A debate Friday led to a verbal clash between two Democratic opponents seeking their party's nomination for Precinct 1 Commissioner for Nueces County.
Incumbent Peggy Banales and challenger Joe Benavides went toe-to-toe on various countywide issues during a nearly 25-minute debate aired and put together by KIII-TV in Corpus Christi.
Both candidates appeared visibly flustered while answering questions from news anchor Joe Gazin, but Benavides seemed to be on the attack even before the first question was asked, pointing out that Banales twice supported a salary increase for herself and other county commissioners.
"As a concerned citizen, and a taxpayer myself, I would like to see good government and a transparency in county government," Benavides said.
Benavides also pointed out that Banales supported the issuance of nearly $160 million in non-voter approved certificates of obligation, most of which have gone to the construction of the Richard M. Borchard Regional Fairgrounds in Robstown.
Banales appeared nervous in her introduction, stammering while she explained the responsibilities of the Commissioners Court. A response to the first question was no better for the incumbent, which dealt with the issue of increasing funding for District Attorney Carlos Valdez to hire or retain prosecutors.
"We have issued policy to which the county attorney has been able to have more district attorneys in his office, in his department," Banales said, seemingly unaware of mislabeling Valdez's title and the positions outlined by the moderator in the question.
Benavides countered, saying that the incumbent offered nothing more than "broken promises."
The next topic addressed the fairgrounds and how the county could ensure an increase in revenue to help manage the facilities.
"When we went forward with the project at the fairgrounds…we knew that this would not be a money-maker," Banales said, adding that the real payoff would be the economic growth that could result from the project.
Benavides responded by questioning what seemed to be a lack of "fiscal responsibility" on the county's part, incorrectly stating that the project has cost more than $126.3 million, when in fact, that is the amount of non-voter approved funds the county has approved for various capital improvement projects. Only about $60 million has been earmarked for fairgrounds construction.
Then, Benavides said the Nueces County Junior Livestock Show was charged $20,000 to $30,000 to use the facilities this year, although an exact number has not been released by Global Spectrum, the firm managing the fairgrounds. He then incorrectly stated county commissioners "had the audacity" to approve the sale of alcohol at the youth event.
The decision to sell alcohol during the show's Kick-Off Weekend events, during which none of the youth and their projects had yet arrived, was made and approved last year by the livestock show's board of directors. However, Benavides said he would support a partial or full refund being given to the NCJLS for having to pay to use the facilities at the fairgrounds.
Other topics discussed during the debate included improving the presence of Emergency Medical Services out in rural areas and increasing security at the Nueces County Courthouse. Benavides maintained his attack on Banales, saying she had "misguided" her constituents on these issues.
Banales responded by calling into question Benavides's lack of experience.
"It's very easy for Mr. Benavides to say 'misguide.' He has not been in this situation. He has not served within the county. He's not held any public office," the Precinct 1 incumbent said. "But believe me, the community knows I have been out there continuously and care for the community."
Near the end of the debate, the candidates were given the opportunity to ask one another questions. Banales asked Benavides if he would support a $200 million bond referendum to help improve drainage in areas that needed it.
"I would happily do that if it consisted of drainage areas around the residents that lived there, and not around the fairgrounds," Benavides said.
Towards the end of the debate, Banales asked voters to look at her record and not listen to what she said was "misinformation" being spread by Benavides. On Tuesday, the incumbent wrapped up the Democratic nomination by a victory of nearly 1,700 votes. Banales will face Republican Mike Pusley in November's general election.