On occasion when I was a columnist for the old San Antonio Light or the Express-News or the Houston Chronicle, a candidate for office would call and ask me for permission to print in campaign ads favorable excerpts about them from a column I had written.
My response was, “If you ask for permission, I can’t give it to you.”
The more sophisticated among them understood: They didn’t need permission to quote portions of my column just as I don’t need permission to quote, as I will below, from limited passages of the Express-News or the San Antonio Business Journal.
The reason I wouldn’t give them permission is that it could be seen as an inappropriate assist to a campaign. I stood by what I wrote, but I didn’t want to have any involvement in putting my words on their campaign mailers.
That went unsaid, but something else didn’t. I told them in friendly tones that if they cherry-picked quotes that were out of tune with a broader context I would feel a powerful urge to provide that broader context to the readers. Again, the more sophisticated candidates understood and were careful.
Those conversations came to mind Thursday when one of the oversized campaign cards that are clogging my mailbox arrived from Ivalis Meza Gonzalez, a candidate for Bexar County judge. On one side it has a large photo of U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, together with what appears to be a quote from him saying she “is a passionate, determined leader who will do great things as Bexar County Judge.”
Next to his photo is a circular “badge” saying “ENDORSED.”
I’m confident he did endorse, and that he at least approved, if he did not write, the quotation. That’s not the problem with the mailer. The problem is on the other side.
The left side has a large photo of her over a gold medallion that says, “WOMAN OF THE YEAR,” with a black “ribbon” that reads, “San Antonio Business Journal.”
That is accurate, mainly. A year ago the Business Journal did select her — in her role as Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s chief of staff — as “woman of the year” from a cohort of “40 under 40” up-and-coming young San Antonians.
Down the right side of the large mailer were stacked three quotes from San Antonio news outlets, including at the bottom, one from the Business Journal from their “40 under 40” article. “She oversaw the mayor’s housing policy task force. She also oversaw the SA Climate Ready Plan and she’s a member of the Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women.”
The way the quotes were lined up, with ones from the Express-News at the top and the San Antonio Report in the middle, they looked very much like endorsements to me. Gonzalez’s campaign says they weren’t meant that way, and could point to the fact that there is no badge on that side of the mailer like the one next to Castro saying “ENDORSED.”
But I failed to get that nuance, just like I suspect many other recipients of the mailing did. And I knew the San Antonio Report does not endorse candidates for elected office. Among other things, having such a direct involvement in political campaigns could endanger the news organization’s nonprofit status.
I assumed it was a quote from a story by one of the reporters or columnists made to look — inadvertently or not — like an endorsement.
As it turned out, it was worse than that. Before I get to that, I want to put into context a quote attributed to the Express-News that was from columnist Gilbert Garcia, whose work I admire.
“Gonzalez has politics in her blood,” the quote reads. “She’s the daughter of the late Choco Meza, a longtime political organizer who also served as the chair of the Bexar County Democratic Party.”
The quote is not from an endorsement but from a column by Garcia last Dec. 4 on what was then the lineup of candidates for county judge. In it Garcia has something positive to say about each of the three leading Democratic candidates.
Of Ina Minjarez, a Bexar County state representative, Garcia wrote: “Ina Minjarez, one of the most promising members of the Texas House, is leaving the Legislature — largely out of frustration with this year’s GOP culture war agenda — to run for county judge.”
Of long-time judge Peter Sakai, he wrote: “Former District Court Judge Peter Sakai enters the race with considerable good will, given his years of work on child abuse and neglect cases and his dedication to improving the foster care system. It’s hard to predict, however, how that will translate into a race to be the presiding official of the county government.”
On Meza Gonzalez, he fleshed out her background both in the mayor’s office and on Nirenberg’s second campaign against Greg Brockhouse, but Garcia also said this: “Gonzalez has an obvious knack for politics and will benefit from Nirenberg’s endorsement in this race. But she’s never run for anything bigger than Democratic Party precinct chair.”
For more context, however, consider this: The Express-News does issue political endorsements. The newspaper strongly endorsed Minjarez, saying this, among other things: “She has been remarkably effective in the Legislature. At the end of the 85th session, Texas Monthly named her ‘Rookie of the Year.’ She’s no rookie now, and Bexar County would benefit from her experience and key relationships.”
Now for the context of the quote from the San Antonio Report, which read, “The community has benefited immensely from her efforts. Her family’s history of service to our region is nothing short of remarkable, and Ivalis is always considering how she could best serve her neighbors.”
This is strange, but nothing in that quote came from anyone on the staff of the San Antonio Report. It was from a quote in a Nov. 17 story in the Report about Meza Gonzalez considering a race for county judge. The words were from Nirenberg, her boss, who concluded by saying he would support her “whatever she decides.”
Meza Gonzalez told me the way the quote appeared on the mailer was an error, but she could not explain how it happened. She told me I should talk to her campaign manager, Chris Cantu. As of my deadline he hasn’t returned my call.
I guess it could be an inadvertent error — if the first-time candidate employed rookies to run her campaign. That too would be an error. Meza Gonzalez told me the campaign had corrected the error “on social media.” It added attribution to Nirenberg, but in very small type.
Even so, there’s no reason to think the correction would come to the attention of the thousands of people who received her mail piece, most of whom would be under the misimpression that these local publications favor her candidacy.
Disclosure: Ina Minjarez’s husband, Leo Gomez, sits on the San Antonio Report’s board of directors.