The race for Bexar County judge is wide open as the 2022 election approaches.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff confirmed last week that he would not seek reelection next year. Wolff has served as the county’s leader since 2001. Local political scientists say they expect a packed Democratic primary, though the number of officially declared candidates currently sits at zero.
So far, only state Rep. Ina Minjarez has publicly announced interest in the seat; she tweeted that she was exploring a run after Wolff announced his decision not to run again.
“I’ve received countless calls from community members for me to consider running for Bexar County Judge; with today’s news I’ve decided to form an exploratory committee,” she wrote on Oct. 6.
Judge Peter Sakai, who submitted his resignation to Gov. Greg Abbott in early September, has not yet announced his candidacy publicly but has texted his intent to run to some people. Sakai has not yet filed any paperwork for candidacy, Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen confirmed. Sakai did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
The longtime district court judge might be holding off on an official announcement to comply with the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, which states that a judge must resign from their seat in order to become a candidate in a non-judicial election. Sakai’s resignation takes effect on Oct. 31.
There are likely other Texas House representatives besides Minjarez thinking about running for county judge as well, said Jon Taylor, political science professor and department chair at the University of Texas at San Antonio. But they might be holding off on launching their campaigns until the third special session of the Texas Legislature ends.
“Then you’ve got some other people who can start concentrating on this race,” Taylor said.
Potential candidates may not want to enter the race before the holiday season, said Henry Flores, professor emeritus of political science at St. Mary’s University.
“The campaigning probably won’t start heavily till after the Christmas holidays because you don’t want to waste your money running against toys and Santa Claus,” Flores said. “That just doesn’t work.”
Though he had considered running for county judge in 2022, Commissioner Justin Rodriguez, who is serving out his first elected term, has announced that he is running for reelection in Precinct 2. He said wants to continue in his current role.
“I felt like I almost got a false start,” he told the San Antonio Report. “I got appointed in 2019 and then we got hit with this pandemic. In the last 18 months to two years it’s been in emergency response mode. I just feel really strongly that there are some big projects that I’d like to get off the ground in Precinct 2.”
Commissioner Tommy Calvert has expressed his intent to run again for Precinct 4 in the past and told the San Antonio Report on Tuesday that he would be seeking reelection in 2022.
Taylor and Flores both floated the idea of former Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, who has expressed interest before, running for the seat. Gonzales told the San Antonio Report on Tuesday she would not be running. Both also speculated that voters might be ready for someone younger and not as established in local politics, when looking at the demographics of the current county commissioners and City Council members.
“I think folks who are looking for new blood … Maybe there’ll be somebody younger out there that we’re not even thinking about who could throw their hat in the ring at the last minute, and really mess things up,” Flores said.
The elections office isn’t even sure when the 2022 primary election will be held. If redistricting of the state and the county happens according to the planned timeline, the primary will take place in March, Callanen said. However, if redistricting gets delayed, the primary election will be too.
One thing is certain, said Taylor: because Bexar County has so many Democratic voters, whoever wins the Democratic primary next year will be the winner of the general election as well.
“Even in a midterm election that might go in favor with the Republicans, I can’t see this having a down-ballot effect on county judge,” he said. “Anything’s possible in politics, but it’s unlikely.”