DA hopefuls spar in debate, again

HARLINGEN — Luis Saenz and Carlos Masso last squared off for the Democratic nomination for district attorney in a runoff election in 2012.

The two are facing off again and yesterday they went head-to-head for the first time this year in a candidate forum hosted by the Harlingen Rotary Club.

Saenz, the incumbent, and Masso, a veteran prosecutor, are the only candidates in the Democratic primary for Cameron County DA. The winner on March 1 will face Republican Jeremy SoRelle, who has no primary opponent, in November’s general election. He was not able to attend the forum.

Some of the key issues the candidates were questioned on were corruption, the death penalty and eight-liner game rooms.

Saenz, who defeated Masso in the 2012 runoff and went on to win the general election, said as long as he’s the DA, there will not be eight-liners in Cameron County.

“If you want to keep moving forward, go with me,” Saenz said. “If you want to go back to the old days of closed-door dealings, Masso is for you.”

Masso was asked if he had ever taken campaign contributions from game room operators. He said no and added that if eight-liners are operating illegally, they need to be shut down and the operators prosecuted.

Masso said Saenz is unavailable. “Right now, if you want to see the DA, good luck,” he said.

Masso said the key to his platform is that he wants to be accessible to crime victims, lawyers and law enforcement.

Saenz said Masso’s call for making the DA’s office accessable his invitation for behind-closed-door dealings.

An audience of more than 50 Rotary Club members got a good look and had a chance to meet the candidates at the Harlingen Cultural Center.

Local attorney Jim Young said he enjoyed the forum and it was good seeing the two candidates in the flesh and blood answering questions front and center.

“It gave us an opportunity to see how they look under pressure,” Young said. “In politics you’re always trying to figure out who to believe and this is a helpful tool to do that.”

Rotary Club President Chris Bartnesky said the back-and-forth between the candidates is always expected at their political forums.

“As a club we really appreciate their time coming out to speak with us,” Bartnesky said “It was interesting seeing them sparing back and forth.”