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Businesswoman spends big on La Joya ISD election

Businesswoman Mary T. Hernandez spent nearly $30,000 on her campaign for the La Joya school board during the past few months — significantly more than any other candidate.

Hernandez, who is self-funding her campaign, spent nearly $30,000 from July 30 to Oct. 8, according to her campaign finance report. Her opponent, incumbent school board Trustee Johnn Alaniz, spent nearly $14,000.

Mary Hernandez PhotoTo boost her name recognition, Hernandez blanketed western Hidalgo County with campaign signs and push cards. She also hosted a slew of community events.

“Now they’re putting a face to the name,” said Hernandez, 52, of Palmview, who co-owns a trucking company with her husband, Benito.

Hernandez said she’s concerned about how the La Joya Independent School District is managing taxpayer money.

In September 2017, when the school board considered a proposal to replace air filters, Hernandez demanded to know why district employees couldn’t just change the filters themselves.

Hernandez accused Alaniz of steering the contract to a company called Dezvia LLC, which is co-owned by former Palmview City Manager Ramon Segovia.

After she confronted the school board during public comment, the district conducted a leak investigation and restricted access to public records.

“They still have all these consultants,” Hernandez said, adding that Dezvia donated to Alaniz’s campaign. “There’s no need for that.”

Alaniz is running with former school board Trustee Espie Ochoa and political newcomer Nereyda Cantu, the sister-in-law of school board Trustee Alex Cantu, as “Un1ted for Education.”

They spent about $23,000 from Aug. 13 to Oct. 9, according to campaign finance reports filed with the district.

“Pretty much over here people know who I am,” said Alaniz, who joined the school board in May 2006. “People know who Espie is.”

The Un1ted for Education candidates spent most of the money on signs and campaign literature.

“We’ve really only done one big event,” Alaniz said. “And a lot of stuff was donated.”

Alaniz reported a nearly $5,000 in-kind donation from Austin-based law firm Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, which collects delinquent property taxes. A rival law firm, Amarillo-based Perdue Brandon Fielder Collins & Mott, donated $2,500 apiece to Alaniz and Ochoa.

Other supporters of the Un1ted for Education candidates include attorney Jaime “Jerry” Muñoz, who donated $7,000; RGV Redlight LLC, a company owned by Peñitas Chief of Staff Andy Morales, which donated $7,000; and Absolute Business Consulting Group, a company owned by public relations executive Karina Cardoza, which donated $5,000.

All three work for the school district.

“I support candidates that I believe are the best choice for the job,” Morales said in a statement. “I believe that the Un1ted candidates are the most qualified, highly educated, and best candidates to effectively represent our students and our community.”

Not all candidates filed campaign finance reports by the Oct. 9 deadline.

Trustee Frances Salinas, who’s running for re-election, filed her campaign finance report six days late.

Frances Salinas reported $4,500 in campaign donations and nearly $9,000 in campaign spending from Aug. 1 to Oct. 10.

Her report, however, didn’t include required disclosures about individual donors and campaign expenditures.

The Progress Times counted more than 40 campaign signs for Frances Salinas in La Joya, along with smaller yard signs and a billboard on U.S. 83. No information about the signs appears on her incomplete campaign finance report.

Frances Salinas didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Her father and campaign treasurer, La Joya Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas, said he didn’t receive the additional pages required to file the report. Mayor Salinas also served as campaign treasurer for his wife, City Commissioner Mary Salinas, who filed incomplete reports when she ran for re-election in November 2017.

Pamela Flores, a teacher who’s running against Frances Salinas and Espie Ochoa for Place 2, failed to file a campaign finance report by the deadline. She couldn’t be reached for comment.

Early voting starts Oct. 22. Election Day is Nov. 6.

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