Call it Round 2 of the Yolanda Begum vs. Erin Hernandez-Garcia for the Justice of the Peace 2-2 mano a mano 2014.
The last time around in 2012, Begum beat out Hernandez-Garcia and another three candidates in the primary and garnered 27.57 percent of the vote (2,960). She and Hernandez-Garcia faced each other in the runoff election a month later because Hernandez-Garcia got 23.35 percent (2,507) of the votes.
For Begum to lose, that meant that Hernandez-Garcia would have to make up 453 votes somehow.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to a runoff election.
When the dust settled, Hernandez-Garcia had received 4,316 (or 50.59 percent) compared to Begum's 4,165 (or 49.11 percent) of the ballots cast.
Even though Yolanda won the election day vote (1,715 to 1.605, a 110 difference), Hernandez-Garcia managed to win in the early vote 2,392 to 2,307, a 85-vote difference. But it was the mail-in vote that carried Hernandez-Garcia over the top with 319 for Hernandez-Garcia to 142 for Begum, a 177 vote difference that allowed the now-incumbent to eke out a 151-vote win over her opponent.
That ballooning mail-in vote that made the difference has proven vexatious for the Hernandez. In fact, it attracted so much attention that a joint state-federal investigation was launched that has resulted in one indictment of a political operative aligned with Hernandez-Garcia politiqueras.
That woman, Sonia Solis, was indicted over her casting five votes of people she said were disabled. All were listed as living in the same home, a one-bedroom apartment. Solis was charged in federal court and has since pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. The word from some of her close associates is that her indictment is just the tip of the iceberg in the investigation into the massive walk-in vote and mail-in allot fraud that is ascribed to the Hernandez vote harvesting organization.
Solis will be sentenced sentenced on Feb. 5, 2014, in front of U.S. District Judge Hilda Tlagle. She faces up to five years in federal prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
With the indictment of Solis and her cooperation with the Feds, plus the indictment of longtime Hernandez associate politiquera Margarita Ozuna earlier last year, many observers say that the vote-harvesting capabilities of the organization has been neutered and will not be able to deliver the paid-for votes to Hernandez candidates.
Eyewitnesses also reported that politiqueras aligned with the Hernandez vote-harvesting organization hauled in elderly, disabled and even illiterate voters to the polls and instructed them to vote in their csndidates' favor.
"Ernie is proud of saying that he has 1,500 votes that he can deliver to any candidate he wishes," said a source close to the family. "But the rats are fleeing the sinking Hernandez ship and it is doubtful that they will be able to pull the same stunts with the federal and state investigators watching their every move."
Additionally, when they heard that Begum would be in the race against Hernandez-Garcia, the board of the Brownsville Firefighters-EMS Association Local 970 wasted no time in endorsing her campaign.
This one of the first endorsement from groups expected to publicly support Begum., her supporters say.
"People have had enough of the Hernandez corruption," said one.
Add that to the recent declining fortunes of the two Hernandez office holders.
In November, it took a six-woman jury all of 40 minutes to agree with Cameron County Asst. DA Gus Garza that they send a "loud, clear message" that local residents would no longer stand for political corruption when they found finding Ernie Hernandez's administrative assistant Raul Garza Salazar guilty on three indictments.
Salazar was convicted of helping Roberto Cadriel, Ernie's brother-in-law to get hired by the county by having someone take the civil service exam for him after he failed to pass it twice and then providing him with the answers to another exam for a security-guard position. Hernandez told the local daily that he only learned about his brother-in-law's hiring and resignation when he read their online edition on the Internet.
During Salazar's trial, Cadriel told the jury that the commissioner had told him he would get him a job with the county after he heard Cadriel talk to Norma Hernandez, Ernie's wife and Cadriel's sister, about having trouble finding work. He said Hernandez told him to talk to Salazar at his Pct. 2 office so he could help him.
The person who could have most defended Salazar's actions was his boss Hernandez, but he opted to take the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify in the case claiming he could have been indicted for perjury if he deviated from the testimony he gave before the grand jury who issued the indictments.
The jury found Salazar guilty on two counts of official misconduct and one count of tampering with a government document in the 445th District Court presided by visiting judge Federico Hinojosa. He is scheduled to be sentenced December 11. Salazar, a convicted felon, could receive up to a year in jail on that conviction.
During the trial, the DA admitted that Hernandez is under investigation for his role in the illegal hiring.
The incumbent JP 2-2 also has troubles of her own without daddy making waves at his office.
Erin, who is the daughter of Ernie Hernandez, is currently under a cloud of suspicion that she sold illegal waivers to couples so that they would forgo the state-mandated 72-hour waiting period between the time they got their marriage license and the performance of the wedding ceremony.
That allowed her to marry the couples who arrived at her office immediately and pocket the between $150 to $250 JPs charge for performing the ceremony.
Currently, Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz is awaiting an opinion from the Texas Attorney General's Office to determine whether he will present the documentation of the profiting from the illegal waivers to the grand jury which subpoenaed the JP's marriage records.
Depending on what the TAGO's opinion turns out to be, there is a likelyhood that the evidence will be presented to a grand jury to let them determine whether prosecution is warranted against the JP.
It will be interesting to see whether anyone else will jump into this race, There has been indications that at least one other – attorney Jonathan Gracia – is considering getting into the race. He has until Monday to decide whether he will enter what undoubtedly will be a hard-fought campaign with no holds barred.