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La Joya says TRO prevents electioneering

The city of La Joya says a temporary restraining order issued last week will prevent the city from implementing a new electioneering ordinance for at least the first two days of early voting and that electioneering under the order will be governed by rules from last year — which means the city won’t allow any electioneering on its properties.

A 2022 electioneering ordinance prohibited electioneering on city property as a health measure to slow the spread of the coronavirus, meaning that electioneering at the La Joya Youth Center Parking lot —where it generally happened — became off limits.

An electioneering ordinance approved by the La Joya City Council earlier this month repealed language about the pandemic, but still kept the youth center parking lot a prohibited area for electioneering and free speech.

Instead, the ordinance designated the La Joya Municipal Park, just around the corner from the youth center, as a free speech zone.

Councilman Esequiel “Chuck” Garza — who’s running for mayor against incumbent Isidro Casanova — filed a temporary restraining order application last week, alleging that the city’s new ordinance violated the Texas Election Code and is contradictory to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

A judge ultimately issued the order and set a hearing on it for Wednesday.

Early voting starts Monday.

Roberto Jackson, Garza’s lawyer, said last week that he believed that order would allow electioneering at the youth center once again.

The city, however, put out a statement Sunday saying that the order simply means it’s going back to following its pandemic ordinance.

“This is very surprising, we worked very hard with staff to make sure we balanced everyone’s 1st amendment right to free speech with the safety and security of citizens, voters, and children; but now we’re being told no one can electioneer on any public property, which is not what we intended,” Casanova said in the release.

Garza said Sunday evening that his faction was weighing its options regarding campaigning and electioneering.

“I will continue making calls to see what we need to do,” he said.

Garza said candidates from both sides met Sunday to discuss the election and rules around it.

He criticized the city’s communication about the election and described reverting back to the pandemic electioneering ordinance as “suppression at its finest.”

“Is any county following COVID guidelines?” Garza said.

The city has maintained that the youth center being eliminated as an electioneering site is a safety measure being made because of traffic concerns — a point Casanova reiterated in a release after Garza filed his temporary restraining order application.

“We spoke with our public safety staff and concluded that for safety purposes adopting this ordinance is in the best interest of citizens of the City of La Joya. All of us candidates are treated the same under this ordinance. I understand the inconvenience, but if being 500 feet away from the election site as opposed to 100 feet away creates a safer environment for children, staff, teachers, and voters I think that is absolutely the right thing to do,” Casanova said.

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