Perez and Cobos County Judge Debate
by NPT Staff
Posted on April 3, 2006
Kathy Staudt: My name is Kathy Staudt. I am director of the Center for Civic Engagement, and we have helped organize this event. I would like to thank others who have co-sponsored this event with us, including the Women’s Study Program, this after all is still Women’s History Month, the last day of it. I would also like to thank co-sponsors Department of Political Science at UTEP, and Dr. Irasema Coronado, who is in the audience, (applause) I would also like to thank the other co-sponsors, Newspaper Tree and Channel 9. I'd like to introduce to you now Nick Miller, who will be the moderator for this event. Nick Miller is the anchor for Newschannel 9 First 5 at 5, Newschannel 9 at 6, and the Nightbeat. He also serves as co-managing editor, teaching and mentoring other staff members in the newsroom.
Miller: Thanks, it’s good to be here tonight. Let me read some ground rules and we will get right to it. We have flipped a coin, to see who will go first, and Mr. Cobos has won the coin toss. He will go first and we will alternate questions back and forth in that manner. Each candidate will have an opening remark, with a maximum two minutes, then we will have a round of questions, they have 90 seconds to answer the questions ... at the end we will have two minute closing remarks.
Cobos: Thank you and good evening. Ladies and gentleman, I appreciate the invitation to come speak with you this evening, and thank you for attending. You could have been somewhere else, but you’re here participating in a civic debate and I really appreciate your presence.
I am applying for a job and I’m asking you to hire me. You’re the employer and I’m asking to be your employee. When you hire someone, you show them your resume. And I want to share with you my resume this evening. No. 1, my objective, why am I running for this office? Quite simply, I have a very young family, I have a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, and I want to make El Paso County the best place to live work and raise a family. I believe in this community and I want to do everything I can to make it a better place to live. Experience, I do have four years serving on the El Paso City Council, two years as Mayor Pro-Tem, the only candidate who has that qualification, I was in charge of running City Council meetings in the mayor’s absence and assigning important duties to other city counselors. My education, I do have a bachelor’s degree in healthcare management, which is very critical, because Thomason Hospital is under the jurisdiction of the county. Health care is an extremely critical topic in this community and I have over 30 credit hours in accounting. We need an accountant on the El Paso Commissioner’s Court, the way the county has been balancing the budget has either been to decrease services or raise taxes, or both.
I know we can hold line on taxes, by working our way out of debt. We’re paying $5.5 million in interest expense alone. Every man woman child in this community owes $555 to either to Thomason Hospital or the County. And I’m committed. I’m not going to quit on you for the next best thing. You have a question, ask yourself, do we want to change direction or do we want to stick with the politics of the past. You’ll hear people saying experience of past 15 years but that’s just a fancy way of saying they’re a career politician.
Miller: Miss Perez.
Perez: Thank you, Nick. Good evening, everyone. My name is Barbara Perez. I want to thank all of you for being here. It’s very encouraging to see so many people for a forum, because most of the time it’s very few people that are interested. First of all, I’ve been called a career politician, but you know what, I have a career in this community. I care about El Paso; I have 15 years experience doing public service. I served on City Council for six years, I served on the school board for a year and a half, and as a county commission for a year and each time, I have been elected five times by my community.
Apparently I’ve done a good job, and I have a record of results, and that’s the kind of person I am, I am a tell it like it is person, get the job done and move on to the next issue. I would also like to let you know I do not believe in negative campaigns. I’m here to convince you that Barbara Perez is the best candidate for this position. I’ve received the conquistador award – from the city of El Paso, from Mayor Bill Tilney, for my work as one of the founders of the Hispanic chamber because I am a big supporter of small business and economic development for hopefully your future.
We have educated three children in my family, my two daughters and my son, and although you hear I do not have college degree, I do have credits, and I have always been prepared in every job I’ve held. I’ve proven that and the people of El Paso have proven that by electing me five different times. I’ve never been voted out of office by my constituents, especially by 60 percent of my constituents when I’m holding office. I would also proudly like to say I have been endorsed by 11 different endorsements, I would like to mention three, County Judge Dolores Briones has endorsed me, city Representative Beto O'Rourke has endorsed me, and city Representative Steve Ortega. I am proud of my record and I have a proven record in this community, thank you.
Miller: Thank you Miss Perez. We’ll start our questions now, and each candidate has 90 seconds to answer these questions, and we’ll start with Miss Perez.
The city is discussing and attempting to implement smart growth planning, in which new development provides a sustainable tax base and quality of life. Should the county pursue such strategies, and given the county’s limited authority over development, how could they do that?
Perez: I think first of all, you have to understand that the county does not have zoning ordinance powers. We have to have it through the state legislature, in order for us to tell any developer or any builder that they have to build streets and put up streetlights and do the development that the city has the right to do at this time. I’m very familiar with all these ordinances, I think it’s important to work with state legislators to assure that the county does have ordinance making powers for our community.
I believe in open spaces, I believe in parks and recreation, but I have to tell you the city is totally different from the county. We have mandated programs, we are mandated to assure we budget for courts, that we budget for the sheriffs department, all elected officials, like district attorney, county attorney. Once we meet those mandated programs, then we can look at non-mandated programs like your parks and recreation centers. When we decide as taxpayers that the county is important to all the city of El Paso, that we need libraries, we need parks, we need amenities for our young people, for all of you, that’s when we sit down and say we’re willing to pay for it.
Miller repeats question
Cobos: Thank you Nick. our question, pretty much answered it, which is that the county does have very limited authority as far as permitting, in fact we do not have a permitting department or pretty much an inspection department. The different municipalities do control the growth within their own districts. One thing we are interested in is colonias, San Eli, Tornillo, Clint, there are impoverished parts of this community, and until you get out there and knock on doors and walk the streets you don’t realize there’s tremendous poverty. In San Elizario people don’t even have grass in their front yards. When I was on City Council we did implement the infill ordinance, that was an ordinance created to try to fill in the vacant lots around town, and I voted for, excuse me I voted against the Resler Canyon arroyo development. One of the richest men in this county, Republican Woody Hunt, encouraged me to vote for it, it was his project. I said it was a bad development, I voted against it and now Mr. Woody Hunt, the biggest contributor to my opponent, has given over $6,000 and I think we need to ask ourselves, who’s financing the different candidates? That’s a very important question.
Miller: The next question, we’ll start with Mr. Cobos on this one. Would you support disclosure the principle of public disclosure for candidates with a documented police history of violence against women and or unpaid civil court judgment against them for the damages caused by such violence?
Cobos: Of course. I think that should be public record. Anyone running for public office should not only be held accountable for their personal actions as far as crime against women but crimes against children, other criminal activities, forfeitures, bankruptcies, what does a person’s fiscal history look like, can they pay their debts, can they balance their checkbook. I think that personal judgments in court are extremely important as well. I would be in favor of disclosing all of that. In fact I’ll make a challenge today, I’ll make my personal income tax public if my opponent would do that. I think that’s something people should know, how much are we making where are we getting our money from. I know they do that at the national level, and I think our personal lives become very very private, once we’re elected, but they also should be public once we announce our candidacy.
Miller repeats question
Perez: Absolutely, I would be crazy to say no. Like all of you, you probably know people in your own families who have at one time or another experienced family violence. We already have several plans through the county attorney's office to address domestic violence, to address child support payments, to make sure Austin is following up with reimbursement for child support. The county is very active in all of these programs.
But I also would like to say I am very proud that Mr. Woody Hunt does support me, but so do many many many other contributors out there. I find it quite odd my opponent would try to talk about my campaign when he walked into this campaign with $68,000 as a city representative into a county campaign. So I would question that. But I don’t like negative campaigning and I’m going to sit here and I am going to talk about my record and why I’m running and I am very proud of my contributors. Campaigning is very expensive and I am here to represent you the people of El Paso.
Miller: Miss Perez, what is the county’s role in economic development, specifically, how can the county be involved in the Medical Center of the Americas?
Perez: Again, we have mandated programs. We have to understand this, by state law, we have to address all of our state mandated programs. But I also believe as an elected officials we also have to work with all other elected officials to assure we get our new Texas Tech established here, we have to assure that Thomason will be looking at a children’s hospital and I think the county needs to be very aggressive about working with your elected officials. The time has gone I think that only your state legislators are the only ones to represent you on a state level. We all make decisions on your tax dollars, and tax dollars comes out of same pocket, yours and mine. I’m a taxpayer too.
We have got to support Texas Tech, the county has got to go out there and support economic development because that means good jobs, but I’m going to tell you in the next 10 years you will have a real opportunity of getting a very good job in this community because of Fort bliss, because of Texas tech, because of the potentiality of a children’s hospital. You are going to have the good jobs we have been waiting for for years and years and years in this community. I’m asking you to stay with us, don’t leave El Paso stay here and I promise you will have good jobs in this community we are faced with such an opportunity now, that you are going to be proud of living in El Paso, Texas.
Miller repeats question
Cobos: Primarily, when it comes to economic development, the county really plays a supportive role to the city primarily and other municipal jurisdiction. When it comes to the medical school, No. 1 we have received the funding for brick and mortar, what we’re waiting for is staff to fill classrooms, and I’m very confident we’re going to get that this next legislative session, and I’m very confident we’re going to get that this next legislative session. The state has invested too much not to staff it. So it’s going to get done.
Also, Healthcare is a tremendous challenge, it’s a major topic in this community, we have doctor shortage in this community, I have a bachelors degree in health care management, when it comes to healthcare issues in this community, I’m clearly the more qualified candidate, I worked as a reimbursement specialist at Columbia Medical Center west, our medicade reimbursement is not the same for El Paso county residents as it is for other counties, it’s lower, and that’s wrong. One of the main things the county can do to try to rectify that is by offering incentives as a leverage tool to encourage more physicians to come to this community.
Real quick, yes, I did have $68,000 but that was after four years of accumulation. My opponent has $19,000 after two years of accumulation and has not reported that anywhere on her campaign finance reports.
Miller: We’ll start with Mr. Cobos on this one. Along the lines of the medical center, do you support Thomason’s expansion plans, why or why not?
Cobos: I absolutely do support Thomason hospital’s expansion plans. However, I would have done it different. My opponent and the El Paso Commissioners Court authorized $140 million in long-term debt without your approval, in certificates of obligation. I would have done it different. I would have asked you, do you think this is a good idea? Here’s the plan, here are the public hearings, do you want to finance this for your future. What we have had in the past two decades of leadership is that we have had hundreds of millions of dollars of long term debt issued without your approval. As a result every man woman and child owes $555 accumulated to Thomason Hospital and to the County of El Paso. I will change our debt policy; in fact I have set a goal to work our way out of debt. It will take some time, but we need to get out of debt by liquidating all real estate that is in excess like the landmark property, and we need to, we need to use our cash flow more efficiently. We need to take our $25 million cash reserves and pay down as much debt as possible.
Miller repeats question.
Perez: Absolutely. I do support Thomason’s expansion plans and I voted for it. I would like to correct it’s $125 million, not $140; I would also like to tell you in the past Thomason was always in debt until we hired Jim Valenti. He has got some very aggressive plans. I would also like to say the $125 million are not general obligation bonds, they are revenue bonds they will be paid by the revenues we are going to derive from Thomason hospital. They are going to build private rooms so they can collect insurance and allow you private rooms. They are going to build a cardiology unit so when you go to Thomason they don’t have to ship you off somewhere else for them to make the money. They’re going to approve all of their outlying clinics, so when you’re sick you go to those doctors and don’t tie up those doctors at Thomason hospital.
I believe the county is in very good shape and I would like to tell you that right now it’s costing $166 per person in this county to supplement the budget of the county; we passed a balanced budget.
Miller: Many people in our community, women especially, are uninsured. How should the county assure the citizens have adequate resources or preventive measures such as cervical cancer screening?
Perez: We have several clinics right now with Thomason hospital and other clinics throughout the county of El Paso. You got people like La Fe clinic, you got Thomason hospital and several other clinics doing screenings for cervical cancer, but not only that, screenings for all type of things that includes your children, that include anybody in your family, that is what the county does and we do it very very well, Thomason hospital is now opening clinics, they just opened one in Northeast El Paso, why? To keep people out of ER when your child has a high fever, then you can take him to another clinic. Clinics are important in this community, cervical cancer is important in this community, and you have several orgs that are doing that as we speak today.
Miller repeats question
Cobos: Preventive healthcare is the key. We need to catch, whether it be cancer or other ailments, we need to catch those early on. It’s much less expensive and it saves lives. I think we need to start with school districts. Most of the school districts still have vending machines with soda and candy. Years ago there was an effort to try to remove those candy machines and those soda vending machines, and I think my opponent did not support that measure when she was on the Socorro Independent School District, but that’s a main issue. We have got to start in the school districts we’ve got to remove candy machines soda machines. Preventive healthcare, whether it be private or public sector, the county must support early screenings, not just for women health care problems but for men as well.
Part of the problem is there’s no health insurance. Why? Few employers offer health insurance. One of the reasons is the tax rate in this community is extremely high, it’s chasing young people out of our community because of lack of opportunity, and businesses do not want to relocate here because they’re going to have to pay taxes on their inventory and because of tax burden, we need to change the property tax status quo, we need to encourage businesses who come here to offer health insurance.
Miller: For Mr. Cobos. Taxes can be viewed as an imposition on public or community wide investment? What do you consider the line between government tax and spend and investment in the community future?
Cobos: There are two points when it comes to taxes. Either tax the people and invest it, but then those taxes can become overwhelming. It’s quite obvious to me, after knocking on 10,000 doors, and meeting with thousands of thousands of seniors, that we have crossed the line. People are losing their homes because they can’t afford to pay their taxes. We’ve got to hold the line on taxes and encourage new investment in this community. Why is there a brain drain in this community, why are people leaving this community? Lack of opportunity. Why do we have lack of opportunity? One of the main reasons is that companies do not want to come to El Paso, taxes are too high, and I am against a state income tax, that’s just going to worsen the problem, so I believe we’ve crossed the line. What is the balance? I don’t think very many people can answer that, but I do know for sure we’re heading in the wrong direction. We have way too much debt for a community our size.
Miller repeats question
Perez: I think first of all we need to realize the revenue generation is through taxation. If you want parks and recreation centers, if you want good streets, if you want drainage, if you want lighting, we have to go to taxpayer to give us the ability to do that. But I don’t look at a glass half empty, I look at a glass half-full. We have such an opportunity right now. It’s not time for doom and gloom. Fort Bliss is coming in with 20,000 to 30,000 new troops, with family. You’re going to have a lot of housing built for these families, that means jobs, you’re going to have defense contractors already looking at El Paso with good paying jobs and good benefits, you’re going to have small business supporting defense contractors, that means bigger tax base for El Paso so we don’t have to hit you with a property tax increase. Please look at this as an opportunity.
Miller: Next question, for Miss Perez. Would you support efforts to provide free assistance for Earned Income Tax Credit applications, including their presence at the county building?
Perez: That’s a very interesting question, because as a county commissioner I am a very pro-business advocate, I have always been because of my history with the Hispanic Chamber; I am one of the founders. At the time it came before the county commissioners I did not feel that the county commissioners nor the county should be competing with small business. So we voted to take it out of the county and let non-profits and other small business take care of it. I have to tell you, Mr. Cobos called me because he’s a tax preparer, he said Mrs. Perez, I know you can get the job done and take it out of the county, so please represent me and all of the other small tax businesses and take it out of the county, and I did. I did my job because I felt it was the right thing to do. I also have to tell you Mr. Cobos gave me a $1,000 contribution when I was running for county commissioner, because at that time he felt I was very qualified for this job. o I think there are a lot of questions you have to ask yourself. Would I vote for tax preparation in the county now? I don’t know, I’d have to take another look at it.
Miller repeats question
Cobos: Well Nick, this is one of the issues that my opponent and I agree on. But I do want to clarify or really put a couple of things for perspective. Yes, two years ago when my opponent ran for county commissioner, not this race, I did give her $1,000. She had secured a large contribution for me from the Tiguas when I ran for office in 1999. Most people don’t know we’re pretty close friends. I announced for this office in August of last year. Three months after I announced, she announced. What does that say about friendship? Politics is a very strange animal. But I was a small business income tax practitioner and I did call Mrs. Perez. I am for the Earned Income Tax Credit in this community, I’m just not for small business owners subsidizing it in taxpayer subsidized facilities such as the county courthouse and other government owned facilities.
Miller: Next question, first to Mr. Cobos. In the spirit of open government, will you commit to live broadcasts of county meetings?
Cobos: Yes. I was an advocate on City Council, and we got it done in my four years at the City Council. We got it done. Not only are City Council meetings live, but they’re also repeated on Wednesday evenings. I’m all for open government, I think we need more of it, including and especially campaign financing, who is financing these candidates. I want to go back to that because there’s no Republican candidate in this race. The same Republicans that are trying to build that fence across the U.S.-Mexican border, those same Republicans have given my opponent over $16,000, four people have contributed that much money. That’s a lot of money. I know that in the mayoral race it was a big deal. It just doesn’t seem to be a big deal now. Why I don’t know. Maybe because some of those big contributors have some multi-million dollar contracts with the El Paso Times as far as advertising ... ladies and gentleman, something is wrong.
Miller repeats question
Perez: I was on City Council for six years and started in 1991, and it was live then, so I don’t really know why Mr. Cobos said he was an advocate pushing a live broadcast because it has always been live. I don’t know how we go from live broadcast to Woody Hunt to Republicans. I’m a Democrat. I’ve always been a Democrat. Ask Mr. Cobos if he goes to the Democratic meetings. I’ve been endorsed by every Democratic organization in this city, but I’ve got to tell you if Mr. Woody Hunt or anybody else wants to give to my campaign they fully know I cannot be bought, I do not make decisions based on contributions, you can ask supporters of Cobos, I will not be sold out, I guarantee you I am proud of all my contributions. They are all reported. All my revenues, all my expenditures, everything is reported. Even workers that I have out in the field, I’m paying $50 a day, I guarantee you they’re reported, but you don’t’ see that on anybody else’s report, and I think you should find that very questionable. I have always been honest with this community that’s why I’ve been voted in five different times. You have to ask yourself that question, what does she bring to the table? She brings experience and results.
Miller: Next question, first to Miss Perez. The city manager appears to be having an impact on city government – would such a position help the county? Why or why not?
Perez: I don’t believe you can have an administrator, a city manager in county government. Because we are state mandate to cover the responsibilities we have, the courts the sheriffs and elected officials that we could have a county manager. We do have a county auditor, this is the only person we don’t have oversight. Could we hire someone to oversee the budget? We probably could, but then that would be an added expense, because all the officials work very closely with the auditors. ... I always supported the city manager when I was on City Council -- we never could get it passed -- but that is not anything that would work with the county.
Cobos: I did not know that Mrs. Perez supported the city manager in her six years. I did support a city manager and we got it done. That was one of our achievements in my four years on City Council. I do not believe that a county manager would have as much of an impact as a city manager, and let me tell you why. The budget is about half the size. In city government you’re working with $540 million, county you’re working with $221 million.
I do want to step back. The only way to fund government is taxes? No, you have user fees and grants. We’re not doing enough to bring in federal or state grants – we need a grant writing department. I have received various endorsements as well since that has come up. I’ve been endorsed by three of my former opponents, Sergio Coronado, Eli Munoz, Becky Vasquez, I’ve been endorsed by Sheriffs Department, by the El Paso Police Department, by the El Paso Fire Department, and also by the local union ASME, the government employees.
Miller: For the last question, is it in El Paso County’s interest to work more closely with city government, more specifically, why or why not?
Perez: Absolutely it is. Anytime you have elected officials, I think we should all be working together. I believe we need to be working with school districts as well ... I need to go back to vending machines because this has really been bothering me. I was on the Socorro Independent School District (board). The vending machines we have in Socorro don’t even have snacks, I mean they have this healthy food stuff. It never came up in our agenda, I never voted against it, so I need to let you all know that. This is all misinformation that is put out there regarding my campaign. Do we need to work with the city? We need need to work with the school districts as well, because your biggest tax bills are your school districts. It’s not the county, in fact the city is higher than the county has ever been.
Miller repeats question
Cobos: The answer is absolutely yes. I do want to clarify something. To say that you did not vote against removing soda vending machines is not enough, quite simply there was not a vote, there was no prerogative, no effort to remove them, so I think that’s the issue. We do need to work more closely with the other municipal entities and not just the municipal entities, the school districts. We have seven school districts in the county of El Paso ... what we need to do is consolidate some efforts, our human resources department, our other services, our accounting, our human resources, ancillary services that can be centralized so that we can move towards a level of consolidation, not full-blown consolidation but a level of consolidation that can save millions of dollars. And we do need to work closer with the municipalities. There was a situation where the city of Horizon wanted to annex Sparks, a colonia. The city of El Paso said no, because we still are thinking that maybe we should annex. So I think that the county judge can play an intermediary role, and clearly Horizon City should have been allowed to annex. As it stands now, it’s still a colonia.
Miller: We go to closing now. You have two minutes each to make a closing statement.
Cobos: Well, I really wanted to get the last word in (laughter). I had the courage this evening to tell you by name about some of the campaign financing, who’s financing the various candidates. If my opponent has something to disclose I think she should name a name and not just say a builder or something to that effect. That’s what I would first ask for, a level playing field.
But ladies and gentleman do you want to move forward or stick with the politics of the past? What you’ve seen lately is young, energized, enthusiastic leaders seeking public office and moving in a very positive direction. When you hire someone for a job you look at education, you look at experience, you look at motivation, why are people running, something my opponent has not disclosed is why she quit her job on the same governing board to seek this public office. I announced in August, why I was running, and I’ve stuck with my message. I’m very fiscally responsible in my public financing, in my private financing as well. This county, this community needs to ask ourselves the question: Do we want to move forward with new leadership, with new government, with new ideas, with new energy, or do we want to stick with the same thing that has gotten us where we’re at? We’re disadvantaged, we’re economically challenged. I think we need to change those things we need quality of life to attract new industry we need to get ahold of our tax base that’s going to at least give industry an opportunity to at least look at El Paso.
I have a strong background in accounting; we don’t have any accountants on Commissioners Court for goodness sake. I think we need some elected officials with some accounting background, someone who can really analyze those budgets and I think that’s what we need to do. I was elected when I was 33 years old to El Paso City Council, I was re-elected at age 35, so I am energetic and I am ready to get the job done.
Miller: Miss Perez, two minutes.
Perez: Well all I can do is tell you I am that old person with all this experience and no education yet I have 15 years in my community and I’m very proud of it. I’ve got some proven results in this community. I believe I am the best candidate and I believe that you just listening tonight know that I’m not just pulling all these answers out of the sky. I know the answers and if I don’t know the answers I admit I don’t know the answers, I don’t just make up something to impress you tonight.
Did I leave my other position? You bet I did. Why did I do that? Because my constituents were asking me to do it. If they were not happy with me by leaving this position they would never have re-elected me. It is very simple. When I got on the City Council I ran against a very very obnoxious person, Jay Armes, and I beat him. I stayed for six years, I was a radio talk show host, I went to the Socorro Independent School District. I was elected when I left there to go to County Commissioners Court and now I am asking for your vote again. Is experience necessary? You bet. Is 15 years compared to four years? I don’t know, you’re the one who has to make that decision but I think you’re going to make the right decision, and its going to be based on what you heard here tonight.
I am a Democrat, I have always been a Democrat. I attend the meetings. Do I have Republican money? You bet I do. Do I have Democratic money? You bet I do. But I am very proud of it and I am proud of my community and I will do everything in my power to represent you with all the respect that all of you deserve and you will be proud to elect Barbara Perez as your next county judge. Thank you.
Miller: Thanks again, Miss Perez, Mr. Cobos, and thank all of you for coming (applause).
Staudt: Thank you all for coming, and may I say, please vote. Early voting starts next week and the election is April 11.
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