In a historically conservative stronghold, the county commissioner candidates for Precinct 3 clashed over their credentials as small business owners and property tax relief champions in a Tuesday night candidate forum.

Republican candidate Trish DeBerry and Democratic candidate Christine Hortick squared off during a one-hour livestreamed forum hosted by KSAT, the local ABC affiliate station for San Antonio. DeBerry, who ran for mayor in 2009 but lost to Julián Castro, is heavily favored to win the general election as Precinct 3 is traditionally Republican. Current Commissioner Kevin Wolff decided against running for reelection in August 2019.

Despite DeBerry’s established presence in the community, attorney Hortick said she felt this was the year for a Democratic candidate to flip Precinct 3 with high voter turnout expected during the presidential election. DeBerry owns and operates public relations firm DeBerry Group and once worked as a TV journalist for KENS-TV, the San Antonio CBS affiliate.

DeBerry objected to Hortick’s characterization of her as a professional politician.

“I think the fact and the ability that we’ve been able to raise money from all sectors of this community, Democrats and Republicans as well as small business owners, speaks to the fact that I am not the establishment candidate,” she said.

DeBerry also challenged Hortick’s small business chops because the Democrat is currently the sole proprietor of her law firm. DeBerry said that she would be more prepared to address small business issues as someone who has employed up to 100 people at one time.

“I’ll tell you, Christine, that I’m offended by the fact that you don’t think that I can run a business and multitask and also serve as county commissioner,” DeBerry said.

Hortick responded that she has employed others at her firm in her career as a lawyer, though she currently is the only one working there.

“I don’t need the extra help right now,” she said. “So I find it offensive that my opponent wants to make it seem that I’m somehow less a small business owner because I am a sole proprietor.”

Hortick said she would be the more dedicated commissioner, contrasting her promise to close her law firm and focus on the county with DeBerry’s plan to work in the private sector and local government concurrently if elected. 

“I’ve made the decision that if I am elected in November I will close down that practice so that I can focus 100 percent on the job,” Hortick said. “I think the people of Precinct 3 deserve that. Commissioners are compensated handsomely. The salary is about $140,000 [a year]. I think for that type of money, Precinct 3 residents deserve a full-time commissioner, someone that’s going to be focused 100 percent on them and won’t be distracted by a secondary business or project.”

DeBerry shot back that leaving the private sector would cause Hortick to become “out of touch with reality.”

“My reputation in this community is solid – not only as a single mom that I’ve given 100 percent to my kids – but as a community leader in which I’ve given 100 percent, and I will give 100 percent to this job,” she said. “The problem that I have with my opponent giving up all work is that she’s going to become very quickly out of touch with reality. And that is the path to being a professional politician, and we don’t need professional politicians in office. We need real-world decisions, education, and leadership.”

Both DeBerry and Hortick said they would support their party’s nominee for president – President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, respectively. They also advocated for property tax relief in some form for Bexar County residents; Hortick said she wanted to expand the use of senior exemptions while DeBerry said she’d work with the Texas Legislature to change how the Bexar Appraisal District board of directors is chosen.

The candidates also agreed that growth would force Precinct 3 to soon reckon with transportation issues. While Hortick said she is in favor of the ballot proposition to reallocate a one-eighth-cent sales tax to VIA Metropolitan Transit in 2026, DeBerry said she does not currently support the measure. Because Precinct 3 residents provide a significant portion of the county’s property tax revenue, they want their “fair share” of infrastructure projects, she said.

“The residents of Precinct 3 do not have a culture of riding the bus,” she said. “So, it is incumbent upon VIA’s campaign to prove … what ratification of that one-eighth-cent is going to mean to the residents in Precinct 3 who do not ride the bus. By and large, what I hear at neighborhood association meetings is, ‘All I ever see are empty buses.’ Now, I can argue all day till I’m blue in the face that might be the beginning of the route or the end of the route, but that is the perception of people in Precinct 3.”

The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 5. Early voting begins Oct. 13. Election Day is Nov. 3. Find more information on voter registration and casting a ballot here.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.