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Candidate who campaigned against corruption wins seat on La Joya school board

This article was updated Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018.

Businesswoman Mary T. Hernandez, who campaigned against compadrismo and corruption at the La Joya Independent School District, won a seat on the school board Tuesday.

Hernandez defeated three-term incumbent Johnn Alaniz, according to preliminary results published by the Hidalgo County Elections Department on Tuesday night.

20181106 MaryTHernadez“I’m very emotional,” Hernandez said. “I don’t even know what to tell you — I just thank God and everybody for sticking with me all this time.”

Alaniz had support from voters in Sullivan City, but Hernandez won Peñitas, Palmview and the entire east side of the school district, according to precinct-level data published by the Elections Department. They roughly split La Joya.

“I’m shocked by the numbers,” said school board Trustee Oscar “Coach” Salinas, who supported Alaniz.

The campaign pitted Team Un1ted, a coalition formed by western Hidalgo County power brokers, against three independent candidates.

Team Un1ted brought together key players from Team L1berty, which dominated western Hidalgo County politics from November 2016 to August 2018, and Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe Flores.

They kept the “1” and adopted the moniker “United,” telegraphing the fact they’d come together.

After a meeting on Aug. 1, the power brokers coalesced behind three candidates:

Place 1: Businesswoman Nereyda Cantu, 40, of Palmview, the sister-in-law of school board Trustee Alex Cantu.

Place 2: Educator Espie Ochoa, 49, of Palmview, a former teacher who served on the school board from 2007 to 2016.

Place 3: La Joya Area Federal Credit Union CEO Johnn Alaniz, 42, of Palmview, an incumbent who joined the school board in May 2006.

Team Un1ted faced three challengers:

Place 2: Frances A. Salinas, 51, of La Joya, the daughter of La Joya Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas and City Commissioner Mary Salinas.

Place 2: Pamela Flores, 49, of Palmview, a teacher who ran a low-profile campaign.

Place 3: Businesswoman Mary T. Hernandez, 52, of Mission, who owns a trucking company with her husband.

After blanketing La Joya with signs, Frances Salinas barely campaigned. Pamela Flores reported spending less than $100 from July 24 to Oct. 27.

Ochoa trounced them. And without any opposition, Nereyda Cantu cruised to victory.

Alaniz, though, faced Hernandez, who ran with support from members of the Palmview City Council and the Salinas family in La Joya.

“The people spoke. And they were heard,” said Palmview City Councilman Joel Garcia, who served two terms on the school board.

Progress for Palmview, the local political party, supported Hernandez from the beginning, Garcia said, adding that he’s deeply concerned about the current school board.

Hernandez spent more than $35,000 from July 30 to Oct 29, according to campaign finance reports filed with the school district. Hernandez accepted few donations and footed most of the bill herself.

“I didn’t see anything different from other campaigns, to be honest with you,” Alaniz said. “I don’t think I would spend that amount of money out of my own pocket for a position that doesn’t pay.”

Fueled by donations from attorneys and businesses with school district contracts, Team Un1ted spent more than $71,000.

Attorney Jaime “Jerry” Muñoz, who represents the district, donated $13,000, according to campaign finance reports. Amarillo-based law firm Perdue Brandon Fielder Collins and Mott, which collects delinquent property taxes for the district, donated $12,500.

Throughout the campaign, Hernandez warned about cozy relationships between the school board and politically connected contractors.

“I wanted for people to actually see what’s going on in our school district,” Hernandez said. “And for them to come out and vote. That was my main thing.”

The Team Un1ted candidates touted their experience and qualifications.

“I don’t know what my opponent’s platform was except for ‘change,’” Alaniz said. “I don’t think she ever expressed what she wanted to do or anything. I ran based on what we’ve been able to accomplish there at the district.”

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