Months after Trish DeBerry’s last-minute decision to run for county judge, Democrats and Republicans are scrambling to ensure they’ll each have a candidate for her Precinct 3 seat on the ballot in November.
The deadline set by the Texas Secretary of State to nominate a candidate is Aug. 22. As of last week, however, leaders from both parties were still seeking clarification from both legal counsel and state officials and revisiting their process for choosing a candidate.
“It makes me nervous,” said Lora Lane, who is coordinating the Republican Party of Bexar County’s selection process at Aggie Park July 7. “I don’t want anyone to come back and say, ‘Well, your candidate doesn’t count.’”
Texas law says that in the case of last-minute withdrawals of incumbents or candidates for office — an issue that’s been exacerbated across the state this year by redistricting — party officials choose the candidate. DeBerry, elected in 2020 to a four-year term on the Commissioners Court, was required to resign her commissioners seat when she sought the judge’s office.
Because there was little time between DeBerry’s decision and the filing deadline for the March primary, state election officials decided a primary would not be held for the Precinct 3 seat. But the process for selecting a nominee from each party has perplexed the state and county party officials charged with gathering their precinct chairs to do so.
On Thursday, Democratic precinct chairs in Precinct 3 met to reaffirm their selection of Susan Korbel, a former Alamo Colleges trustee who has been fundraising and meeting with neighborhood association leaders since her initial nomination in February.
Texas law says the candidate must be selected by the precinct chairs elected in the year of the opening. Those chairs were not seated until this month after the May primary runoff, meaning Korbel had to be nominated a second time.
“I reached out to the attorneys that handle that matter through the Texas Democratic Party for guidance,” said Bexar County Democratic Party Chair Monica Alcántara, a litigation paralegal who has chaired the county party since 2018.
“From what I recall, no one had endured this process where somebody had resigned right at the eve of [the filing deadline], and so I believe it was new for everyone,” she added.
The Texas Democratic Party initially advised Bexar County Democrats to select their candidate too early, then advised them to repeat the process once the new precinct chairs were seated.
Leaders of the Republican Party of Bexar County also are revisiting their candidate selection plans.
Newly elected chair Jeff McManus campaigned on a plan to recruit conservative candidates and hoped to use the unusual Precinct 3 opening to assert a bigger influence over the nominee in one of the party’s biggest electoral opportunities this fall.
McManus said he scrapped a plan that would have required interested candidates to complete a vetting form with questions about their background and political ideology.
“You’ve got to do this in such a way that nobody can claim they were denied fair access to the ballot,” said Bill Crocker, a lawyer who advised the county Republicans on their process.
Republicans have a large number of interested candidates to choose from next week, and McManus’ vetting form has been replaced with an optional candidate questionnaire.
- Marialyn Barnard, a former 4th Court of Appeals justice, was appointed in January to serve as the interim commissioner for Precinct 3. Barnard led the recent expansion of the court’s homestead tax exemption. On the candidate questionnaire Barnard said she was focused on ensuring election integrity and resisted her colleagues’ efforts to include gun control recommendations in the county’s response to the Uvalde school shooting.
- Patty Gibbons is the president of the Greater Harmony Hills Neighborhood Association who has served on numerous committees for the City of San Antonio, including the Zoning Commission, 2017 bond committee, and the streets, roads and bridges committee. Gibbons ran unsuccessfully for City Council in District 9 in 2017. Gibbons spent her career running a land surveying company. Earlier this year she led an unsuccessful fight to keep her neighborhood from being moved into another council district.
- Grant Moody is a Marine pilot who currently serves as director of innovation and low carbon fuels at Valero. He previously worked at USAA and consulted for McKinsey & Company. Moody ran a political action committee aimed at electing conservative veterans in 2018. He points to his experience working with engineers at Valero on infrastructure projects, as well as project-management experience and political organizing experience.
- David Ortega is the former Hollywood Park mayor and an attorney for Naman Howell Smith & Lee. He used the questionnaire to highlight his experience overseeing municipal issues and conservation projects, as well as his involvement in lawsuits regarding the Eagle Ford Shale.
- Carlton Soules is a former San Antonio City Council member who represented District 10 from 2011 to 2014. Soules ran unsuccessfully against County Judge Nelson Wolff in 2014, and currently runs a political consulting firm. He says he’s focused on infrastructure and growth, and points to his experience serving on the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, which coordinates state, local and federal transportation projects. On the candidate questionnaire he said the Commissioners Court, which oversees the county elections administrator, must demand that the next person in that role be willing to “step in and fight any attempts to sway our elections.”
- Patrick Von Dohlen is a conservative activist who runs several political action committees, including one aimed at appointing poll watchers. Von Dohlen ran unsuccessfully for City Council in District 9 in 2017 and 2021. He said in the questionnaire that he’d “seek to implement pro-God, pro-Constitution, pro-family, pro-first responder, pro-god public health, and welfare policies for the county.”
Three other candidates, William Peche, Nathan Buchanan and Bill Librera, expressed interest in the race with county party officials but did not fill out the candidate questionnaire.
Peche works for Amazon and previously served as a Republican precinct chair. He’s campaigning as a voice for blue-collar workers.
Buchanan ran unsuccessfully against DeBerry for the Republican nomination for county judge.
The Precinct 3 chairs plan to hold a private candidate forum on July 5.
This story has been updated to reflect that Carlton Soules represented District 10 on the San Antonio City Council.