Saturday,
April 19

 
POLITICS

The general and the sheriff

Illustration by Jeremiah TeutschIt was late at night on May 20, and Bexar County Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz was driving erratically, drunk as a skunk. A San Antonio Police officer pulled him over and gave the stumbling Ortiz a ride home. The clearly inebriated Ortiz was never charged. A scandalous bombshell plastered on the front page of the San Antonio Lightning website, it was sure to sink the Sheriff's chances of re-election in November.

Only one problem: it wasn't true.

The "tip" to the news website was a sign of just how desperate some opponents are to get rid of the embattled Sheriff, who is completing his first term in office. The incumbent pulled less than 44 percent of the vote in the May primary, where he faced four opponents. But he survived the July 31 runoff against Andy Lopez despite the pseudo-scandal. He now faces a well-funded Republican opponent.

At 66 years old, Susan Pamerleau looks great for her age and still has the firm, authoritative handshake of an Air Force Major General (retired) and the laser focus of a corporate executive from her days as a senior vice-president at USAA.

I asked Pamerleau the question many people have posed in recent months: why would you run for Sheriff?

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Garza pays back campaign funds

State Representative John Garza announced Friday he is reimbursing his campaign approximately $6,000 for questionable expenditures. The move comes just after my story revealing Garza used campaign funds to pay his wife $4,000 for campaign work and a Christmas Eve dinner with his family and other unnamed "supporters." The Republican lawmaker is also refunding money used to buy a tuxedo and other clothing at Men's Warehouse and boots from Cavender's.

Below is the press release sent by the Garza campaign.

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Garza's campaign finance flub

Illustration by Jeremiah TeutschState Representative John Garza, who is fighting to win a second term in Austin, has some explaining to do about the way he's spending campaign funds. Those questionable expenditures include an expensive holiday dinner with his family and paying his wife to work on his campaign.

Garza is the freshman representative in District 117, which runs from Helotes to far western Bexar County to the southwest side. He's locked in a bitter battle with democratic challenger Philip Cortez's, a former San Antonio city councilman.

"I thank you very much Brian. God bless you, you're a great person," Garza said sarcastically when I caught up with him outside a political event last week. I tracked him down because he would not answer questions about expenses listed on his campaign finance report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.

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Early voting trends and the distant blue state

With a hotly contested presidential race, a hotly contested congressional race in District 23, a hotly contested state representative race in District 117, and a citywide tax initiative to fund the Mayor’s pre-K program, Bexar County’s early voting numbers are running around 4 percent ahead of 2008, once you adjust the numbers for a decrease in registered voters.

As of Wednesday, 94,219 voters had cast their ballots for the 2012 election. Based on these numbers, early voting will most likely make up between 75-80 percent of the overall vote in this year’s election. Unless a race is extremely tight after the early voting numbers come in, most races can be predicted as soon as those numbers are reported on election night.

About 64 percent of the early votes so far have been cast in centers located in the northern areas of the county. The vote totals at most of these centers are averaging about 4-6 percent each of the total votes cast in this year’s election, compared with voting centers in the center or southern areas of the county, which are averaging around 1.5 to 2 percent of the total.

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The sheriff's political suicide

With early voting for the Nov. 6 election starting next week, Bexar County Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz is again defending his management of the jail, this time touting steps he's taken, with the help of a consultant, to decrease the number of suicides in the facility.

Ortiz says he asked for help after six suicides in the Bexar County jail in 2009. The previous year there were none. On Wednesday, the San Antonio Current published a blistering story that asked "Why have jail suicides soared under Sheriff Ortiz?" During a media tour Thursday, the Sheriff emphasized that the number of suicides per year has dropped as the jail population has decreased, with two reported this year.

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Will Alamo Colleges pay benefits or cut classes?

Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce Leslie has pushed the district’s five colleges to reduce their full-time faculty to 50 percent, with the remainder of courses taught by adjunct professors. It’s meant to be a cost-saving measure, since part-time teachers earn less per course than their full-time counterparts, and haven’t been earning benefits.

But it’s not as much of a bargain as they thought. District legal counsel informed Leslie this fall that the district has failed to comply with a requirement that it pay into the Teacher Retirement System for adjunct faculty that teach the equivalent of half-time or more. In the Alamo Colleges district, that’s 7.5 contact hours per semester. Adjunct teachers who qualify must contribute 6.4 percent of their pay to the TRS, an amount that will be matched by their employer. Participation can’t be waived.

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Roman v. O'Connell

Illustration by Jeremiah TeutschThe first time I met District Judge Mary Roman was in October 2010 while interviewing her for a story about court-appointed attorneys. As we sat in her chambers Roman said to me: “I don’t see how you do it Brian. Everyone hates you and you have such an awful reputation.” Classic Roman and more than a little ironic.

The Judge has a reputation herself for being prickly, gruff and thin-skinned when she doesn't get her way. Now for the first time in her 20 years on the bench, Roman is facing a real challenge in Republican Kevin O’Connell, a veteran of the District Attorney’s office. Those close to the judge say she’s running like her life depends on it.

“She understands this election cycle you cannot take anything for granted,“ political consultant Christian Anderson, who's working for Roman, said. “Her campaign is very competitive, she’s hitting every event she can find.”

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