After 30 years, DA Rene Guerra will seek reelection
MCALLEN, Mar 03, 2013 (The Monitor - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Rene Guerra says he hasn't slowed down much in more than 30 years as Hidalgo County District Attorney. And he doesn't expect to in the next four, either.
Guerra, who turns 68 in May, said he hopes voters agree, announcing he will pursue reelection in 2014. The declaration to pursue a ninth term bucks several prior claims that his current term would be his last.
"I am not a spring chicken," Guerra said. "I still like what I do. And I'm still in relatively good health. Once in a while you catch a cold or what have you, but I still continue going to work."
Guerra pointed to raises for his assistant district attorneys approved in January as something he's proud of in his most recent term. Commissioners approved $520,000 in salary adjustments to Guerra's staff, which he said would help retain talent that has otherwise been lost to the private sector.
"You can see the gratitude in the staff that they finally got the Commissioners Court to appreciate their hard work, day in and day out," he said.
He also said collections from delinquent check cases and asset forfeitures has helped compensate staffers.
"That has been able to supplement and keep the professional staff going, to give them a fair wage," he said of the forfeiture money. "Some of them haven't been paid until recently."
Guerra's announcement to pursue another term launches the race earlier than usual in Hidalgo County, where such declarations are typically made in the September prior to the election year.
Edinburg attorney Alma Garza, who unsuccessfully vied to unseat Guerra in 2006 and 2010, reckoned his announcement came early because he is concerned about others considering a run.
Garza would not say whether she is considering another run for the DA's office, though she did not shy away from attacking Guerra.
"That's something that I can't tell you right now but I can tell you that this is what the fourth time he said he's not going to run and then he is going to run," she said. "If you can't do what you say you're going to do, you don't have your word. You don't have (anything)."
Guerra maintains his reelection announcement comes now because he wanted to make it known early he's made up his mind to garner supporters who may have considered other candidates.
Garza branded the early announcement as Guerra "running scared."
"If you're going to announce this early in the game, it's because he's concerned and he should be because there's other viable candidates," she said.
One name circulating as a viable challenger to Guerra is 92nd state District Judge Ricardo Rodriguez, who is barred from announcing a run at office unless he steps down from the bench.
On a potential run against Guerra, Rodriguez said "we are weighing all our options," though he has told Guerra he would consider running for DA whenever he retires.
"I've gotten phone calls and I've had a lot of people have asked me to consider it, but it's something that I just take a phone call on and that's it," Rodriguez said. "I wish I could elaborate more, but I just can't."
Guerra said he called Rodriguez on Friday to inform him he will seek another term.
"I told him if he ran, we'd still be friends after the election," Guerra said.
Rodriguez, nephew of former Hidalgo County Justice of the Peace Mary Alice Palacios, could rely on his familial ties to one of the county's most powerful political clans to garner support, should he choose to challenge Guerra.
Guerra said the Palacios family once backed him, but some of that support eroded after he successfully prosecuted Mary Alice Palacios on official oppression charges in 2010. Her guilty verdict remains on appeal.
"His family was always behind me," Guerra said. "Now it's not solidly behind me because of my prosecution of Judge Mary Alice Palacios. I think some of the ladies in the family aren't going to support me."
'THERE'S GOING TO BE SOME HARD FEELINGS'
Guerra already ranks among the state's longest serving district attorneys. If he completes his ninth term, his 34-year run would be among the longest-serving DA's in Texas history. The record is 36 years, held by former Tarrant County DA Tim Curry, who died of lung cancer at age 70 in 2008.
Three decades as top prosecutor will draw political allies and enemies, and Guerra's legacy is no exception. But he said during his public service, he has maintained his integrity and fairness -- the reason for his longevity.
"If you do it honestly and fairly in the presentation of cases, if you let judges and jurors decide, I think the solid majority will look at it and give that person the necessary marks to be reelected," he said.
Cases such as that of Mary Alice Palacios or the dogged pursuit of charges against 93rd state District Judge Rudy Delgado on charges of driving while intoxicated, evading arrest and misusing public information have shown he will go after local power brokers.
But that pairs with prominent dismissals of cases, including a 2004 indictment against former county commissioner Oscar Garza -- who allegedly entering into an illegal contract with a farmer -- or that of Othal E. Brand Jr., son of the former McAllen mayor and head of Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3, who was caught on tape buying votes and had his charges dropped a day after Guerra's 2006 election victory.
Guerra says every prominent case garners new friends, while losing old ones.
"You know, any time a person who is a well-known person from a family in any county is prosecuted, it's going to affect the elected official who decides to prosecute it, especially if he doesn't do a Pontius Pilot and brings in somebody else to take that person to court," Guerra said. "There's going to be some hard feelings, but I think if you win some of those, you get the respect of others."
Jared Taylor is a metro editor at The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4439, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @jaredataylor.
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