Ahead of filing deadline, race for county attorney generates enthusiasm

PRESIDIO COUNTY — In a break from election-season norms, two Democratic candidates have announced their intentions to run for Presidio County attorney — nearly a month from the deadline to file as a candidate on December 11. This spring, incumbent Rod Ponton — who has served two full terms and an unexpired term in office — will face off against Blair Park, another native Marfan hoping to bring a fresh perspective to the post. 

The county attorney serves as official legal counsel, representing Presidio County in court and offering advice to local officials about potential pitfalls in contracts, ordinances and other routine business. The attorney’s salary is partly paid by the state of Texas and partly by the county from the local property tax pool. 

Ponton has served the tri-county area both as an elected official and in private practice for decades. In 2006, he was appointed county attorney to fill an unexpired term and served for two years in that capacity. He was elected district attorney in 2012 and served a full four-year 

term. He was defeated in the next Democratic primary for DA, but successfully ran for Presidio County attorney, serving from 2016 to the present day. 

He said he was grateful for the experience that the district attorney position provided, but preferred to stay closer to home. “I ended up being much happier doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I get to try to improve things in Presidio County.” 

At 33 years old, Park has fewer years as an attorney under her belt, but feels passionately that she can serve the community she grew up in. She spent most of her childhood in Marfa before the family relocated to San Angelo, where she graduated from high school and decided to pursue a career in law.

After working for five years as an attorney in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, she decided to come home during the pandemic. “When you grow up in a small town, you just want to leave it, to get out of here and move to the big city,” she said. “When COVID hit, I had the feeling that going back home wasn’t so bad — I was really missing home and wanting to be back in Marfa.”

Park has generations of roots in Presidio County, representing its signature blend of Mexican, Indigenous and Anglo farming and ranching traditions. Many Marfans remember her grandmother who ran legendary local staple Carmen’s Café. “A lot of the old-school

Marfans will still remember me as the little girl that ran around the café taking orders,” she said. 

She has also fostered friendships with transplants to Marfa and hopes to be able to advocate for both groups as an elected official. “A lot of the older people like having that local connection,” she said. “Hopefully I can be a kind of a bridge in between the two groups of people — those who are originally from here and then the people who are who are moving in.”

Both Ponton and Park also see the position as a public platform to advocate for the needs of county residents. Healthcare is a high priority for the two candidates — in a remote area with limited resources, they see the issue as a literal matter of life and death. 

Ponton took credit for urging the Big Bend Regional Hospital District to pursue a grant through the USDA for $5.5 million to benefit healthcare in Presidio and Terlingua. Though both communities stand to benefit, Presidio has taken the lion’s share of the funding to expand the local clinic’s offerings — including after-hours walk-in care — and a community paramedicine program.

He was proud to play a role in getting the hospital district to “open up their eyes” to gaps in care in Presidio. “It can provide Presidio with first-class, American-style healthcare for the first time,” he said. 

Park has been an outspoken advocate for local healthcare, diving into policy research and talking to folks about what it’s like to navigate the system. At a local Democratic Party event two weekends ago, she moderated a panel on “Womens’ Health in Rural Texas Post-Dobbs.” 

She said that — as a woman of childbearing age — she has to travel out of town for appointments, and a season of closures in the labor and delivery wing of the local hospital was a major factor in trying to make decisions about having kids in Marfa. “You hear the horror stories,” she said. “Women’s healthcare is huge for me.” 

After a harrowing budget season, Park is also hoping to use her potential platform as an elected official to help find ways to ease the county’s financial constraints from the inside. She echoed Ponton’s interest in helping the county tap into resources offered by the state and federal governments. “It’s really important for someone to be keeping their eyes out for different bonds and grants that can be done to help,” she said. “Our property taxes aren’t quite covering what we need.”