By Gaige Davila
Midterm election season has already started in Port Isabel, after local business owner Andrew Infante announced his run for Cameron County Justice of the Peace (JP) Precinct (Pct.) 1.
Infante, owner of Rip Current Athletics, a volunteer firefighter with Port Isabel Fire Department, a Rotary Club Member and board member of the Laguna Madre Youth Center, announced his candidacy this past week, well before the primary election day next year.
The JP is a four-year term that rules on traffic violations, small civil cases, landlord and tenant disputes, juvenile delinquency cases, officiates marriages, is a notary official, and issues warrants as the presiding officer of the small claims court of a precinct.
Cameron County has five precincts, with Pct. 1 encompassing South Padre Island, Port Isabel, Laguna Heights, Laguna Vista, along with portions of Bayview and south Brownsville.
Infante said he’s announcing earlier-than-expected to inform voters on what a Justice of the Peace does and to introduce himself to Laguna Madre area residents.
“The Justice of the Peace is a leadership position, and there’s a lot more that goes into it than just being a judge,” Infante told the PRESS inside Rip Current Athletics. “If I were not to win, at least people would have a better understanding as to what exactly a JP does.”
Infante’s desire to run comes from wanting to improve how the JP’s office interacts with the public, law enforcement and local municipal governments, saying he sees a lack of confidence in local law enforcement and the JP office from locals and hopes to bring it back if elected.
“Cultivating that relationship, bringing it back, and making sure that (police agencies) understand that if they do their duty and enforce the law they know the judge is going to uphold what we can in that court,” Infante said, noting he wanted more enforcement for repeat offenders, for example, of traffic violations. “If it happens time and time again, and we just keep writing that off, we go from giving people a break to enabling people to do what they want to do.
“That gives police officers, or the agencies, a lack of confidence in that position.”
Infante also mentioned renter-tenant disputes as a focus of his campaign.
“Here we have a lot of renters, so renter-tenant issues are a big thing,” he said. “A lot of people don’t want to get involved with it because they know people here, it’s a small town, but that’s not doing your duty.”
Infante is running on a Republican ticket in an area, the Rio Grande Valley and Port Isabel, that usually votes straight-ticket Democrat. That’s starting to change, recent examples being the election of Cameron County Constable Pct. 1 Normal Esquivel and McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos.
Infante said some of his core values—faith, family, business—align with conservatism and the Republican party, but believes voters will ultimately vote for the person over the platform, noting the recently elected Republicans in Valley offices.
“There’s starting to be a shift within that, we’re going to see more and more Republicans take on Democrats and do well in these races and win,” Infante said. “They are ready for a change, I believe so.”
Infante is the lone challenger, so far, against incumbent Benito “Bo” Ochoa IV, who’s running for a second term. His father, Benito “Benny” Ochoa III, was the Pct. 1 JP for 38 years, becoming a fixture in the Laguna Madre community. Infante is one of few challengers against the Ochoa name in years, but says he hopes the race will bring out the best in the current, and possible yet-to-file, candidates.
“Competition raises the bar for everybody, and those that can go along with it and push through and persevere, they’ll move up, those that don’t will fall off,” Infante said. “I have my platform, (Bo) has his platform, I have nothing but respect for them. Everybody knows them. Nothing against them, I just think I can do a great job in that position and raise the bar.”
Infante will host a campaign kick-off and local meet-and-greet events up until next year’s election, he said, as he and his campaign staff work out details on venues and times.
Until those events are held, Infante described his values and platform for voters who haven’t met him yet, saying he wants to bring “selfless service, integrity and accountability” back to the JP’s office.
“If you go into this position as Justice of the Peace, and you’re not doing your duties to the best of your abilities, after these people had confidence in you to vote you into this position, you have to be held accountable,” Infante said. “That’s where we lack. Here, in Port Isabel, something’s always been done a certain way and it stays that way. I believe people are tired of the status quo and want to change that. That’s where we have to step up. If it’s not me, then who else?”
Texas’ primary date has yet to be set until the 2020 Census data is collected. Once the data is collected, the Texas Legislature will begin redistricting voting districts in the state based on the data, which an election date will be set from.
Cameron County Election Administrator Remi Garza told the PRESS the primary will likely be in late April or early May of next year. The general election will be held November 8, 2022.
Impacting primary date, April or late May. General election in November. Census data impacting primary date, Texas legislature waiting for census data for redistricting.
Editor’s note: This article was only partially printed in the June 24 edition of the Port Isabel-South Padre PRESS. The entire article is available here and will be printed in full next week. We regret this error. – Gaige