Nueces County Republicans are crying foul after a directive by Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales was issued Friday afternoon that allowed for candidates to begin putting their signs up on county owned property near polling places. The problem is that it appears that Democrats were tipped off to the directive and took full advantage of the situation—that now has local GOP and non-partisan candidates in a rage.
State Republican Executive Committee member representing District 20, Carmen Calderon said on Saturday that it was his understanding that Judge Canales issued the directive on Friday at 1:45 pm. By 5:40 Friday evening Democrat candidates had already begun snagging up the prime sign real estate leaving nothing for Republican candidates. It wasn’t until 8:13 pm Friday night that Republicans claim that they were even notified of the directive that allowed them to put signs out.
Carolyn Vaughn, Nueces County Commissioner Pct. One (and a current mayoral candidate for Corpus Christi) says that she was never consulted about the directive and only found out about it around 11:00 pm on Friday when she was called by other candidates.
Fellow Nueces County Commissioner Brent Chesney says the same that he was never consulted by Canales. The looming question is that was she actually required to inform the court of the directive?
There is no easy answer to that question. County officials provided a 2010 order from then County Judge Lloyd Neal where a similar action was taken. However, those documents provided by the county indicate that other commissioners were consulted prior to the directive being issued. And there lies the problem.
Judge Canales, who has often been seen as the autocratic and heavy fisted voice of the administrative court seems to be once again trying to argue some sort of point and as it stands on Saturday afternoon it appears as if that point is to try and pick a fight with Republicans, who Democrats argue are already making every possible attempt to squelch the Democrat vote in the upcoming elections. Outwardly looking at it the issue at hand seems to appear as if Canales is trying to level the playing field for local Democrat candidates in what her and other Democrats feel is a lopsided and unfair cycle. But the county hasn’t clarified that either way.
But then again, it could have just been an honest mistake.
“I believe that what happened was a honest mistake and could easily be corrected by just resetting everyone to start with signs at the same time,” Commissioner Chesney said. “To me ‘everyone’ means all candidates in partisan and non-partisan races.”
For Commissioner Chesney he believes that every person should have the same opportunity.
“Every person should have the same opportunity to put their signs up at the same time,” Chesney said.
Commissioner Vaughn has taken that matter into her own hands for her precinct and has instructed that signs at the Hilltop polling location be removed.
By mid-afternoon on Saturday many of the signs on county-owned property had begun to come down but that is when the sign saga took another twist.
Sources inside Nueces County say that County Clerk Kara Sands had said that the signs must come down until just before the election. But then, is response to the notification from Sands, the County Attorney’s office said that the signs could come back up regardless.
Nueces County Court Administrator Tyner Little sent out a strange text to county officials that said the situation in his eyes was a “simple routine matter about political signage.” In his text message he says that signs would be allowed to go up later today (Saturday).
“I spoke with Kara (Sands, County Clerk)at length this afternoon and explained that the Judge (Canales) and the County Attorney said that they signs could go up later today,” Little said in the message.
But that doesn’t answer the real question as to if Canales actually had the authority to take action in the first place without consulting with the court.
The rule on the matter seems to be fairly vague, so we reached out to the Attorney General for clarification on the matter. Their response was that “it is a complex matter” that would require further research on their part. The Texas Ethics Commissions was unavailable on Saturday.
We also reached out to experts from the South Texas College of Law in Houston who said that their understanding is that it was a local issue with municipalities and local governments being given the authority to decide for themselves as to when exactly the signs go up. But the caveat to that seems to be “after consultation with the governing body.”
The Southside Light News has asked the Texas Ethics Commission for further clarification on that rule. A response is not expected until after early voting begins on Tuesday.
Blue v. Red Fight
You might be wondering why this is even such a big deal? But while the answer is complicated in general, the political gamesmanship behind it isn’t so complicated.
A Democratic organizational group known widely as “Act Blue” has been trying to decide just how much energy to focus on places like Nueces County. Sources inside Act Blue confirmed on Saturday that the answer to that question lies with early voting turnout.
“We have asked officials in Nueces County for help to get the Democratic vote out,” Act Blue said on Saturday. “I cannot go into specifics on who we have been working with or what the context of it was but I can confirm that we have asked for their assistance just as any organizer would.”
Act Blue says that their plan on how much energy they should focus on specific counties, districts and races hinges entirely on the early vote turnout. If places like Nueces County turnout to early vote heavily in early voting then they will decide just how much effort to put into the area for the remainder of the election cycle and future races.
The theory is that Act Blue has reached out to local Democrat officials to ask for assistance in order to determine if they need to move ahead here or focus on more high-profile races in places like Harris and Denton counties.
But the problem is that they known Texas Republicans show up in numbers in early voting and Democrats tend to show their strongest support on Election Day.
The sign issue turns out to be a bigger issue when it comes to non-partisan races like for mayor, city council and some judicial races. Most of those candidates had not been informed of the order by Judge Canales on Friday and just like the GOP, they found themselves at a disadvantage with Democrat candidate having already taken up all of the prime real estate. While signs do not technically vote, they do influence the vote heavily—especially on in-decided voters who aren’t sure who they are going to vote for right up until they enter the polls. Non-partisan races are particularly vulnerable and Democrats are the only group with anything to gain for the tactic.
The Fairness Doctrine
If the move was seen by Republicans to unfair and aimed at giving Democrats an unfair advantage, then Democrats will likely argue that they are only responding in-kind and that Republicans are just getting their just desserts for trying to do what Democrats argue is voter suppression over mail-in ballots. While it isn’t clear if other Democrat controlled Commissioners Courts in Texas employed the same tactic as has been tried here in Nueces County, it is clear that Democrats are at least bitter about mail-in ballots and that they are going to try to something—anything—to get some gravity to the situation.
At the end of the day it doesn’t seem much about signs as much as it is about politics. The questions will continue to loom. The mistrust among candidates and party leaders will drive on.
The sum of it looks as if we are back to mid-century political gamesmanship at it’s finest and that was an era that Democrats swore they’d never return too—but that was then….