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Voting for change

With the primary elections taking place March 4 and early voting happening Feb. 18-28, controversies have stirred regarding the alleged buying of votes by politiqueras in Hidalgo County.

According to Elijah Casas, recent graduate and current Republican candidate for State Representative District 41, politiqueras are hired by candidates to push campaigns for office and bring in votes.

The 24-year-old candidate graduated in December 2013 as a political science major with  minors in business administration and legal studies. Through his undergraduate work, Casas said he has worked to expose the corruption in local political processes.

“I have worked with various projects, such as Voto Honesto, to expose and bring to light the corruption which exists in the political processes in the Rio Grande Valley,” Casas said.  “Corruption which has recently found local, state and national media attention with many local ‘politiqueras’ now facing federal voter fraud charges.”

However, according to a New York Times news article published in May 2008, the paying of politiqueras to round up votes is a controversial, but legal, tool employed by candidates seeking victory. These “electoral soldiers,” as referred to in the article, are paid with what is known in the political vernacular as “street money.”

In the Valley, previous federal and local candidates have used politiqueras to aid their campaigns.

During the presidential elections in 2008, Senator Hillary Clinton paid at least 460 Hispanics during her campaign in South Texas, based on a review of Federal Election Commission records.  The records showed that the Clinton campaign made payments of $100 to $200 to 170 people in McAllen and Brownsville.

Recently, one of three local politiqueras arrested by the FBI after an investigation of vote buying in December, plead guilty to having paid for votes in the 2012 Donna Independant School District  elections Friday, Feb. 14, according to an article in The Monitor.

Despite the controversies surrounding these electoral soldiers, Judge Ricardo Rodriguez, attorney and former 92nd Hidalgo County district court judge who is currently campaigning for district attorney (DA), believes politiqueras are an important part of the campaign process.

Politiqueras, or as I refer to them, ‘campaign workers,’ are an important part of any campaign,” Rodriguez said. “These workers help inform voters about a candidate’s platform…and are asked to make phone calls to friends, block walk, put up signs and get the word out.”

According to Rodriguez, the work of these individuals deserves fair compensation.

“These individuals are working very hard. And for that work they should be compensated just like any other person working in the office,” he said.

However, with his knowledge and experience in the judicial system and legal field, the DA candidate is cognizant of the voting laws and has made sure that his politiqueros are also well aware.

“I have explained to these workers that there are laws one must follow to avoid a voter from voting against their will,” Rodriguez said. “When they wear my shirt, they are representing me…and I have worked very hard to maintain the utmost respect of citizens of Hidalgo County.”

According to the judge, his struggles of being born from two teenage parents, overcoming racism and currently running against a political powerhouse, serve as the motivation for his career and campaign.

“These struggles have formed the person I am today,” said the DA candidate. “It is through struggle that our will is tested.”

Unlike his opponent, Rene Guerra, current DA and incumbent for more than 30 consecutive years, Rodriguez feels he has been running an honest campaign.

“My opponent has utilized these workers in his prior campaigns without any scrutiny and so have many other elected officials and candidates seeking to hold public office,” Rodriguez said. “But I have maintained complete transparency throughout my campaign and will continue to do so when elected as district attorney.”

Despite hiring electoral soldiers to assist in his campaign,  Rodriguez believes the amount of volunteers helping out has been a big help.

“A lot has been mentioned of these workers…but what has not is the tremendous amount of volunteers  who give up their weekends and free time to help me.” Rodriguez said. “For every campaign worker I have hired, there are 10 volunteers working for me that do not need compensation. That is the beauty of my campaign.”

While paying people to go out and gather votes is legal, the actions of politiqueras become fraudulent when these individuals resort to paying people for votes, an act that is banned by the federal government and in all 50 states, according to Vote Buying, a California law review article by Richard L. Hasen.

Although politiqueras are meant to help get people out to vote, there are those who believe their demands for compensation take unfair advantage of the system.

“Nowadays, these people have exploited this and have started to ask for money and in ridiculous amounts,” said Nereida Singleterry, a 2001 UTPA alumna and practicing attorney at Williamson-Lopez Law Firm.

Singleterry majored in interdisciplinary studies and minored in bilingual education at UTPA in 2001.

Currently, she is helping her husband, Luis Manuel Singleterry, campaign for 92nd district court judge. Her personal hardships to excel in her career as an attorney fuel her dislike of politiqueras, whom she says demand excessive compensation for their actions.

Coming from an economically disadvantaged family, Nereida Singleterry endured many sacrifices, including her campus involvement while at UTPA, because she had two jobs in addition to being a full-time student.

“Unfortunately, I was not involved in clubs as I was the the first of my family to go to college,” Singleterry said. “I worked at Whataburger and H-E-B to help support my family.”

According to the attorney, her parents’ sacrifices in pursuit of the American dream were her  motivation to succeed.

Due to the struggles she has faced to get to her position, she believes actions should be taken against politiqueras who wrong the system.

“The politiquera system in the Valley, in my opinion, should be dealt away,” Singleterry said. “But, until we replace them or clean up some of the dirty ways they use, they will still be around.”

In a Dallas Morning News article published Feb. 7, a controversial comment by Attorney General Greg Abbott singled out law enforcement and political corruption present in Starr, Hidalgo and Cameron Counties.

“This creeping corruption resembles third-world country practices that erode the social fabric of our communities and destroys Texans’ trust in government,” Abbott said.

Like these public leaders, UTPA Student Government Association (SGA) officials also agree and strongly oppose the corrupt actions of politiqueras.

Orlando Hinojosa Quintanilla, the current Student Government senator-at-large for the College of Arts & Humanities, feels such actions go against what is right.

Politiqueros wrong the system by buying votes,” said the mass communication major. “It doesn’t give the right representation of who the people want (in office) and, ultimately, it is undemocratic.”

Ramiro Flores, a junior political science major and SGA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences senator, agrees with Quintanilla.

“I feel it’s a threat to our democracy,” Flores said. “By selling your vote, you’re giving away your voice to someone who will more likely not answer you once in office.”

According to a recent poll of Hidalgo County’s 2012 elections, 23 percent of the 818 voters surveyed said they were contacted in some fashion by politiqueras. Based on the findings, the percentage was higher than those contacted by candidates, political parties or ‘get out the vote’ organizations.

Although the actions of politiqueras may cause the public to distrust elections, the SGA senator-at-large further believes that this is exactly one of the reasons why people should go out and vote.

“Students shouldn’t feel discouraged about voting. In fact, they should feel empowered to do more and make a difference,” Quintanilla said. “Voting for candidates who genuinely care for the people and embody who they represent is a start.”

In addition, Singleterry and Rodriguez also believe that change begins with young voters.

“Voting is a right that we must exercise and I wish many more people, especially our young generation, were passionate about,” Singleterry said. “We need to educate our community so that they choose the correct candidate based on who they think is the most suited person and not let a politiquera tell them who to vote for.”

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