If Republican county judge candidate Trish DeBerry had announced a week earlier that she was resigning her county commissioner’s seat to run for Bexar County judge, former City Councilman Reed Williams would have been crazy to attempt to win her seat by running as an independent.

Because she waited until the filing deadline in order to make her stunning announcement, Reed, in my opinion, is still crazy to run as an independent rather than in the Republican primary: It’s just a different kind of crazy.

Under Section 202 of the Texas Election Code, if DeBerry had vacated her commissioner position at least five days before the filing deadline, candidates could have gotten a place on either of the March 1 Republican or Democratic primary ballots by collecting 500 signatures or paying a $1,250 fee. Republican and Democratic voters then would have decided who would be on the November ballot. 

But because DeBerry waited until the final day to file for county judge, the voters will have no say in choosing their party’s nominee to replace her as commissioner. That decision will be made by the parties’ county executive committees, made up of their county chairmen and precinct captains.

The results of that process could be very different from a primary, especially in the case of the Republicans. 

Precinct 3 of the Commissioners Court floats across the entire North Side of Bexar County, from east to west. It is an area that has repeatedly shown itself to favor moderate Republicans. For at least the past quarter of a century, Precinct 3 voters have elected moderate Republicans: Lyle Larson, Kevin Wolff and DeBerry.

Larson went on to become an independent-minded state representative from the area, with broad local Republican support. He angered Gov. Greg Abbott so much in 2018 that Abbott donated more than $100,000 to Larson’s opponent. Larson beat Abbott’s guy, Chris Fails, by just shy of 20 points. (Larson announced in October 2021 that he is not seeking re-election, and that he is so disgusted with the Republican Party that he’s called for creating a new party for political moderates).

The northern area covered by Precinct 3 also includes most of City Council Districts 7, 8 and 9. District 8 on the northwestern side has elected the likes of Manny Pelaez, Ron Nirenberg and Chris Medina — none of them certified conservatives.

District 9 Councilman John Courage, a Democrat, has been elected to the position three times. And District 10 has been represented for years by moderate Republicans: Clayton Perry and his predecessor, Mike Gallagher. 

In addition, a large portion of moderate Republican Steve Allison’s Texas House of Representatives district is in Precinct 3. His predecessor, of course, was Joe Straus, the famously moderate speaker of the Texas House who repeatedly stood up to Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

There is one other person who not only would fit into this fertile territory for moderate Republicans, but actually did: Reed Williams. He was the District 8 city councilman from 2009 to 2013 before being term-limited out after earning a reputation as a pragmatic problem-solver. 

All of this is to say that Williams would have been a formidable candidate in the Republican primary for Precinct 3 county commissioner. 

Six years ago, Williams ran for state senate in the Hill Country, where he owned a vineyard in Burnet County. As he tells it, every time he gave a speech before a Republican group, he lost votes for his moderate positions. He came in fifth out of six candidates.

Between that experience and watching more recent events involving the state and national Republican Party becoming less and less moderate, Williams now considers himself a man without a party.

“If you’re not a Republican and you’re not a Democrat, I guess you’re an independent,” he told me. 

He certainly isn’t a Republican in the national sense — or in Burnet County. But he has been back in Bexar County for years and sold his vineyard last June. He certainly fits into the company of the likes of Straus, Larson, Wolff and others, who were elected mainly or entirely by Precinct 3 voters, including Republican primary voters. 

That’s why I say that if DeBerry hadn’t waited until the last minute, and the Republican nominee for the November election was chosen by Republican primary voters, Williams would have been crazy to run as an independent.

But because of DeBerry’s last-minute decision, the candidates on the November ballot will be chosen by the party executive committees. At least in the case of Republicans, this is a very different group than the much larger cohort of primary voters. 

How different? It was the Bexar County Republican Executive Committee that voted to censure Joe Straus four years ago when he was still speaker of the Texas House. Among the reasons was that he didn’t support the infamous “bathroom bill.”

The leadership of the executive committee has changed since then, but it’s not at all clear that the grassroots membership has. That’s why it makes sense for Williams not to seek the Republican nomination — now that the voters aren’t in charge.

But it’s still crazy for him to run as an independent. Why? Because his odds of winning are outrageously long. First, consider what he has to do just to get on the November ballot as an independent.

He has to gather 500 signatures, which sounds simple, but there is a catch. They must be voters who did not vote in any primary this year, either the first round or the runoff. The primary election is March 3, but the runoff won’t be until May 24. Williams’ deadline for submitting his list of 500 is due June 23, less than five weeks later.

How do you find 500 citizens who didn’t care enough to vote in the primary but can be persuaded to sign a petition? Who knows.

“You nailed it,” Williams said when I pointed out that problem.

Even if Williams does gather the signatures, he faces the problem of being a way down-ballot candidate — below even all the county court-at-law judges — and then he has to draw enough attention in the cacophony of much higher-profile races to get a large number of voters to abandon their party identities and punch his obscure little button on the screen. 

Reed knows his only shot is if the Republican executive committee nominates an exceedingly far-right candidate flamboyant enough to alert Republican voters that he or she is beyond the pale. Former Republican County Chair Cynthia Brehm might qualify. Reed mentioned Nico LaHood and Greg Brockhouse as possible candidates who motivated his decision to run. Williams said he doesn’t want to run if the party runs someone “who wants to solve problems and is not ideological.” 

The problem is that the precinct chairs who, by law, will choose the candidates are on the May runoff ballot — and won’t even take office until 20 days later. The earliest they can meet to choose their candidate will be June 28, according to long-time Bexar County Republican official Marian Stanko. That’s after Williams must submit his 500 signatures. Stanko said the election will more likely be in July or even August.

So Williams won’t even know whether he wants to run until after he sprints up the mountain to gather the signatures. He says he is only running as a “hedge against crazy,” referring to what he considers the nature of some Republican Party candidates.

But given his odds, his own gambit is “Don Quixote” crazy: A crazy you might reasonably admire, but crazy nonetheless.

Rick Casey

Rick Casey's career spans four decades of award-winning reporting on San Antonio. He previously worked as a metro columnist for the former San Antonio Light and, later, the San Antonio Express-News.