East Side Showdown

Texas House of Representatives District 120
Incumbent: Ruth Jones McClendon

Challenger: Sandra Martinez

The district's eastern boundary abuts — but doesn't include — Schertz, Converse, and China Grove; the southern boundary extends along New Sulphur Springs Road and Hwy 87. To the west, the district runs up Broadway, grazing the southern edge of Alamo Heights and Terrell Hills. The northern boundary continues up Harry Wurzbach and continues on Walzem.

Martinez has raised $315 in campaign contributions, according to Texas Ethics Commission records. Since last July, McClendon has raised about $70,000.

McClendon's largest contributors include former Democratic legislator Stan Schlueter ($5,000), the Texas Classroom Teachers Association ($4,000), and a political action committee, Annie's List, which represents pro-choice Democratic women in Texas ($2,500). She also received contributions from the medical community and several labor unions.
Ruth Jones McClendon

Sandra Martinez

Racial overtones resonate in District 120 contest

Last May, State Representative Ruth Jones McClendon stared down a Texas Department of Public Safety officer in the lobby of a Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Oklahoma.

"You ought to voluntarily come back with me," the officer reportedly said to McClendon, who had fled the Statehouse with her fellow Democrats to protest a Congressional redistricting plan foisted on Texas by Republicans.

"I'm not going anywhere," McClendon replied.

McClendon is assuming a similar stance in the race for District 120 state representative. A two-term incumbent, McClendon faces Sandra Martinez, who ran unsuccessfully in 2003 for City Council District 2, but as an unknown, still garnered 19 percent of the vote.

Yet, the issue of race is partially eclipsing the issues - primarily health care and education - according to Martinez, who says this contest highlights the tensions simmering between African Americans and Latinos on the East Side.

Historically, African Americans have lived and held power on the City's East Side, of which a large portion lies inside District 120. "Hispanics have been left out of the loop because we were in the minority," Martinez remarks. "But now we're the majority."

Actually, since Hispanics comprise less than 50 percent of the district's population, they hold a plurality, rather than a majority. In fact, District 120 is quite diverse; no racial or ethnic group can claim a majority. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 41 percent of the district's population is Hispanic, 31 percent is African American, and 24 percent is Anglo.

McClendon counters that Bexar County African Americans need representation in the statehouse. "This is the only district in San Antonio where an African American can have a reasonable chance of having African-American representation," she says. In the Texas State Directory, 13 of the 150 House members are African-American. McClendon is the only African American representing Bexar County.

To follow Martinez' logic, Patti Radle, who is white, shouldn't be representing the Hispanic West Side on City Council; Art Hall, an African American, shouldn't be representing an Anglo district on the North Side.

Martinez explains that Radle is an example of how power structures can change despite a district's ethnic base. "This shouldn't be about race," Martinez says.

However, Martinez also charges that McClendon played the race card during the 2003 session when she authored a bill, which became law, providing $5.3 million over two years for an undergraduate medical academy at Prairie View A&M University, a part of the Texas A&M system and a predominantly African-American school about 40 miles northwest of Houston.

"It was odd for me to hear, because we're not near Prairie View," Martinez says. "That being said, I looked at her bill that she produced and decided it was race-based. I don't think it will benefit our district."

But McClendon says that the purpose of the legislation "is to grow doctors to come back and work in the inner city, in rural areas. Right now, people in my district have to go to the Medical Center `on the Northwest Side` for treatment. They need clinics and centers and doctors in their own areas."

Moreover, McClendon says that 180 students from District 120 attend the university, which is about 89 percent black. (The university couldn't verify the enrollment numbers by the Current's deadline.) "It's a tax-supported school and the location doesn't matter."

Prairie View officials told the Current that a League of United Latin American Citizens exists on campus, and recruiters are trying to increase enrollment among Hispanic students, which comprise 2.5 percent of the student population.

Apparently, race didn't deter the Bexar County Tejano Democrats, largely a Latino group, from endorsing McClendon. President Rudy Rodriguez said at least two-thirds of the group's 200 members voted to endorse McClendon, the number required for their seal of approval.

"She's a strong Democrat and has been fighting issues close to our hearts: health care and education," Rodriguez says. "I think she has represented everybody."

Besides health care, McClendon discusses other legislative priorities, should she win a third term: school finance and the state budget.

"We have a shortage of certified, qualified teachers and equipment," she notes, adding that she co-authored a bill that set up a state reimbursement fund for teachers who buy classroom supplies. "Constituents tell me they want a way to have reduction in property tax bills. In the legislature, we've heard from the `school finance` experts, but we've not got down to anything concrete. We need to talk it out. It's time to move."

As for the state budget, McClendon recalls a walkout by the appropriations committee last year. "Ardmore was not the first walkout," she says. "We `the Democrats` couldn't tell our constituents there were such significant cuts. So the Speaker `Tom Craddick` and the committee chair `Talmadge Heflin` came and talked to us. The next day, they found billions of dollars and we restored funding to health and human services and criminal justice programs. Who knows where the money would have gone?"

Martinez, a self-identified "conservative Democrat" ("I waltz with the Republicans and boogie with the Democrats"), says her election platform includes protecting the legal rights of grandparents who care for their grandchildren when the parents can't or won't. "They are unable to pay for legal fees in the event mom or dad comes back to take the children," Martinez says. "I would like to pass legislation to give them standing in court."

A parole officer with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Martinez says she also would ask for additional health care providers to be included in the insurance plan for state employees; currently there is one. She would also seek funding for rehabilitating parolees and prisoners. "We can't rehabilitate them if there are no resources for job training or GED classes. We're setting them up for failure."

Drunk drivers, including those driving with children in the car, would also face stiffer penalties if her legislation passed. In addition to the fine and jail sentence, third-time felony offenders would have to use a Breathalyzer to start their cars - for life. Their drivers' licenses would identify them as DWI offenders required to have the units in their cars. Those driving without a Breathalyzer would have their licenses revoked.

Martinez, who interned for Leticia Van de Putte during a legislative session, faults McClendon's productivity in the House, claiming she has been ineffective. "The current leadership in the district has failed us in the sense that the last two years, she has produced one significant bill, just two in all."

McClendon counters that she was the primary author on 23 bills, including two that were enacted into law without changes. She also was a co-author on House Concurrent Resolution 156, which designated March 31 as a national holiday honoring Cesar Chavez. That bill didn't pass, but was referred to the House State Affairs Committee.

Although Martinez calls her opponent "liberal," McClendon authored two conservative bills requiring public school children to recite daily the Pledge of Allegiance and the Texas pledge, and to observe a minute of silence.

McClendon also authored a bill that became law allowing state employees to take paid leave to donate bone marrow, organs, and blood.

"Nobody where I work is lining up to donate an organ," says Martinez. "That's the last thing on our mind; we're trying to make ends meet."

Martinez criticizes McClendon for missing roll call during appropriation committee meetings. "She was AWOL," says Martinez. "She doesn't have anything to show. This is about what you produced, not about what you fought for."

According to appropriations committee minutes, McClendon missed roll call at 15 of 31 meetings. However, she attended all but one of the meetings, and the minutes reflect that most of the time, she showed up shortly after roll call.

Martinez also alleges that McClendon bought her appointment to the Appropriations Committee, the most powerful committee in the House. "She paid a Republican, even though she has put the Republicans down. It tells me the committee appointments are up for sale."

According to House Speaker Tom Craddick's campaign contribution report on file with the Texas Ethics Commission, on December 12, 2002, McClendon gave him $500. McClendon says the money came from her personal account. (McClendon is not under investigation in the recent controversy over Craddick's alleged misuse of campaign funds.)

Shortly after her contribution, Craddick appointed McClendon to Appropriations.

McClendon is unapologetic about her expenditure. "We have to learn to work with the leadership," she says.

As to the timing of the contribution and subsequent appointment, she denies the two are linked. "Trey Martinez Fischer gave $1,000 and he didn't do so well," she says, jokingly.

Ethics Commission records show Fischer contributed the money on the same day as McClendon; Craddick appointed him to the Pensions & Investments and Business & Industry committees.

McClendon deflects her challenger's criticisms that she has languished in the legislature. "The Texas Legislature is set up to kill bills, not pass them," she says. "You don't always get top credit for everything. In the legislature, that means changing the law to solve real problems that affect people's lives. You can accomplish a lot if you don't worry about who gets top credit." •

The Texas primary is Tuesday, March 9

Run-off elections, if necessary, are April 13. You can find out the names of your elected officials by clicking on a link at the Bexar County Elections Office website at www.co.bexar.tx.us/elections and typing in your street name.

This site also contains a list of Early Voting sites and sample ballots for the Republican and Democratic parties. You need Adobe Acrobat Reader to open these files.


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