Monday, July 17, 2006

Election wins don't always follow the money


Are enhanced television through cable and satellite, along with more entertainment offerings in a growing city, burying political commercials?
Results of recent local elections might say Laredo voters either miss those numerous, and sometimes expensive television commercials, newspaper ads and radio spots, or see beyond them.
Money and politics are in an older and more secure marriage than anyone who is, or ever was married or dreamed of being rich, but that relationship isn’t always good enough to assure office. The wealthier, or perceived better-monied candidates for Webb County Judge and Mayor, C.Y. Benavides and John Galo, respectively, came up short in their quests for office against Danny Valdez and Raul Salinas.
“It wasn’t about the money,” Salinas said of his volunteer help, a day after winning a runoff against Galo by 1,008 votes.
Texas A&M International political science professor Nasser Momayezi understands where Salinas is coming from.
“Money, they say, is the mother and milk of politics, but it really depends on how you raise the money and spend the money,” Momayezi said. “Mr. Galo spent a lot of money and look what happened.”
Records at City Hall indicate Galo spent $353,210.43 while Salinas’ campaign treasurer Rogelio Rodriguez says they spent $102,350.70.
Momayezi, author of “Texas Politics: Individuals Making a Difference” and numerous magazine articles, notes Laredoan Tony Sanchez’s unsuccessful run for governor in 2002, despite spending some $73 million.
Momayezi says plenty of special interest groups and people give to political campaigns and candidates have to spend money to gain voter attention, but saw Salinas’ edge through his footwork – trekking the grassroots.
“Out everywhere, he was there and Mr. Galo relied on the TV and turnout was very low,” Momayezi said.
Momayezi felt that local water problems and city government’s bickering with the county over bridges and other issues could have hurt Galo, attempting to move from his city council chair to the mayor’s post. Salinas had never held public office, running after a 35-year FBI career.
Momayezi expected a close race for mayor and saw the water issues as a possible deciding issue. Laredo has long sought a second tap water source, other than the Rio Grande, and shortly before the runoff election a city water failure on the northside couldn’t have pleased anyone.
Valdez moved over from a justice of the peace post to county judge. Benavides came from a business background.
The March 24 edition of the Austin-based Texas Observer, noted Valdez, originally from a city barrio, spending some $160,000 and “rich oilman and rancher” spending some $700,000.
That old money and political success relationship, or formula, isn’t seen as a dying marriage elsewhere. At least not yet.
Jason Stanford, campaign manager for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, and a consultant and researcher occasionally quoted and interviewed by national news media, sees the strong relationship between money and obtaining a desired office.
“Money is time, and time is the most precious commodity in politics,” Stanford said from his Austin office. “Money allows you to do more work in a finite amount of time.
“The basic rule is that you have to have enough money, but you won’t win just because you have more money.”
Some 50 miles north of Austin, Republican Congressional hopeful Wes Riddle appreciates the differences in money and people between local and Washington DC-aimed races. He hopes to eventually replace John Carter, R-Round Rock, who holds the 31st District seat in the nation’s capital. Riddle left a two-decade Army career before running against Carter once, and writes a column for several newspapers.
“What’s great about a city-wide, is that the threshold for media saturation is also more easily reached,” Riddle said from Belton. “You might say the same thing about a U.S. Congressional race, too, except that a candidate can reach 5-20,000 voters directly through the course of a 6-9 month campaign for mayor.”
Salinas will receive $36,000 per year from Laredo in regular salary.

Note: A similar print version of this story is available in LareDOS, in Laredo, Texas.


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