GET THE STATE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS ON-LINE Tough, investigative reporting; the wit and good sense of Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower; Political Intelligence; insightful cultural analysis; and much more. Check out Molly Ivins’ special subscription offer, too! www.texasobserver.org Subscribe on-line or call The Texas Observer at 800-939-6620 “Laredo,” from page 7 His campaign has emphasized his own record as a prosecutor \(he won sixteen of to make the D.A.’s office more accountable to the public; he has claimed that too many sex offenders are given probation rather than jail time. He has noticeably not gone on attack against the corruption allegations, due in part to small-town manners. “Joe knows a lot of people in town. A lot of people aren’t going to vote for him, but they don’t want to see him get smeared,” explained Gutierrez. But perhaps it’s also because as a former prosecutor, Gutierrez’ ability to position himself as an outsider is limited: he may not have been in “the clique” but he did work in the office for three years. He recalls one case he worked on, in which an eighteen-year-old held up a motel office with a shotgun. Rubio, says Gutierrez, called him into his office and instructed him to offer probation; when Gutierrez protested that he couldn’t offer probation on an aggravated robbery charge, Rubio instructed him to reduce the charge. “It was clearly a favor,” recalls Gutierrez. Rubio says it never happened. Whether it happened or not, it points to one of the criticisms that have been leveled against Gutierrez during the campaign. “If his motivation is that there are all these questionable dealings in office, why didn’t he say anything when he was working there?” asks the third candidate, Anna Laura Cavazos Ramirez. “Why did he just sit there and wait and watch for three years?” Ramirez, who served as an assistant D.A. before Rubio came to office and later as county attorney, was Rubio’s only opponent in 1996; she lost decisively. This time around, with a fraction of the money raised by Gutierrez and Rubio, Ramirez is the gadfly of the campaign, launching volleys against both candidates. “All of us she says. “Anybody who works around county government, who works around the justice center knew all of this was going on. She minces no words about Rubio, having told the Laredo Morning Times, “You can buy your way out of anything, including murder in that office” referring to allegations in an F.B.I. affidavit, that murder charges were dismissed or probated in ex change for money. Rubio calls the allegations false. “It was pretty disgusting to me that this man might get elected despite the scandal, despite word getting out, the thought of him getting elected is totally distasteful to me,” said Ramirez. “What does it say about the city of Laredo?” The same day as Rubio’s pachanga in Zapata, the Gutierrez campaign held $500-a-ticket luncheon fundraiser at Nuevo Laredo’s swanky Cadillac Bar, which is owned by cousins of Gutierrez’ father. The contrast between the two events could hardly be sharper: instead of beer kegs and county brass, here were cocktails and well-heeled professionals. The guests, whom Gutierrez described as “mostly friends and family,” included bankers and trucking company owners old Laredo money and new. Gutierrez leads the money race, having raised $138,000 compared to Rubio’s $68,000. \(“Joe is very very powerful, and has many of the office holders supporting him,” notes Ramirez. “But Albert has dug into his base of support; he’s pulled away some of the people with money and influence because that’s who has been able to run more television advertising than Rubio. After the fundraiser, Gutierrez drove out to the offices of T.S.I., a Laredo trucking company, to meet with Patrick Leyndecker, a company executive who’d called to offer a campaign donation. Leyndecker, a jittery man in a red “USA” T-shirt and red baseball cap, sat. Gutierrez down in his office a small, windowless room presided over by enlarged photographs of his daughter and a stuffed ocelot and explained that he had an older brother in prison because of a misdemeanor. “You know how it is, they say, you got ten grand, we’ll take care of it. And we didn’t want to do that, so they gave him five to eight years,” Leyndecker said. “It’s a bunch of B.S., man. It’s time for a change.” He showed Gutierrez a pad of paper with a list of names people who, he said, would vote for Gutierrez. “That’s exactly what we need,” said Gutierrez. “If everyone did this, we’d be set.” It is perhaps a smaller organization. than the one backing RubiO, but Gutierrez’ al liance of small lists and large donations could help him unseat the incumbent. After all, a pachanga isn’t what it used to be. “In the old days,” a union official told me at Rubio’s evening function, “we would have slaughtered an animal, and this would’ve been an all-day .affair. But now, people are busy….” Whether this race pits a machine politician against a reformer \(as Gutierrez would against an inexperienced upstart \(as Rubio new. In the end, the election may boil down to television versus came asada. “Around election time,” explained one Laredo political observer, “the air is thick with the fragrance of came asadas you have in the neighborhoods. You feed the pobres, the organizers get to take home the leftovers, and the candidate shows up for a cameo. One came asada probably translates to a fair number of votes.” Rubio probably has the carne asada advantage; the question is whether Gutierrez’ commercials can overr come it. Former Observer associate editor Karen Olsson lives in Austin. 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 3, 2000
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The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.