Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff had kept a tight grip on nearly every aspect of the county in his more than two decades overseeing the Commissioners Court, so installing his preferred candidate to represent Precinct 3 should have been no different.
Despite plenty of maneuvering on Wolff’s part, however, the candidate who will be sworn into the role on Jan. 1 is neither the one he sought to boost in the Republican nominating contest nor is it the candidate from his own party.
Instead, Bexar County’s new Precinct 3 commissioner is 42-year-old Grant Moody, a first-time candidate with a résumé that includes military service, corporate experience and a few high-profile political connections. After his win Tuesday night, he will serve out the unexpired term of Trish DeBerry, who was elected in 2020 but resigned in late 2021 to run for Bexar County judge.
“I got into this race because I thought it was a good fit for me, an opportunity close to home and the ability to kind of leverage my business experience into a political role,” Moody said in an interview last month.
Democrat Susan Korbel’s hopes of facing a polarizing opponent put forward by local GOP precinct chairs were dashed when Moody, long viewed as an up-and-comer in Republican circles, emerged in July as the nominee over a field of more experienced candidates.
“The crazies all eliminated each other and eventually fell in with a non-crazy,” said Kevin Wolff, a Republican and former Precinct 3 commissioner who supported DeBerry’s appointed successor, Marialyn Barnard, but later hosted a fundraiser for Moody. “Grant was in the right place at the right time,” Wolff said.
With minimal campaigning this fall, Moody went on to defeat Korbel with 53.6% of the vote in a precinct where Republicans greatly outnumber Democrats.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of races in different roles, supporting candidates and causes, but being at the centerpiece as a candidate is very different, much more challenging,” Moody said of his first race. “The fact that it was a precinct chair race, not a party primary, as a first time candidate made things easier for me, versus trying to introduce yourself for the first time to 30,000 to 40,000 voters.”
That hasn’t stopped observers from speculating Moody’s time on the Commissioners Court could be short if a bigger political opportunity presents itself. In fact, Barnard has told donors she’s holding onto her campaign account for another run.
“I guess it’s interest, right? There’s interest in me, and there’s interest in, ‘What’s he going to do?’ Or ‘Who is he?’” Moody said of the dynamic. “It’s really as simple as [this]: Marine combat veteran, local businessman, a family man with young children engaged in politics, [pursuing a] unique opportunity right here at home, to get involved in the community.”
Always a standout
Raised on a farm in Eureka, Kansas, Moody was active in 4-H, an Eagle Scout and the valedictorian of his high school class. He went on to study quantitative economics at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he was an offensive lineman on the football team.
“[Grant’s] like the guy you’re sitting next to in the test who’s done in 30 minutes and gets an A-plus,” said Travis Peace, a friend of Moody’s who studied the same subject and played football alongside him at the Naval Academy. In both pursuits, Peace said, “he just had this ability to pick up on stuff really quick.”
After graduation Moody coached football at the Naval Academy for a season, then went on to train as a Marine F-18 fighter pilot, completing tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He received a master’s degree in statistics and business analytics from Texas A&M University while on active duty, then an MBA from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business after leaving active duty. He continues to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves.
Before receiving his MBA, Moody interned at USAA in San Antonio. While studying at Wharton he served as a legislative aide for then-U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) in Washington, D.C., and consulted for McKinsey & Company in Dallas.
After graduating, Moody reached out to Peace, who was working at USAA, and who helped Moody start a new professional career in San Antonio.
“He had kind of a data science specialization so I introduced him to some folks [at USAA] and they obviously loved him, brought him in right off the bat,” said Peace, who worked on marketing and business development for the company’s mortgage business.
“I would rely on his analytics, like [for example], which one of these marketing campaigns is being more successful?” said Peace. “Grant has that ability to merge very high-level intellectual capabilities with common sense.”
Outside of his day job, Moody has stayed involved in Republican politics at the local, state and national levels.
After moving to Texas he became a precinct chair, going on to serve as a delegate at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Moody was part of a last-ditch effort to deny former President Donald Trump the nomination in favor of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
The following year Gov. Greg Abbott appointed him to the Texas Veterans Land Board, and Moody continued to draw interest from heavyweights in the conservative movement. In 2019 Moody partnered with the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation to launch a San Antonio chapter of their leadership council for young professionals.
Last year Moody also participated in a year-long fellowship program with the Club for Growth, a national organization that’s political arm has spent almost $60 million helping federal candidates in the 2022 midterm. The organization often engages in Republican primaries to boost conservative candidates over political moderates, though it does not currently spend money on local races.
Club for Growth Foundation President David McIntosh said in a statement that the fellowship program is run by the group’s nonprofit arm and is designed to educate “current and rising state and local government leaders” on “principles of freedom, free markets, and limited governments.”
“I think they see [the program’s participants] as future conservative leaders who will speak up on fiscal issues,” Moody said of the connection.
Korbel criticized Moody’s alignment with the group, which is known for spending large sums of money on negative campaign tactics.
An unusual opening
When DeBerry made her last-minute decision to jump into the race for county judge, Wolff could have selected someone from his own party to fill the seat through the end of the year. Instead he set his sights on recruiting a Republican who could keep the county’s only traditionally GOP-held seat out of the hands of party activists.
“The judge called me and asked, ‘Who are some good people out there [for the job]?’” said Kevin Wolff, who is Nelson Wolff’s son.
With the help of longtime political hand Tom Marks, the Wolffs identified Barnard, a former 4th Court of Appeals judge, as someone who could leverage the advantages of incumbency to become the GOP’s nominee in November.
That idea became more complicated when Secretary of State John Scott reversed course and decided the nominees should be chosen by the parties’ precinct chairs, whose standards for political purity can be unforgiving. In the past year alone a sitting county party chair was ousted by a conservative challenger who sought unsuccessfully to censure a sitting congressman for supporting gun safety legislation.
“The fact that I had been a precinct chair … and had personal relationships with many of them was a great place to start that kind of race,” Moody said of the July contest. “My pitch to [them] was about making sure that we put our best team on the field.”
To drive home his qualifications, Moody distributed navy folders with copies of his biography, campaign materials and an endorsement from Pompeo. Moody and Barnard were neck-and-neck in the early rounds, but his support grew after each elimination round, and he picked up endorsements from social conservative activist Patrick Von Dohlen and former City Councilman Carlton Soules.
“I think we got a good candidate who can represent us well if he’s willing to exercise a lot of intestinal fortitude,” said Von Dohlen in an interview last month. “In this case you need three [votes] to get something passed. … [Moody] has the skills and interpersonal relationships to work with other county officers.”
‘Going to have to speak up’
Moody has continued working full-time at Valero, where he currently serves as director of innovation and low-carbon fuels. He said in an interview last month that he planned to leave the job if elected, though “timing would be [to be determined].”
For Moody, joining the Commissioners Court likely involves taking a pay cut. Barnard makes $131,000, plus a $9,000 auto allowance. She rejected a salary increase this year, a decision that will carry over to the next Precinct 3 commissioner, county officials said.
“This was the right race for me and my family at this point in our lives,” Moody said. “We’ve got young kids. We don’t have the financial resources [for me] to take a year off work” to campaign.
Moody’s public campaign events were limited to a handful of public forums, and his pitch for a broader audience mainly involved putting his corporate experience to work solving problems in county government.
For example, when asked at a candidate forum how he would address transportation access issues for seniors, Moody gave his standard pitch.
“I’m a business person, so I think you’ve got to understand the problem first,” said Moody. “… How many seniors fall into that category? Where did they live? What are our potential options to address that? What do they cost?
“I don’t have a specific answer for you tonight,” he said. “But that would be generally how I approach the problem.”
As the lone Republican on the court, DeBerry said, Moody will inherit the responsibility of pushing back against his colleagues.
“I think Grant is an incredibly sharp guy,” said DeBerry. “But you know, [on a court of Democrats] Grant’s going to have to speak up … and I think that’s a little outside of his wheelhouse.”
Moody contends his consulting experience has prepared him to stick to his guns.
“McKinsey would call that ‘obligation to dissent,’” Moody said. “You have an obligation to speak up and provide that diversity of thought, and I think that’s something that I can provide to the Commissioners Court.”
After more than two decades overseeing the county, Wolff will have retired as Moody joins the court.
Asked how he believed the new commissioner would fit into the institution, Wolff said in late October that he’d read about Moody’s “great credentials” but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to meet him.
“If he’s conservative that’s not a problem,” said Wolff. “As long as he’s not crazy.”
This article has been updated to clarify the description the Republican precinct chairs’ selection of Moody.
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