and low-income neighborhoods with diverse priorities.
To fill Rodriguez's House seat, Gov. Greg Abbott will call a special election. Rodriguez said he hopes that election can be set for the next four to six weeks, adding that he will send a letter to Abbott asking for an expedited election. The House can't vote on legislation until March.
Under state law, a county judge has sole authority to fill a vacancy on the Commissioners Court – a special election isn't an option.
Queta Rodriguez, who challenged Elizondo last year in the Democratic primary for the seat, lobbied for the appointment. In a May primary runoff election, Elizondo received 52 percent of the vote, and Queta Rodriguez had 48 percent.
Queta Rodriguez sent a letter to Judge Wolff this week outlining her case as the rightful successor.
"Your statement that you 'have had plenty of time to think' about this given the Commissioner’s well-known health issues indicates your thought process has not considered the desires of the community," she wrote, adding that not considering a woman for the position on the all-male court is "insulting."
"In a governing body whose decisions affect nearly 2 million people and a precinct of nearly half a million, over 50% of whom are women, there is undoubtedly at least one woman who meets the requirements to serve as a County Commissioner."
On Wednesday, she said she plans to run for the seat again in 2020.
Asked about the gender disparity on the court, Judge Wolff said Friday that while there are no women on the Commissioners Court – and there have been only two in history – "across the spectrum you'll see women in leadership positions in Bexar County."
Most department directors are women, and each member of the county Court of Appeals is a woman, he said. "We have a good record with women."
His decision went down to qualifications, Judge Wolff said. "Justin stood out far above anybody else."
Asked if he thought the appointment process for the Commissioners Court should be changed to allow for a special election, Justin Rodriguez said it's a possibility.
“That’s something that maybe we need to talk to the Legislature about,” he said. "I have a great deal of respect for Queta, and I hope her supporters will give me an opportunity to prove that I want to do what’s best."
Reporter Brendan Gibbons contributed to this article.