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FEATURE Politicos Conflictivos Lawsuits, kickbacks, and the Boogie Man sink Corpus Christi Democrats into disarray BY DAVE MANN 1 n December, I received a Christmas card from Vicente Carranza, an activist and Spanish-language radio talk show host in Corpus Christi. Along with the standard holiday pleasantries, Carranza updated me on the latest happenings on the local political scene. As usual, he got right to the point. “When are you com ing [back],” he wrote. “The shit is getting deeper.” Apparently the political aristocracy in Corpus was celebrating the holiday season with a new round of accusations, court hearings, and depositions. One embattled state rep bought a full-page ad in the local newspaper to deny that he accepted a kickback, and an incensed candidate for county commissioner accused the local Democratic Party chair of intentionally leaving him off the primary ballot. In other words, it was a typical week. I met Carranza last November. I had been traveling to Corpus to discover why a city of slightly more than 200,000 people has a brand of politics so lively it borders on farce. Corpus’s political heavyweights are now embroiled in three local civil suits, a federal racketeering lawsuit, an FBI investigation, and one very public divorce. The motions, countermotions, and depositions in just one of the civil suits fill nine large folders at the county courthouse. Eleven judges, including an entire six-judge appellate panel, have already recused themselves from the case because of political ties to one side or the other. There’s some disagreement in Corpus on how it became this bad. But everyone points to the bitter 2002 state senate campaign as a seminal moment. Barbara Canales-Black, privileged daughter of a prominent Corpus family, lost a particularly nasty and expensive primary race to McAllen’s thenState Rep. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa. A faction of brash, young political insiders broke ranks and backed Hinojosa. That dissension in Corpus not only cost Canales-Black the election but exploded a rift in the local Democratic Party, largely along generational lines. State Rep. Jaime Capelo created even more trouble last March when he co-sponsored Proposition 12 and its accompanying rewrite of the civil justice code, known as House Bill 4, that enraged the city’s trial lawyers. In April, allegations surfaced that Capelo had accepted a kickback for settling a lawsuit. A flurry of litigation followed and the situation degenerated from there. Carranza has lived his entire life in Corpus, except for a nine-year stint in the Air Force. He returned from the military in late 1968, and for the past 34 years, he’s been a community activist. “I ran for mayor six or seven times,” he told me. “I found out if I ran for political office, they would have to give me equal time. It gave me five minutes to get up in front of the establishment and tell them what I thought of them.” Since 1994, Carranza has hosted a controversial talk show every weekday morning from 10 until noon on a 52year-old Spanish-language radio station \(now owned by Clear Corpus’s highest-rated radio program in his time slot. That’s mainly due to Carranza’s refreshing tell-it-like-it-is style. True to form, when we met for an interview at a burger joint overlooking Corpus Christi Bay, Carranza was not only willing to 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1/30/04