Judge hopefuls face off

Candidates for two new Cameron County Court-at-Law seats will face each other in the May 24 Democratic primary runoff.

The March 1 primary election results showed Harlingen resident Sheila Garcia Bence in first place in the race for Court-at-Law No. 4, bringing in 9,614 of 27,328 total votes cast, far short of the 50 percent plus one needed to avoid a runoff.

This spring she’ll go up against Daniel T. Robles, a San Benito resident who came in second with 7,854 votes.

Candidates Carlos Monarrez and Rene Gomez won 5,164 and 4,696 votes, respectively.

Bence, an attorney and county juvenile court referee, said she feels her campaign was effective, especially considering she was an unknown.

“We’d never run any kind of political race,” she said. “My job is appointed in the juvenile court, so this was my first time to run for any kind of political position. To end up the front runner, I think that says we worked really hard and reached out to the community in several different ways.”

Bence said that if she could change anything about the campaign it would be to “start earlier.”

“We always felt like we were trying to catch up,” she said. “I hoped that we would end up in front, or at least in the runoff. We don’t take anything for granted. We have to keep doing what we were doing.”

Bence said her credentials, experience, moral character and “vision for the court” make her the best candidate, and that voters are ready for a break from the past.

“It’s just a matter of getting to enough people and letting them know who I am and what my intentions are for this new court,” she said.

Court-at-Law No. 4 will serve as a probate court that also handles mental health and guardianship issues.

Robles, a San Benito resident, said he was happy with his campaign as well, adding, “We held our own. We made a very good showing.”

“We’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing: hitting the streets over every part of the county like we have been,” he said. “My campaign is low tech. Not a lot of media. It’s very hands on, grass roots. It’s always been very effective. We’re going to go back to that.”

Robles said he’s the best candidate for the job because of his “prior judicial experience, my proven judicial temperament, and my extensive knowledge of the field of probate, guardianship and mental health, which is what this court is about.”

Robles served as judge of Court-at-Law No. 3, stepping down in 2009 in order to resume his law practice to pay for his son and daughter to go to college. Those expenses are now out of the way and the new court offers a well timed opportunity in his field, he said.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Robles said.

In the race for Cameron County Court-at-Law No. 5, a general jurisdictional court, Estela Chavez Vasquez pulled in 11,168 votes out of 27,421 votes cast. Her runoff challenger is Jesus “ Chuy” Garcia, who came in second with 8,266 votes. Candidate Noe Robles came in last with 7,987 votes.

Vasquez, a San Benito resident, said she had hoped to win without a runoff but is still happy with her campaign.

“We worked hard,” she said. “We did what we had to do to reach the community. We did the block walking. We did the mail-out. Obviously we couldn’t reach everybody but we tried our best to deliver the positive message of our campaign, and we’re ready to do it again for the runoff.”

This is Vasquez’s second time to run for elected office and her first county-wide run. She was elected to the Brownsville City Commission in 2011 but stepped down before the end of her term. Vasquez said she had moved outside city limits, to San Benito, and was obeying the city charter.

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