Here’s what the down-ballot races mean in the tri-county

A view of the Presidio County courthouse at around 7 p.m. Tuesday, as polls across the state started to close. Photo by Maisie Crow

TRI-COUNTY — With polls showing a tight presidential race in Texas and with several swing congressional districts up for grabs, many Big Bend residents were focused on the national elections on Tuesday night. But even at the local level, several down-ballot races offered referendums on the future that residents want to see for the region.

Take Jeff Davis County, where Republican Curtis Evans handily defeated Democrat Fred “Dusty” Rhodes in the race for county judge, 927 to 437. Evans, a current county commissioner, will replace temporary County Judge Larry Francell, who was appointed after the sudden death of Judge Kerith Sproul-Hurley earlier this year.

That result may not be surprising: Jeff Davis County, after all, is the reddest part of the tri-county. But the race is still probably the most noteworthy in the tri-county because it was largely a referendum on coronavirus restrictions like mask mandates. Many residents in Jeff Davis County see the state’s rules as too restrictive and have flouted them.

In Brewster County, meanwhile, unofficial results on Wednesday showed that incumbent Sheriff Ronny Dodson had defeated challenger Will Drawe in a landslide, with Dodson earning 3,888 votes to Drawe’s 645. Dodson, who won his first sheriff’s election in Brewster County in 2000, will go on to serve for a sixth term.

That sheriff’s race was a wild one, replete with an FBI investigation, racist tweets, allegations of hacking and a controversy over jail admittance. But with Dodson handily defeating Drawe, it’s unclear what effect, if any, those many controversies had on the race.

Dodson is a popular incumbent who won in 2016 with over 83% of the vote. Drawe, on the other hand, was a write-in challenger who entered the race late. It’s possible his candidacy was knee-capped from the start.

But Dodson, despite holding more conservative views on everything from gun rights to coronavirus mask mandates, is officially a Democrat. In a right-leaning county that has now gone twice for President Donald Trump, his re-election is a sign that even in these partisan times, not all races are decided by the (D) or (R) next to a candidate’s name on a ballot.

In Marfa, four candidates — including two incumbents and two newcomers — were vying for three seats on Marfa City Council. Popular newcomer Eddie Pallarez got by far the most votes, at 525.

Next up were incumbent Buck Johnston, who earned 386, and incumbent Yoseff Ben-Yehuda, who won 359. The final candidate, newcomer Stephen Boelter, got 174, meaning he will not be joining city council this year.

Throughout Presidio County, including in Marfa, coronavirus restrictions haven’t proved as divisive as elsewhere in the region and state. But there were still other contentious issues in Marfa, including a proposed ordinance on short-term rentals, which city officials have workshopped since early October.

In our meet-the-candidates series, Boelter listed “gentrification” as his top concern in Marfa and came out strongly in favor of increased limits on short-term rentals. Ben-Yehuda, on the other hand, has been more wary of new restrictions, often questioning what the city hopes to gain from new short-term rental rules.

Still, without much local campaigning in Marfa, it’s unclear if that city council race came down to the issues or just name-recognition. With the exception of Eddie Pallarez, a longtime Marfa resident with a wide base of support, the race appeared to lean in favor of incumbents.

One Marfa race definitely came down to the issues, though. In ballot initiative Prop A, Marfa residents were asked whether they wanted to have more control in negotiations over electrical utility rates.

By an overwhelming margin, Marfans said yes. More than 600 residents voted for that proposition, while just 117 voted against it.

At both the county and district levels, there were also several uncontested races. Roy Ferguson, the incumbent district judge, won with 1751 votes. In the district attorney’s race, newcomer Ori White won with 1125 votes after defeating incumbent Sandy Wilson in the Republican primary earlier this year.

Brenda Bentley, Presidio County commissioner for Precinct 1, won in with 381 votes. Jose “Cabby” Cabezuela won the race for Precinct 3 commissioner with 239 votes. Likewise, in the uncontested constables races, Marfa Police Chief Steve Marquez and Adan “Pugi” Covos Jr. won the races for precincts 1 and 2, respectively.

Things get more interesting in the countywide races — where despite some unchallenged races, there were still some discrepancies in how many votes candidates earned. That means some local voters didn’t vote in all of those races, possibly signaling uncertainty or disapproval with incumbents.

Natalia Williams, who was running uncontested for the position of county tax assessor/collector, won her race with 1780 votes. Compare that with Sheriff Danny Dominguez, who earned 1690, and County Attorney Rod Ponton, who won 1513.