Cuellar, Rodriguez slug it out for Congressional seat
The District 28 Congressional race is kicking up more mud than a Monster Truck race.
The fighting goes beyond the candidates’ platitudinous campaign menus: Henry Cuellar supports improving education, health care, and economic development; Ciro Rodriguez says his priorities are education, health care, and roads. (What candidate would cop to being anti-education and anti-health care?)
|Above: Ciro Rodriguez is trying to regain his seat as U.S. Representative for the 28th Congressional District. Below: District 28 incumbent Henry Cuellar is trying to defend his shaky Democratic street credibility.|
This race is about revenge. This race is about correcting voting irregularities. This race is about quién es más Democrat.
Rodriguez lost his congressional seat to Cuellar in the 2004 election by 58 votes after ballot boxes mysteriously emerged at a Webb County bank a month after the primary.
According to Rodriguez, Webb County, of which Laredo is the county seat, is up to its old tricks again. On February 27, Rodriguez called for the Texas Secretary of State and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the “abnormally high number” of voters older than 90 who cast their ballots in the first four days of early voting. According to Rodriguez, 93 votes were cast by people age 90 and over; 51 of those votes came from people who are at least 100.
According to UTSA’s State Center for Demographics, in 2000, the year with the latest available figures, 58 people in Webb County were 94 years old; they would be 100 this year. Assuming they all are alive and able to vote, that means nearly 90 percent of the centenarians in Webb County cast their ballots this election.
And there is the matter of Cuellar’s credentials. Democrats believe Cuellar, who endorsed President George W. Bush in 2000 and was appointed to the Texas Secretary of State’s post by Republican Governor Rick Perry, is a closet member of the GOP. Most recently, Cuellar was photographed at Bush’s State of the Union address smiling as the President held his face in both hands. In response, Cuellar’s TV ads have boasted that he would “stand up to Bush.”
The photograph prompted Democrats nationwide to send $20-50 contributions to Rodriguez. According to the Center for Responsive Politics (opensecrets.org), as of February 13 Cuellar had reported $645,791 in contributions compared to Rodriguez’ $192,382. Rodriguez recently reported his campaign has received more than $300,000 through internet donations.
Rodriguez contends Cuellar has sided with an administration that “treats government like it’s a company; they would use and abuse it and then dismantle it.” He also says building a wall between the United States and Mexico is sending the wrong message. “We need better relations with other countries, to build intelligence and good relationships,” Rodriguez says, adding that by supporting CAFTA, “Bush squandered an opportunity to make friends in South America.” Cuellar also voted in favor of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which is similar to NAFTA.
Cuellar’s in the club
At a February COPS/Metro accountability session, Cuellar and Rodriguez said they would support funding for FEMA to rebuild the Gulf Coast, fair immigration proposals, and Project QUEST. However, Cuellar refused to reject the agenda of “Club for Growth,” a group that supports tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
How Rodriguez and Cuellar ended up battling each other is a story in itself. In 2000, Cuellar, then running for the 23rd District seat, ran a tight race in the General Election against Republican Henry Bonilla. So tight that when Congressional boundaries were redrawn in the GOP’s favor in 2003 at the behest of House Majority Leader Tom Delay, eureka, Cuellar ended up slugging it out against a Democrat in District 28, leaving Bonilla to skate in District 23.
The redistricting put Cuellar’s home outside of District 28, which includes parts of south Bexar County, Laredo, Guadalupe County, New Braunfels, and Hays County, but he says it is only a few blocks outside the boundary in his hometown of Laredo. “The law doesn’t require you to live in the district ... that was beyond our control. I think people are more interested in somebody that produces. People know I have worked hard and produced for San Antonio and will continue to be a congressman for this area.”
Critics have charged that Cuellar wants to give $100 million to support the Minutemen and their unsolicited patrol of the U.S.-Mexico border, but Cuellar denies that he supports them. “Last October, Representative Cuellar sponsored a bill called the ‘Border Law Enforcement Act of 2005’ that would essentially deputize members of the Minutemen militia by giving them new titles, badges, and guns,” wrote blogger Markos Zuniga of dailykos.com, a political blogsite. He also accuses Cuellar of supporting a “Berlin-style wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to ostensibly keep immigrants from crossing into the country from the south.”
Cuellar denies that he voted for Minuteman funding. “That is a lie. I’m working with the border sheriffs to fight the crime we have.
I don’t want Minutemen on the border. This is a desperate attack by somebody that got put out of office. I opposed the wall. The wall is not the right way; it sends a wrong message to our neighbors to the South. This is not the right way to provide security for the border, these are extreme measures.”
Cuellar says he has been accessible to constituents in District 28. “I can understand when you’re losing, you’ve got to attack and make things up.”
Perhaps the 51 centenarian voters in Webb County could comment on that. •
By Michael Cary